What To Do When You’ve Been Waitlisted

Some colleges and universities can’t admit all of the students they would like to—or might want the option to—in regular decision. The result? Waitlisted.

Getting admitted from the waitlist is not easy, but it is possible at some schools. Although I do not suggest being overly optimistic, some strategies can help increase your chances. If you have time, which many seniors do as the school year winds down, I suggest implementing them.

Before you get to work, familiarize yourself with waitlist data from past years. How many students are offered spots on the WL? How many accept their place, and more importantly, how many are ultimately admitted? Some of these numbers are dismal, but it is best to know what you are up against rather than sitting hopefully in the dark. Review the school’s Common Data Set first (http://www.commondataset.org/), and if you want, take a look at:

Next, it is essential to place a deposit at your current top choice school (a school where you have been admitted) and get excited about the prospect of attending. Take advantage of admitted student days and other events that connect you with potential future classmates, including joining “Class of 2023” Facebook groups. These forums are often very informative, fun, and can help you take your mind off the waitlist waiting game.

Once you have accepted a spot on the waitlist, paid a deposit elsewhere, and familiarized yourself with the waitlist data, I suggest considering the strategies below. Not all of them are novel, but without much to lose, why not do all you can so you can look back without any what-ifs?

Write a waitlist letter. This letter should contain information updating the school on what you’ve been up to both inside and outside of the classroom since the time you applied. Consider including:

    1. A paragraph on “academic” updates. Spend some time talking about coursework and school projects and make connections to future areas of study. You can even drop in related courses, research projects, etc. that you’d like to take part in at the school, such as those you’d include in a Why School essay, but only do this if you did not submit an essay of this type when you applied.
    2. A paragraph on “extracurricular” updates if significant and they can be connected to how you will add value campus in the future. Updates might cover school and non-school clubs, service commitments, or other leadership experiences you can highlight. Like academic updates, making connections to similar opportunities you plan to undertake as a student there can be helpful additions. For example, if you talk about a new project you spearheaded as VP of your school’s Interact Club, you may want to include that you hope to lead a similar project within a specific club or group at the school. Being very specific is important.
    3. A paragraph that talks about the additional ways you have connected with and continued to get to know the school since you applied. This could include setting up an informational interview with a local alum, a current student, reaching out to your local alumni group (more on this below), or continuing to connect with your regional rep via email.
    4. A paragraph that reiterates your interest in the school, and that if admitted, you will attend. *Please note: If you are not 100% committed to attending, do not say so in the letter.

Send your waitlist letter to your regional rep (if an option) or upload on your applicant portal. Ask whoever you address it to if they have any advice for you as a waitlisted candidate. Keep this line of communication open; do not email updates every week but stay in touch to continue to demonstrate interest.

Seek out guidance counselor support. Ask your guidance counselor to call the admissions office and advocate for you, as well as provide any additional information they may have that will support your candidacy. Ask them to back up what they say on the phone in an email if they are willing. Make sure they send updated grades/transcript promptly. Your grades should have remained the same or gotten better, not dipped.

Ask for an additional letter of recommendation or support. Obtain and have an extra letter sent, but only if the school welcomes extra letters (some schools explicitly state on their wait list docs they do not welcome or want extra letters; if this is the case, do not send any). A teacher, coach, or someone else close to you who can speak to your potential contributions to the university could draft this letter.

Demonstrate interest. If you have not done so already, visit the school if you can. Sit in on a class, stay overnight, take advantage of any admissions events/programming, and try to meet with students/faculty in your intended area of study. If you can’t get to campus, see if you can take a tour online or through a site like CampusReel, and check if the school has a local alumni group. (Do a Google search.) If so, reach out and ask if anyone is willing to meet with you for an informal informational interview. Use this meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the school and to demonstrate your interest in attending. Also, don’t be afraid to follow your waitlist school on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or other social channels, or to Tweet to them about your desire to attend. Use social media to your advantage. Last, don’t forget to open all email correspondence from the school, as some schools track opens and clicks as indicators of interest.

Ultimately, you want to look back on being waitlisted and feel like you gave it your best shot!