So, you’ve been waitlisted; bummer, we know. But it isn’t the end of the world! The beauty of being waitlisted is that the university admissions team saw enough in you and your application that they didn’t want to write you off completely. A waitlist is a curveball thrown by a university’s admissions committee, but there are ways to dodge it and go from waiting around to being officially accepted.
What is a “waitlist”?
Being waitlisted is not the same as being deferred. The fact of the matter is that universities don’t know how many students are going to accept their offer for enrollment, so they “waitlist” some students in anticipation of others declining. They, like any other business, have numbers in mind that they need to reach to remain competitive. Universities build their waitlists based on history; they look at how many people enrolled in previous years and compare that number to how many declined. They will accept and waitlist more people than they will inevitably enroll. However, it is important to know that not all students on the waitlist will be admitted at a later date. Admissions committees are under no obligation to grant enrollment.
Why were you waitlisted?
Getting waitlisted can be really confusing, especially when you are a strong candidate with stellar grades, a bevy of extracurriculars, high test scores and more. You were certain you would get in. But, there are a variety of reasons that could explain why you were waitlisted. Believe it or not, students get waitlisted because they are too qualified, and universities expect that they are more likely to enroll at another school (you’ve likely heard students refer to some of their applications as their “fall-back” or “safety school”). Because the admissions team is looking to reach the aforementioned goal numbers, they may accept someone with lesser qualifications because they have a greater chance of accepting enrollment. Kind of twisted, but it’s reality.
On the other hand, a student may be waitlisted at one of the harder-to-reach colleges because while they are pretty close to being the ideal candidate, there are others who are just a few notches better. Should enough of these candidates decline, the committee will then go to their waitlist and accept the next tier students. This is how one would expect to be waitlisted.
Now, how can you get off this list?
First and foremost, be proactive and re-express your interest in the university. Admissions obviously wants to enroll students who have a genuine interest in the school, and who will stay for the full four years rather than using it as a vehicle for transferring. Send a thank you card expressing your appreciation for being placed on the waitlist and your strong desire to get off of it because you feel you belong at that school. You should be able to find out who read your application and made the decision to waitlist you by calling the admissions office.
Next, enlist the help of your college counselor, who is there to speak on your behalf and to help figure out what you need to do in order to get in. He or she will likely want you to guarantee that you will attend the school if you are admitted, and may even ask if you’d be willing to start in January, which is common for waitlist students. Next, they will contact an admissions officer and essentially go to bat for you, expressing why you should be taken off the waitlist and promising that if you are, you will attend. They will also inquire as to why you were waitlisted and what you can do to be reconsidered.
You should also update them on your achievements. If your grades have improved or if you’ve been awarded or honored in any way, let them know! Because you don’t know the exact reason for being waitlisted, it’s important to cover your grounds. If it is because your academics were just slightly lesser than the average student, they should know that you took the bull by the horns and got your grades up! It reinforces that you are a persistent go-getter, who knows what you need to do to succeed academically and in life. In short, the makings of a well-rounded student.
But, don’t rely on getting off the waitlist. Have other options.
It’s time to look at Plan B. When applying to university, you should always send out at least a few applications. You should have your “reach” schools, your “pretty qualified” schools and your “fall-back” schools. Make the motions to get off of the waitlist, but at the same time, you need to be considering your other options. Don’t wait around to find out if you’ll be taken off!
Take a look at the schools that you were accepted to and determine which are the frontrunners, if you didn’t already have a second-choice school in mind. Recall the pros and cons of each, and decide where you want to enroll. This may be a difficult decision if you really had your heart set on one school, but you don’t want to be left with nothing just because you weren’t admitted to your top choice. Get excited! This could be where you spend the next four years of your life. Once you have decided where you want to go, secure your spot by accepting the offer and making a non-refundable deposit. If you end up getting off the waitlist for your first-choice school and you decide to go there instead, you won’t be able to get your deposit back, so keep that in mind as you make your decision.
Don’t be afraid to reach for the stars, but be sure to take care of yourself by applying to a school that you are extremely confident you will get accepted to. Good luck!