What Should I Do If I’ve Been Waitlisted To a College?

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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You’ve done the work, applied to college, and now you’re playing the waiting game. So you check the mail every day, waiting for big envelopes from colleges saying they’ve accepted you. A few rejections may inevitably come; but either way, you want to know the results of your hard work. When a letter comes offering to put you on the waitlist, however, you might feel a bit uncertain about how to react or respond. What are you supposed to feel? And more importantly, what can you do if you’ve been waitlisted to a college?

Know, first and foremost, that being waitlisted to a college is a two way street. That means college may offer to put you on a waitlist, but then you decide if you want to get on the list or not. You may think you’d want to get on the waitlist because you want as many college acceptances as possible. However, waitlists don’t work quite like that. There is a little more information you’ll need to make this decision.

Ask yourself these questions first.

  • Where does this school rank on my list of schools?
  • Have I already been accepted to another college?
  • Can I find out where I rank on the waitlist? This information can help you decide how seriously you need to consider other schools or options.
  • Do I intend to say yes if a school takes me off of their waitlist and offers me admission?

You should really only join a waitlist if you intend to say yes to a school should they offer you a spot. So if your answers to these questions indicate that you might not say yes, then you may want to reconsider.

Yep, I’m sure

If you’re reading this article, however, chances are you want to get off the waitlist and get an offer from a certain school. In that case, there are a number of things you can do to increase your odds of acceptance.

Write a letter to admissions

In addition to responding to a school’s offer to put you on the waitlist, you can write a letter to the school to restate your interest in it. This letter should state how committed you are to the school, if it’s your first choice school, what you have to offer them as a student (especially if you can meet a demographic quota, such as a male student in a nursing program), and any new and relevant information, such as higher grades or if you’ve won any awards since applying. A school wants to know that a waitlisted student will definitely accept their offer of admissions when it comes, so assuring them that you will can go far.

Ask for an interview, especially if you haven’t had one

Ideally, you would have a college interview during the application process. However, if you did not have one for any reason, request one now. A school may not grant you one, but if they do, it’s a good way to help them deepen their understanding of whom you are and what you have to offer.

Provide updated contact information

When you respond to a school’s offer to put you on the waitlist, you should also make sure all of your contact information is up to date. Nothing will ruin your chance of getting into a school better than being unreachable. Make sure you also respond to any updates they send you in a punctual manner.  

In summary

Beyond these suggestions, you don’t want to do much. Anything else you do could be off putting to an admissions office or a decision committee. Other actions are not likely to help your odds of admission anyway.   

And speaking of the odds… accept that, in the end, there may be nothing you can do. Being waitlisted to a college can be just as fickle as the rest of the college admissions process, and it largely depends on how many students choose not to attend a certain school. So, if a school fills their open slots, they may not take any students off of the waitlist. On the other hand, they may take the vast majority of students off of their waitlist. To give you an idea of how arbitrary it can be, here are some sample numbers on the rate of admittance to waitlisted students.

Final thoughts from Empowerly

You may feel disappointed if you’ve been waitlisted to a school, but you should also feel proud that you achieved something great. Applying to college is competitive, and getting on a waitlist means that a college still sees your potential. There may be any number of factors involved beyond your control to explain why they couldn’t directly offer you admission. If nothing else, remember that you can always transfer to your dream school later on, or take a gap year and then reapply.

Questions? Let us know!