Parents of Juniors: Let’s Talk About The Waitlist

Anne McLeod Weeks
Anne McLeod Weeks

Anne has worked in college admissions for four decades. She taught AP English, consulted for the College Board, and was a leader in various educational initiatives in independent schools.

You may be asking yourself, “The waitlist? The college waitlist? My student is a junior! Why would I worry about the waitlist?”

While your application season is still months away, that doesn’t mean your college prep should wait until then. In this article, I’ll discuss the specific reasons why thinking about the waitlist when you student is in 11th grade instead of 12th grade can help you through the process.


Right off the bat, it’s important to lay a strong foundation of communication in the college search to  avoid tension and stress building between you and your student. Thinking about all aspects of the college admission process at the start can help avoid unexpected reactions to decisions later in the process. 


The Dream School Conundrum

Too often, parents and students focus on the dream colleges on their list. While it is always nice to dream, and you want to encourage your student to reach for the stars, it is actually best to be sure you and your student are comfortable with every choice on that college list. Once you have come to an agreement on where your student will apply, invest the same amount of energy and commitment to each college. In actuality, it is harder to find a “safety” college with which you and your student would be happy than it is to fall in love with a dream school. Do the hard work of falling equally in love with a sure-thing admission.


“In actuality, it is harder to find a safe-option college with which you and your student would be happy than it is to fall in love with a dream school.”


Once you and your student have your overall college list finalized, make a list of the benefits seen in each choice. Envision what your student’s life would be like on each campus, and focus on the positive aspects.

  • Are you both able to see positives in each choice?
  • Are you able to project positive outcomes with the degree from each institution?
  • It is natural to have the colleges ranked for possible admission; but does that ranking coincide with the projected benefits of attending?

Next, assume that there is a possibility of being waitlisted at the most competitive colleges on the list.

  • How would you and your student react to that outcome?
  • Would it be devastating news? Manageable news?
  • Would your student choose to accept the spot on the waitlist or simply choose to enroll in another college?

By discussing these responses ahead of time, if your student is waitlisted, you will already have a plan in place, thus diminishing the element of surprise and lowering the stress.


Think Ahead

Here are some further considerations when discussing a possible waitlist outcome for each school:

  • Is your student willing to wait?
  • Is your student willing to put in the time and effort to present new material to the admissions office, such as updated grades (are they as good as they were in the fall?), a new essay explaining commitment to the school, new information of awards or experiences that will enhance the initial application, etc.?
  • Are you willing to forgo any chance of financial assistance in the form of scholarships, grants, or aid? If taken off the waitlist, financial awards are often unavailable.
  • Are you willing to deposit at another college by May 1, and then lose that deposit if accepted off the waitlist?
  • Have you researched the percentage of students accepted off the particular college’s waitlist? It may be as low as 4%.
  • How much emotion do you want to invest in an uncertain outcome?

If a waitlist response feels devastating, it is time to revisit the initial list of benefits of attending each college you and your student recorded. Look at the list of benefits with fresh eyes and bring yourselves back from the edge.


By doing your due diligence upfront in the junior year, you and your student will find the college admissions process more manageable and less stressful.

Questions? Let us know!