On the Waitlist: What Should You Do Next?

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Lauren Ward
Lauren Ward

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It’s early spring, and while many people are appreciating the freshly blossomed flowers, high school seniors are biting their nails as they await their college admission decisions. Does this sound like you? Hopefully you’ve gained admission into one or more of your top picks. But maybe you are on the college waitlist to your dream school. Don’t worry; that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. But there are a lot of factors to take into consideration before deciding whether or not you want to remain on the waitlist. We’ll walk you through how to weigh the pros and cons, as well as implement some tricks to help your chances.

Evaluate Your Waitlist Options

Before you do anything else, decide whether or not you truly want to remain on the college waitlist. Most schools ask you to elect whether or not you want to keep your application under consideration. When you do, you may also have the opportunity to include a brief update on your application profile. Even if you only get a few lines for your response, be thoughtful in your reply. Mention any significant grade improvements since you sent your last transcript or confirm why that schools remains your top choice.

If you’re ambivalent about attending that particular college, it might not be worth staying on the waitlist. After all, a lot of other factors change for the last ones picked for admission.

Financial Aid

For example, financial aid packages are often a first-come, first-serve basis. Merit-based scholarships will likely already distributed to the most preferred candidates; and likely, not much need-based assistance left in the budget, either. If cost is an issue, especially for private schools, then you might want to reconsider adding yourself to the college waitlist.

Housing

Another consideration is that housing options narrow by the time you hear back from the waitlist. If you love the school enough, this might not be a big deal. But if you wanted to choose a friend as a roommate or had your heart set on the dorm with the cafeteria on the first floor, you likely won’t get to make those top picks. For some, housing might not be a deal breaker, but it could be if there are particularly inconvenient or old dorms that most students try to avoid.

Timelines

Finally, look at the date you can expect to hear back about your waitlist status. If it’s later than the acceptance deadlines of other schools, you’re running a fairly large risk in waiting. You can always rescind your acceptance from another school, but your parents will likely have to pay a deposit soon after you respond with a yes. If they’re not willing to lose that money (which is certainly understandable) then you should seriously rethink your waitlist options.

Do Most Waitlist Candidates Get Accepted?

In short, the answer is no, especially from top tier schools. In fact, most don’t guarantee that any waitlisted students will be accepted at all and those that do typically admit less than 1% of the waitlist. If you applied to a less competitive school, however, you may have better chances. But the fact of the matter is that most colleges admit more students than they have room for, knowing that a certain percentage are likely to choose other schools. Data collection and historical experience is a large part of the admissions process, so the committee most likely has a pretty accurate idea of how many students will accept versus those who will decline.

If, for some reason, their projections are off slightly, they’ll start looking at students on the waitlist. Most schools say they do not rank their waitlist, so students are re-evaluated when spots open up. That leads us to your next step if you choose to remain on a college waitlist: writing a letter of continued interest.

Write a Letter of Continued Interest

If you’re still committed to being a competitive student on a college waitlist, it’s smart to supplement your application with a letter of continued interest. This extra communication should be addressed to your college admissions officer. Look on your waitlist letter to see who signed it. If it’s pretty generic, then look on the college’s website to see if there is someone specifically assigned to your geographic region and address the letter to him or her.

When writing your letter, focus on why you’re still so interested in the school.

Maybe there’s a specific major you’re interested in or there’s something special about the college culture that appeals to you. This is your Hail Mary pass, so make it as compelling as possible. Don’t be coy — if that college is your first choice, tell them! Just as you did in your brief reply form, reiterate any additional achievements you’ve made since applying, whether it’s a better SAT score, an improved GPA. You can also mention any special honors or recognition from your school or community. Did you just complete your final Eagle Scout project? Let them know about it! Did you raise your SAT score by 50 points? Tell them how you did it! Don’t sound desperate, sound proud of your achievements — because you should be, regardless of your admissions status.

Keep to the point.

Keep the letter to a maximum of one single sheet of paper. When concluding, be sure to thank the admission counselor for taking the time to read your letter and review your application. Then, as the name implies, there’s nothing to do but wait. Rest easy that you’ve done everything in your power to increase your odds. In the meantime, explore your other options from schools that you’ve been accepted to. Attend an accepted student orientation or talk to current students. Get excited about the options you do have, knowing that there’s still a chance you could hear back from your waitlist college over the summer months. 

Questions? Let us know!