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Playing the Waiting Game: Life on the Waitlist

April 1st, 2021

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Playing the Waiting Game: Life on the Waitlist

A college campus with a sidewalk in the middle of two mowed lawns with sparse looking trees.

Students who are wait-listed at a college should first focus on their acceptances.

For many seniors, April marks the end of a long period of uncertainty. Emails and envelopes from colleges have arrived, and the result is usually definitive–accepted or not accepted. However, for students who are put on a college’s waitlist, the next steps are less clear. Due to an increase in the number of applications per student, driven by test-optional policies, and uncertainty about who will accept their offer of admission, some colleges will opt to have long waitlists. In addition, since the start of the pandemic, families have been re-evaluating college costs and uncertainty about the economy contributes to their taking a closer look at how much they want to expend for a college education. Here are some tips on dealing with life on the waitlist.

Consider your options: Your first priority is to look at your acceptances, make your decision, and send a deposit signifying your commitment to that college. Although you may have your heart set on attending the place where you were wait-listed, colleges usually do not inform wait-listed applicants until June or later, which is past the deadline for securing your spot at another college.

Prioritize: When considering the different offers, you need to determine if you want to remain on any of the waitlists and inform the college (or colleges) of your decision. Most colleges ask you to respond via the college portal stating your interest. If you are not passionate about attending a college that wait-listed you, do not remain on the waitlist. In an article from U.S. News and World Report, Eric Kaplan, a former associate dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, offers this advice to students who have been wait-listed: “If they are happy with their other choices, please don’t say, ‘Yes’ to the waitlist. They could effectively be taking somebody else’s spot.” Also, keep in mind that the chances of getting off the waitlist are difficult to predict and vary depending on the school and the number of applications a school receives each year.

A sidewalk on a college campus lined by green trees. There is someone coming towards the photographer on a bicycle and they are blurry. The sky is a bright blue.

Be sure to communicate with admissions about your interest in the college.

Be Proactive: If you happen to get wait-listed at a favorite college there are some steps you can take to better your chances of getting admitted. Once you have determined that this one college could indeed be for you, write a concise but sincere letter, upload it to the college portal, or email it to the proper admissions contact. Oftentimes, this will be the person whose name is on the letter informing you that you have been wait-listed. You should also send a copy to the admissions representative for your region. This letter should briefly but specifically address why you are pursuing the school and any new developments that have taken place since you applied, such as awards or notable academic or extracurricular achievements. You can also reiterate why you believe this college is the right fit for you, and how you will add value on campus as a student.

 During the second semester of senior year, I continued to work on and improve my writing. This hard work paid off when I received an “A” on my senior research paper for English. My school also selected my paper as a submission to the district’s high school writing contest.

You can also ask your guidance counselor, dean, or perhaps even the principal to make a phone call to the college on your behalf. However, use this option with discretion, for school counselors usually will only do this for one college. Further, it would be expected that you would attend the college if you were then offered a spot, so be sure this college is what you really want and that your parents are on board with the decision, including the cost of that college.

It is important to understand that if you are admitted from the waitlist, it is very unlikely you will receive a merit scholarship or a strong need-based aid package. Although it is unfair, colleges usually take full-pay students off the waitlist, not those who have significant demonstrated need. Therefore, only pursue the waitlist if aid is not essential for your family.

Ultimately, unless you have a compelling reason to pursue a college, prolonging the anxiety of the college admissions process by remaining on a school’s waitlist is often not the best approach. So be sure to limit the number of colleges where you remain on the waitlist. Although the waitlist can seem like a last-minute reprieve from the dreaded “not accepted, there are advantages to picking a school that has accepted you and looking ahead to your college career.

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