What to Do If You Are Waitlisted

on March 14, 2017

What should you do if you are waitlisted by your first-choice college? Is there anything you can do to increase your chances of being admitted off of the waitlist?

Here’s a common scenario: You’ve already heard that you got into your safety school and maybe a match college or two. You check your mailbox to see if your dream college has contacted you yet. You see a letter, not a package. Your heart sinks. Rejection is on your mind. You open the letter. Your eyes dart to find the sad word, “Unfortunately…” Your hearts sinks even more. Then, you see that one important word: waitlist.

You’ve been added to the waitlist. The good news is that you have not been rejected. Unfortunately for you, you’re not accepted either. What do you do?

First, decide whether you want to remain on the waitlist. Financial aid opportunities might be limited for students accepted off the waitlist. Even need-blind colleges can become need-sensitive when admitting students off of the waitlist. The raw odds of getting in are slim. Less than a third of waitlisted students will be admitted. The most selective colleges admit an even slimmer percentage off the waitlist, if at all.

Next, take care of the important paperwork:

  • Send in the card or complete the online form to confirm that you want to stay on the waitlist. Do this as soon as possible after you learn that you have been waitlisted. Doing this quickly helps demonstrate how much you want to attend the college
  • Choose one of the colleges that admitted you. Accept their offer of admission and pay the deposit by the May 1 deadline, so you have somewhere to go in the fall. Deposits are not refundable, but that’s a small price to pay if you get into your first-choice college

Then, you wait.

But, there are a few things (other than your parents donating a building to the college) you can do to improve your chances of getting in:

Talk to the College about Your Chances

Contact the admissions office and ask what percentage of students get off the waitlist. You also can find this information online, on the College Board and College Data web sites. This will give you some way to handicap your odds of getting in off the waitlist. Some colleges rank the waitlist and may even tell you if you’re near the top of the waitlist.

Ask about Ways to Get off the Waitlist

Talk to the admissions office and ask them what the criteria are to get off the waitlist. Maybe your grades were fine but your extracurricular activities were not great. Is there a way you can highlight some aspects about yourself that did not come through in the application or interview?

Write a Letter

Send the college a one-page letter, highlighting your achievements since you applied for admission. Maybe you kept your grades up (while most of your peers were slacking off), won an award or were the lead in a school play.

The letter should also express your continued interest in the college. Give specific reasons why you are a really good fit and how much you want to enroll. If you will definitely enroll if they take you off the waitlist, say so. But whatever you do, don’t sound desperate or do anything over the top.

Enlist the Help of Your School Counselor

School counselors often have personal relationships with admissions officers developed from communicating with them over many years. Talk to your counselor about what they think you should do to try to get off the waitlist. Maybe they know someone in the admissions office and can serve as an advocate for you.

Don’t Stalk the Admissions Office

Do not call the admissions office more than once. Do not send multiple email messages declaring your everlasting love for the college. A new email message is justified only when you have something new and significant to report about your accomplishments.

Gimmicks almost always backfire. Sending homemade chocolate chip cookies will not help your chances of getting accepted off of the waitlist.

Under no circumstances should your parents contact the college admissions office.

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