With anticipation and excitement students are hearing from colleges. Congratulations on your acceptances! But, what if you (or your student) have received a notification of “waitlist” from a favorite college? What exactly does that mean?

Unfortunately, colleges use the “waitlist” option to effectively manage their enrollment outcomes. Waitlisted students typically meet the admission requirements, but the college has already accepted the number of applicants they have determined they need to fill a class. If their “yield” assumptions are incorrect and additional spots become available, then the school will accept students off the waitlist.

We know this might seem unfair. Having a “final” decision would perhaps make your decision process easier, but this is the school’s prerogative. Given the situation, the next question becomes, “Would you still like to keep your spot on the waitlist?” If so, it is important to understand the timing as you work to make your own college decisions.

May 1st is the national decision deadline and likely you won’t hear before that. It could be as late as August after the “summer melt”, when students who had committed previously begin to change their minds and melt away, sometimes even after the fall term has begun.

Also, be aware that if you’re on a waitlist, it’s very difficult to know what your chances of acceptance are, and the statistics from the previous year are not necessarily helpful because admissions can change drastically from year to year. But, realistically some schools have over a thousand students on their waitlists.

Here are some strategies that will help you chart your next move when you’ve been added to the college waitlist:

  1. First – Decide Whether to Stay on the Waitlist. Make yourself a spreadsheet with admissions statistics/pros and cons. Ask yourself, is this a college that you would absolutely attend without any doubts? If the admissions office called you tomorrow and said that a spot had opened up, and you had 48 hours to give an answer, would you say yes, even with the possibility of no academic scholarship? If you are in need of financial aid, would you still be eligible for academic scholarships or need based financial aid if you remain on the waitlist? Often, the colleges will ask for a quick turnaround time on your answer so you must be prepared with your answer. This is a great reason to reach out to your school’s assigned admissions representative, ask your questions, and strengthen your relationship with the admissions office.
  2. Next step – Let the college know ASAP whether or not you want to stay on the waiting list. It makes sense to keep your spot on the list only if you’re really interested in attending. Before you decide, find out whether there are any conditions attached to being waitlisted. For example, since you’re notified later than other applicants, you may have fewer housing options. If you decide that you do actually have better options, then take yourself off the waitlist, and leave it for another student.
  3. Even if you decide to remain on the waiting list, prepare to attend another college. Choose the best fit from the colleges that accepted you and send a deposit. You’ll forfeit this deposit if the college that waitlisted you offers you a place and you accept. Still, you need to be sure you have a place in an incoming freshman class next fall.
  4. Read your waitlist letter thoroughly- Keep communication open – Meet all requirements and write a letter of continued interest. Compose a letter of continued interest and ask that it be included in your file. Provide updates about your activities. State in no uncertain terms that if you are accepted, you will attend. It’s important to mention specific reasons why you continue to believe the school is the best fit for you, so do your research.
  5. Submit third quarter grades if requested, and assuming your grades are solid, ask if those who have not specifically requested grades will accept them. That means you cannot let your GPA slip, even if you have contracted the “dreaded senioritis”. Work with a tutor if you need to get your senior year grades up. If your grades remain strong, submitting final grades to boost the GPA may also be an option.
  6. Be Persistent – So, the question is: How hard are you going to lobby? You must be persuasive when you tell the college or university that you will accept their offer. The “sit back and wait method” will not likely work. In the real world, you need to politely push to reach your goal.

In the end, this is a very personal decision that only you can make. To wait or not to wait? Consider all of the factors and make an informed choice, not one based on emotions. In the end, the most important thing is to weigh ALL of your options and make the best decision for you.

Congratulations on all of your accomplishments!

Christina Assal, M.A.
Certificate in College Planning
Milestone College Prep, Boca Raton