Waitlisted? Here’s what you should do!

The College Waitlist 

By Dr. Wanda Montanez, Director of College Success Programs


You have done everything you can to strengthen your college applications. You have submitted and are eagerly awaiting to hear back on whether you were accepted or denied from your top choice institution. Weeks go by and you finally hear back–you have been waitlisted!


“How can this happen?” you think to yourself. The short answer is that even though you met the admission requirements, colleges accept more students than they have room for on campus. Therefore, placing students on a waitlist allows colleges to have a pool of students to choose from once the accepted students make a final college choice on whether or not they will accept the offer of admission.


What should you do if waitlisted?


  • The first step is to decide if you want to remain on the waitlist or if you would like to be removed. Many times, students will have been accepted to another college or university that they are equally, if not, more excited about attending in the upcoming fall. Should this be the case it is vitally important to let the college know that you would like to be removed from the waitlist. In the case that you do not want to be removed from the waitlist, you must let the office of admission know that you are still interested in remaining on the list. Be mindful that many waitlists do not open up until May 1st and you do not want to lose your chance of committing to another college if you are not removed from the waitlist.


  • Find out what your chances are of actually getting off of the waitlist. The best approach is to connect directly with the office of admission and ask. Some colleges will rank students on the list and many colleges are willing to share your status with you. The higher you are on the waitlist, the better your chances are of receiving an offer of admission. Other colleges will have a list of priorities, for example, if they are seeking students who are athletes, priority will be given to athletes over other students. Again, your admission counselor can provide you with a better understanding of how the waitlist works at a particular institution. Once you connect with a member of the admissions staff ask them these four questions:
    • How many students were offered admission off the waitlist in the past?
    • How many students are on the waitlist this year?
    • Are there any major obstacles to your being accepted off the waitlist?
    • What does housing and financial aid look like if you are accepted?


  • Read your waitlist letter very carefully. In order to remain on the waitlist, the college may ask you to submit more supporting documents, such as updated grades or an additional letter of recommendation. Failure to do so will automatically diminish your chances of getting off.


  • Write a letter or email expressing your interest. This is your time to advocate for yourself! You have already met their academic requirements and something in writing may set you apart from other students on the waitlist. You want to share any new achievements, documents, or information that would be important for the admissions committee to know. In addition, you want to strongly emphasize your desire to enroll at the college if you are accepted. In all of this, be sure to remain your authentic self and only provide accurate information to support your application. This is not the time to attempt to game the system.


  • Request an interview. Some colleges will provide you with the opportunity to interview (or interview for the 2nd time). An interview can add a more personal contact with the admissions representative.


  • Reconsider the colleges that have accepted you into their incoming first-year class. The waitlists at many colleges never open regardless of what you may think or do. You still need a postsecondary option and should heavily consider the colleges and universities that did accept you so you don’t miss out. Turn in your enrollment deposit by May 1st and submit financial aid and housing documents to the college. If the waitlist college comes through, great! If not, you have a great alternative that you may discover is a better fit for you than the waitlist college.


Other things to consider if you remain on the waitlist or not:


  • Continue to keep up your grades. Whether you have been accepted or waitlisted, this is not the time time to take it easy. Your counselor will submit your final grades and even the colleges that have accepted you could rescind your admissions offer if they feel that your grades have dropped significantly. Plus, if you are waitlisted, your application may be re-evaluated based on your third- and fourth-quarter grades.


  • Similar to grades, you should continue to stay involved with extracurricular activities.


  • Talk to your college counselor. They can help you maneuver the process of being waitlisted and can offer you advice on next steps to consider. In addition, if you are a relatively strong student, your counselor can advocate on your behalf at an institution. But, none of this can happen if you do not open up dialogue with your counselor.


The bottom line is if you find yourself waitlisted, keep your head up! The majority of waitlist “activity” happens in the first two weeks of May. Some schools do admit or deny waitlisted students earlier, and some will be working with applicants through the summer. Colleges will notify you of a final decision on your waitlist status once one is reached. Remember that you were waitlisted and not denied. Many students were not as lucky as you. But, the best thing you can do if you are waitlisted is to decide on another option. Waitlists are often significantly long and you are brilliant! So brilliant, in fact, that the college that YOU choose will be lucky to have you on their campus.