Kate - What to do if you are waitlisted

What To Do If You are Waitlisted

As the application cycle ends, some students may be placed on a waitlist—which can feel like an uncertain middle ground. Here are a few things students (and parents) should consider if waitlisted. 


Why Colleges Have a Waitlist

Waitlists are a way for universities to manage enrollment numbers effectively. Waitlisting allows admissions officers to delay a final decision on a student’s application until all accepted students have finalized their enrollment decisions and the university knows the availability of dorm space and classroom seats.

According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling:

  • 43% of institutions use waitlists (48% of private colleges and 34% of public colleges)
  • An average of 10% of college applicants are placed on a waitlist
  • On average, 50% of waitlisted students decide to stay on a waitlist
  • Colleges eventually admit 20% of waitlisted students on average
  • Of students who were waitlisted at selective institutions, 7% were eventually admitted


Understanding the Waitlist

Colleges manage their waitlists differently, with some maintaining ranked lists and others not. Students should inquire about their position on the list and understand the college’s history of admitting students from the waitlist. Students can consult the Common Data Set for each college to see how many students are typically placed on the waitlist and how many are usually admitted from it.


Taking Proactive Steps

While many factors are involved in being admitted off a waitlist, demonstrating continued interest is critical. Surprisingly, many students either decline their waitlist spot or fail to communicate their intentions clearly. Students should:

  • Promptly confirm their interest in the college and succinctly express why it remains their top choice (250 words max).
  • Keep the college updated on their academic progress, including upcoming AP or IB exams or significant projects.
  • Provide updates on recent achievements, awards, or notable engagements in activities or sports.
  • Share any personal interactions they’ve had with the college’s community, like current students or alums.
  • If possible, attend virtual admitted student programs to show their eagerness to join the college community.
  • Ask their school counselor to send an additional statement supporting the student’s intent to attend if admitted.


Students keep their application alive in the admissions process by actively expressing continued interest and staying engaged with the college.


Hearing from Colleges When Waitlisted

Colleges often consider waitlisted students in May once they know how many initially accepted students have enrolled. This timing can vary, however; some schools might admit waitlisted students earlier in spring, while others may wait until summer to balance their classes. 


Accepting an Offer at Another College

Given waitlists’ unpredictability and the possibility of decisions coming after other colleges’ commitment deadlines, students must focus on their next-choice school and secure their place there. After committing elsewhere, students must manage expectations about the waitlist and engage actively with the chosen college, participating in orientation and networking events to ensure a smooth transition and a positive start to their college experience.


Emotional Considerations

Students must be prepared for the emotional uncertainties of being on a  waitlist, which can extend into the summer. Balancing hope with practicality is crucial in this period of waiting. Navigating the waitlist is a journey of patience and strategic communication, but enduring the waitlist could lead to a rewarding outcome for those truly passionate about their first-choice college.