How to gett Off the Waitlist


As another admissions cycle comes to an end, many colleges are reporting another rise in applications. Yale University had a 5% increase in applicants for the Class of 2016, the University of Virginia experienced an increase of nearly 18%, and Grinnell College in Iowa reported a 52% increase! According to The Washington Post, “The spike isn’t because there are more high school graduates applying to college — it’s because students are applying to more schools than ever before. And it’s sometimes difficult for admissions officers to predict exactly how many admitted students will enroll.”

Unfortunately, despite an increase in applications, many colleges are not expanding their freshmen class size. So while students are celebrating an acceptance or feeling disappointed about a denial, still others find themselves in the gray area in between: waitlisted. Being waitlisted often means that you will be considered for admission in the event that the school needs additional students for the freshman class. According to a report by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), in 2010, 48% of all colleges used waitlists (up from 39% in 2009), while the chances of students being admitted off a waitlist declined from 34% to 28%.

This can leave those students feeling confused and uncertain about where to enroll. Some schools will admit students from the waitlist as early as April, while others wait until July or even August! Often a waitlisted applicant will be considered after the rest of the Regular Decision applicants have responded. Students often ask how they can improve their chances of being accepted off the waitlist. Our counselors, many of whom are former admissions officers at schools like Yale, Brown, Princeton, and Georgetown recommend the following tips:

Think it over
Before contacting any colleges that have waitlisted you, take some time to consider whether you still want to attend the school. Even if you do, you should enroll at your next choice school, because you don’t know if you’ll be accepted from the waitlist. Secure your spot at your next choice school by sending your non-refundable deposit (which you will lose if you decide to enroll elsewhere) by May 1st. If the college where you are waitlisted is no longer one of your top choices, you should write to withdraw your name from the waitlist, opening up a spot for another student who wishes to remain on the list.

Don’t take the term literally
Don’t wait, action will get you everywhere! Before May 1st, write a letter to your admissions representative (the person responsible for evaluating applications from your high school) and copy the Dean of Admissions. Be upbeat in your approach and do not show frustration or disappointment. In the letter, include a paragraph explaining how you see yourself at this school. Include the courses you would like to take, the professors you want to study/research with and the activities you would participate in. Show how you would enhance the school community. This should be different from your supplemental essay and should highlight new or additional reasons that the school is a great fit for you academically and socially.

If the college remains your first choice and you will definitely attend if you get in, state that. Only write this to your first choice school, especially if you are on several waitlists. The letter makes the decision at your first choice college a binding one, which helps the admissions committee determine its final student count and, in turn can help your chances for getting in.

Give an update
Be sure to update the college on everything important you have been doing in school and in the community since you submitted your application. Inform them of any updated grades, honors, awards, or new standardized test scores that you have received. Also consider submitting an additional letter of recommendation from someone who can add new information and depth to your application file (for example, a senior year teacher who has come to know you well and could highlight your scholastic growth and achievement). Only send what is absolutely necessary – you don’t want to overload the admissions office. It’s a good idea to consult with your high school counselor before sending new materials.

Get in touch
You should also get in touch with any contacts you have made throughout the application process so they will keep you, and your strong desire to attend their school, fresh in their mind. If the college encourages its waitlisted students to visit, then set up a visit before the end of the first week of May. This is also a good time to meet with your admissions representative.

Keep up your end of the bargain!
Maintain senior year grades, study hard for AP exams and finals, and above all maintain a great attitude in school! The entire year’s performance is factored into the admissions decision and for waitlisted students, this can be the dealmaker or breaker.

If you don’t get off the waitlist at a particular school, you can apply to that school later as a transfer student if you are unhappy at the college you choose to attend freshman year. However, you should start your freshman year off with an open mind and make the most of your new campus.

A final note from our counselors, including former admissions officers, is that appealing a denial rarely works; we do not recommend this course of action.

Remember, college is what you make of it! Although you may have a top choice school, if you have done your research well, there are likely many other great choices that fit your goals, where you’ll be a happy and productive student. Good luck!


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