Waitlisted? Next Steps...

Previously, we discussed factors you may need to consider in deciding whether or not to accept a spot on a waitlist and outlined questions to ask as you try to decide whether or not to remain on a waitlist. Today, we're outlining the steps you should take if you have received a waitlist letter.


If you have received a waitlist letter from a college, pay close attention to what it says. Usually you aren’t actually placed on the waitlist— the letter is telling you that you can choose to be on it if you want. In order to be placed on a waitlist you will need to respond by submitting a form or emailing the college. Typically, you are asked to respond by a set date. If you don’t respond or if you miss that deadline, you will not be placed on the waitlist. Follow instructions and respond accordingly.

Remember: accept a waitlist spot only if there is a strong possibility you will attend that college if admitted. If you have been admitted to your first- choice school and would not attend the college that offered to put you on their waitlist, immediately inform that college that you do not want to be placed on their waitlist. Waitlist spots are not a trophy- gathering opportunity.

Send in a Deposit to a School Where You Have Been Accepted

If you decide to accept a spot on the waitlist, look over your acceptances, decide which college you will attend if you are not admitted at your waitlist school, and send in a deposit so that you are guaranteed a spot in the fall.  Then embrace the college where you have been admitted. Get to know that school, starting with social media to meet your fellow classmates, and begin picturing yourself on campus. You can sit back and relax, secure in the knowledge that you will be attending a wonderful college in the fall. And if you are admitted off the waitlist elsewhere, you will have the pleasure of deciding if you want to accept that offer or stay with the college to which you originally committed.

Follow Up

When you receive a waitlist letter, it will often outline what information should be submitted or what additional materials may be sent, such as most recent grade reports or additional letters of recommendation. In some cases, the letter will tell you the college has all the information they need and nothing additional should be sent unless it is specifically requested. Colleges usually give clear directions. Follow them.

The two most important things you can do are:

1. Show the strongest possible next grading period. Your final grades will need to demonstrate consistent progress and an upward trajectory.

2. Write a letter to your admission officer or the dean of admission thanking her for the opportunity and telling her why the college is a good fit for you. In that letter, bring her up to date with accomplishments, awards, or extracurricular activities that provide new information. If in fact this is the one college for which you would drop everything else and enroll in a heartbeat, then state that if offered admission you will enroll. This is important to some schools.


For more information on waitlists, including advice from admission deans at Harvard, Northwestern and Occidental about how the waitlist works at their schools, please see Chapter  17, "Notification and Making the Decision," in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.


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