Hearing back from colleges is an exciting and nerve-wracking time. You finally see your hard work pay off, but you also have to be strong in the face of disappointment. Unfortunately, this step of the college process has its own share of difficulties. While students hope to receive acceptances and prepare to see a rejection, they are often less certain about how to interpret being waitlisted or deferred.
Receiving a waitlist offer means that a college has determined that the applicant is qualified for admittance, but cannot offer a spot at this time. Waitlisted students can move off the waitlist when accepted students decline their offers.
It’s hard to know exactly why an applicant is waitlisted, but you should know that being waitlisted means your application was impressive enough that the admissions committee believes you are qualified for the college and would be a good addition to the class. The difference between the waitlist and acceptance could be any number of factors, and in more selective schools can be almost arbitrary. For example, a college might have needed to accept more athletes from a particular sport that year in order to fill up their team, and that one attribute made the difference between two otherwise equally qualified students. It could also be the case that although your transcript was impressive, the admissions committee felt that you did not fit with the school’s personality. All in all, a holistic admissions process is extremely complex. You should not take the decision personally, because there are so many factors involved.
Being waitlisted is not a reason to give up hope; depending on the school, it is difficult to get off the waitlist but is not impossible. While waiting to hear back, you do have a few options. You can write a letter of continued interest to let your admissions officer know you are still passionate about the school and would be happy to accept an offer to attend. Any letter should be written with a tone of gratitude, respect, and politeness. Give the college an update on your accomplishments since submitting your application, including grades, special projects, or extracurriculars. Remind the admissions offer how pleased you are to get as far as the waitlist, and that you would be happy to accept a spot in the matriculating class.
A waitlist letter should address weaknesses in your original application. Think critically about what your application may have been lacking, and explain to the college how you have improved in these areas, or fill them in on information they may have lacked the first time around. Also, think about how you could demonstrate your compatibility with the campus culture. Small details like this can give you a leg up.
If you are waitlisted at the university of your dreams, you should definitely stay on the waitlist, but you will probably not hear back until May 1, after the decision deadline. If you are waitlisted at a school you do not want to attend, you can look into removing yourself from the waitlist in order to avoid wasting the school’s time. Make sure to read the fine print. At some schools, you will have to take a specific action, such as filling out a form, in order to maintain your spot on the waitlist. In the meantime, since you can never count upon being taken off the waitlist, you should make plans to enroll at a school that did accept you.
Of course, maintaining your grades is imperative, and you might even want to retake the SAT or ACT. A slipping academic performance will not motivate a college to take you off the waitlist. You should also reach out to your admissions officer, by calling or emailing, to let them know personally that you are still interested in the school. It is even possible that the admissions officer can help you out, or give you personalized advice.
If you do manage to get off the waitlist, know that there might be consequences to a last-minute change in plans. For example, you might not be guaranteed housing since you are enrolling later, or you may not get your first choice of classes. You will also definitely lose the deposit that you made in accepting a spot at another school. These sacrifices might be worth making if you are accepted to your top choice, but remember that even if you end up enrolling at a second-choice school, you can put in the work to transfer after one or two years. Being waitlisted can help you rethink your strengths and motivate you to work even harder.