Getting a waitlist decision to a college, particularly one you really had your heart set on, can leave you feeling really confused. It means you’re a strong enough applicant to be able to succeed at the college but there wasn’t enough room to outright admit you.  I remember making waitlist decisions as an admission officer and they were some of the hardest decisions I had to make all read season!  This week’s blog post is designed to help you do what you can to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist and get closure that you’re very likely going to attend somewhere else in the fall.

What a Waitlist Decision Really Means


For most colleges, a waitlist decision means they saw more compelling applicants that year to offer admission to but they’d like to keep the door open for you just in case they don’t meet their enrollment targets. It’s essentially the college’s way of cautioning against a bad enrollment year by having a pool of students who will eagerly (and often quickly!) submit an enrollment deposit if they need more students slightly before or after the May 1st decision deadline. Yes, this sounds selfish on the college’s part but it’s becoming an essential strategy as it becomes harder and harder for college admission deans to predict how many students will actually show up in the fall.


For you, the student, this is a validation that you ARE a strong candidate and  they want to offer you one final chance…even if it’s a very slim one. Waitlist admits are typically pretty rare events, particularly for the most selective colleges in the country. When a college does admit students from their waitlist, they’ll do so in a way that helps them meet key institutional priorities such as enrolling more students from underrepresented backgrounds, low income students, or students interested in majors they’re specifically eager to grow enrollment for, among other priorities.

What Do to When You’re on a Waitlist


If you find yourself being offered the chance to stay active on a wait list, there are several things you should do. First, the college likely has a form or button to accept your spot on the waitlist via your applicant status portal or by contacting the admission office. Be sure to FULLY READ  your decision letter so you know the exact process needed to put your name on the waitlist.  You should put your name on a waitlist, ONLY if you’ll actually send in a deposit if they admit you. Otherwise you’re potentially stealing a spot from a student for whom it IS their first choice!  


Next, colleges likely have everything they need to make a decision and won’t need more materials from you.  That said, it’s worth writing a brief letter of continued interest and emailing it to your regional admission counselor or the best contact information you can find.  This letter should succinctly present new and compelling information that wasn’t included in your application and reiterate your desire to enroll immediately if admitted from the waitlist. If the college provides another way for you to send an update like this, it’s okay to skip the letter and use their preferred method for submitting new information.

Complete Your Financial Aid Application and Consider Your Need for Aid

After officially accepting your spot on the waitlist and sending a letter of continued interest, you should also confirm that your financial aid is finalized and submit any outstanding documents if necessary.  If you don’t qualify for much financial aid, you may want to consider letting the college know that you won’t need aid to attend.  The reality is, many colleges need to be “need aware” and consider ability to pay when they admit students from the waitlist in order to manage their financial aid budget.  Of course, DO NOT put your family in a dangerous financial situation by forfeiting financial aid just to get off a waitlist. If you need aid to attend, keep your application active and make sure the offer letter is a finalized one! 

Move On and Love the College(s) That Love You Back


Now that you’ve done everything you can do to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist for a particular college, it’s important to take a step back and remember that the odds of being admitted off a waitlist are much LOWER than they are to get in outright. This is why our final and most important step is to hope for an admission offer but expect a rejection so we can look at the amazing colleges you HAVE been admitted to and start getting excited.  You have until May 1 to make a decision so take this time to remember all of the great and valid reasons that made you apply to these places and allow one of them to start emerging as your brand new first choice school. Who knows? You may end up falling in love with one so much that when that old first choice comes along with an admission offer you just might say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve found the one for me!”

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