Waitlisted. Now What?




You’ve waited for a decision since submitting your application back in October and just received one. It isn’t a yes and it isn’t a no. It’s a maybe (known as Limbo Land in the world of admissions). Here’s what you need to know about college waitlists.


What is waitlisting?

I’m going to get real here for a second. College is a business. I know we don’t like to think about it that way. For me, a first-generation college student, it was a pathway to a better job and more financial security than my parents had. While a college education can lead to upward mobility, colleges are, in fact, a business. Just like any other business, they have a budget. In most cases, that budget hinges on enrollment dollars. Colleges need to hit their enrollment target and that’s where the waitlist comes in.


How likely is it that I’ll be admitted from a waitlist?

Since we’re keeping it real, the chances aren’t fantastic. Colleges may offer thousands of students the waitlist option, only to accept a hundred or fewer students from the list. Here’s my advice for knowing your likelihood of being accepted. Colleges have to report their waitlist numbers in a report called the Common Data Set. To learn how many students were on the waitlist last year and the number admitted, google, “School Name, Common Data Set, 2020”. It’s a huge report. What you want to look at is section C2. This will tell you the following:

  • Number of qualified applicants offered the waiting list

  • Number accepting a place on the waiting list

  • Number of waitlisted students admitted

What should I do now?

Determine whether you are still interested in attending the school. If “yes”, accept your waitlist offer and take the steps detailed below. If “no”, decline your waitlist offer and get pumped up about all of those other terrific options you have! Make sure to commit to a school that has offered you admission by May 1st and pay any enrollment deposit fees.


How do I accept the waitlist offer?

1. Follow directions! Some schools require students to “accept” their waitlist offer in order to be considered for acceptance, should a seat become available. You should have received instructions with your waitlist notice on how to accept the waitlist offer. Your prompt reply tells colleges that you remain interested. Typically, this is done in the student’s applicant portal. Here, the student may also have an opportunity to provide an “update” or statement of continued interest.


2. Craft an email to the admissions officer in charge of reviewing your application (this can often be found on the admissions website or by calling the admissions office and asking). This is a point in the admissions process that demonstrated interest really counts.

In the email message:

• Use proper salutations and titles

• Thank the admissions officer for carefully reviewing your application

• If you would definitively attend if admitted—emphasize this!

• Speak to why the school is a strong fit and how you would contribute


3. Ensure that you don’t over-contact your admissions officer. 1-2 emails in April or May is fine with new and compelling information or updates, but the last thing you want to do is annoy your reader.


After you’ve done all of the above, let it go. Push this school to the back of your mind. Treat an admit offer from a waitlist like finding a $20 bill in those jeans that you haven’t worn since before the pandemic. An unlikely, unexpected, (yet happy) surprise.



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