Waitlisted! Now What?

There it is, an email from your first choice college. You open it and…DRAT!  You’ve been waitlisted!

But what does “waitlisted” actually mean?

The waitlist is a list of students who were not offered admission in the first round even though the college thinks that they would make a fine addition to their campus community. It is typical for a college to offer several waitlisted students admission soon after the May 1 national deposit deadline. After all, some of those admitted students undoubtedly will tell the college that they have committed to going elsewhere, thus freeing up some spaces in the class.

So I’m not good enough?

Don’t take it personally. Yes, it’s normal to think, “I’m not good enough” or “Why did they pick that other kid and not me?” But remember, it’s really all about institutional priorities and general demographics. Perhaps the college had too many applicants that year who wanted to be Chemistry majors or too many from New York so they had to waitlist a few.

What should I do now?

Accept a spot on the waitlist or, if you’ve decided to go to another school, then withdraw your application. Typically, there is a formal procedure for doing this as outlined in the email or letter they sent you.

Next, reach out to your area admissions representative. Send an email stating that you are still very interested in attending and that you have claimed your spot on the waitlist. Let the rep know about any new developments in your profile that have occurred since your application, perhaps a new award, achievement or community service project. Keep a positive tone in your email; don’t whine about being waitlisted.

If you do claim your spot on the waitlist, be sure to follow all of the instructions in your waitlist letter. Some colleges will ask that you come in for an interview or write another essay. If they don’t ask for anything, consider sending a few supplementary materials to enhance your application. Perhaps you might arrange for another letter of recommendation or you might mail the admissions office a graded research paper that showcases your academic abilities. However, keep it professional; do not send fruit baskets, cutesy poems or a crate of doves to demonstrate your love for the school.

Send a deposit elsewhere.

Most schools will not offer admission to waitlisted students until after May 1, the national deposit deadline. Therefore, you will need to go ahead and put money down at another college to secure your place in their class. Yes, these deposits are typically non-refundable, and yes, this can be an emotional decision but in order to ensure that you have a back up plan, this is a very important step.

Waiting is hard, but don’t dwell on it.

Waiting can be hard, especially when your friends are making definitive college plans. And sometimes, the waiting game will continue throughout the summer. In fact, I know a student who actually moved into his dorm at William and Mary in late August and then got a letter from Harvard offering him admission off the waitlist as long as he arrived in Cambridge two days later. There will be many challenges in life and being waitlisted is just the beginning, so don’t let it get you down. Enjoy the rest of your senior year and be open about your college adventure wherever that might be!