What To Do If You’ve Been Waitlisted

5 Tips to Make the Most of the Wait

What to do if you've been waitlisted

Just as the Early Decision / Early Action process has deferrals, Regular Decision has its own version of admissions purgatory: the waitlist. Being waitlisted is different from being deferred; if you have been waitlisted, the school is essentially saying that you met all qualifications, and they’d be thrilled to have you…there just isn’t any space (yet).

In 2024, with admissions and enrollment offices uncertain about how the Supreme Court decision and FAFSA mayhem will affect their yield, we are expecting colleges to once again use wait lists as a way to manage their classes. As with last year, as colleges navigate enrollment uncertainty, some have indicated that they will not only go to their waitlists earlier than usual (i.e. before May 1), but anticipate pulling from their waitlists even later than usual (possibly through the summer). 

So what’s a waitlisted student to do? Below are our top tips for waitlisted students.

1. Choose between the schools to which you’ve been admitted. 

Although this is not necessarily the first step chronologically, this is the most important one, so we are listing it first: all students will need to make a deposit at a school to which they have been admitted by May 1. Waitlists can be very unpredictable—some years, a school might take 100 students from a waitlist, and the next year, they might take none—so it’s important to consider the options you know that you have for sure and make a choice about which one will be the best fit for you. 

Schools generally will not go to their waitlists until after May 1, when they have heard replies from all their admitted students, so you will have to make a deposit even while you wait to hear from any school at which you were waitlisted. Should you be admitted off a waitlist and choose to attend that school, you’ll lose your other deposit. The below waitlist strategies shouldn’t distract from thoughtfully weighing the choices you do have!

2. Consider whether you want to stay on the waiting list at all. 

If you do, follow any directions carefully. 

    • Typically, colleges will ask students to fill out a form confirming whether they wish to stay on the waitlist. Some schools even evaluate how quickly a student agrees to stay on the list, so you should do this right away if you remain interested. 
    • Others may ask for an additional statement or essay. Even if this is not specifically requested, you can proactively reach out to the school’s regional rep to express your interest. In doing so, make sure to clearly express your enthusiasm for the school—if they remain your first choice, tell them! You may also wish to share any exciting and relevant updates from your academic or extracurricular life that have occurred since you applied.
    • Make sure you are aware if the school wants any further materials, e.g. final grades, and that you coordinate with your school counselor to have any materials sent.
    • Some colleges may allow you to submit other additional materials beyond an essay or letter (new recommendations, art materials, etc.); others will caution against it. Pay attention to their language and instructions!
    • Likewise, some schools will encourage students to visit, especially if they have not yet come to campus; others will explicitly state that they do not recommend that students do this. (Note: this may be different due to the pandemic, and colleges will not be expecting any in-person visits that are unsafe or unfeasible!). As an example, note how differently Vanderbilt and MIT talk about the waitlist process. Wherever you have been waitlisted, take the time to carefully read through the school’s recommendations and act accordingly.

3. Talk to your school counselor. 

Just as with deferrals, your school counselor can be a powerful advocate. Once you have decided whether you’ll stay on the waitlist, talk to your school counselor as soon as possible to discuss the situation and gain your counselor’s insights. Your school counselor may be able to call the college or university to further advocate on your behalf, or may have other valuable experience and thoughts to share.

4. Talk to your parents and think through the different scenarios. 

Being admitted off the waitlist can be exciting, but often the decision about whether you’ll accept the offer has to be made very quickly—we’re talking 24-48 hours in some cases. In addition, being admitted off the waitlist can put some students in more complicated financial situations: sometimes, schools that are need-blind in the regular admissions process become need-aware for waitlisted students, or a school may not be able to offer the same level of financial aid or scholarships if you are admitted off the waitlist. Make sure to find out the policies of the schools at which you’ve been waitlisted if this will be an important consideration for your family.

5. Keep up the good work in school. 

We know, we know, it’s senior spring—the time when you were supposed to be able to take your foot off the gas pedal at long last! But keep in mind that most colleges and universities will want your final grades, and for waitlisted students, these could still make a difference for you. We promise that you can relax once summer hits!

Now let’s go back to Step 1 again. Even while you take action and employ waitlist strategies, remember to focus, too, on the school at which you’ve put down your deposit, to picture yourself engaging with that community. No matter where you end up, you will get out of your college experience what you put into it, and now is the time to start imagining yourself on that campus!

If you’ve been waitlisted and would like support in navigating the process, reach out to our team of admissions experts here.

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