Advising 101: How To Handle the Waitlist

It’s spring, and all the admissions decisions are finally rolling in! For most seniors, this is a time full of mixed emotions. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking to sort through your acceptances and rejections, not to mention what happens in one of the most vexing admissions situations: a spot on the waitlist. If you’re no longer interested in a school that has put you on its waitlist, then there isn’t much of a dilemma—let the school know as soon as possible that you don’t want to attend. However, if the school is one of your top choices, this can be frustrating, since it means living in limbo for a bit longer.

Overall, it is a good idea to focus on the schools you have acceptances from, as the odds of getting off the waitlist are significantly lower than of being admitted for regular decision, and the number of students who do varies wildly from one institution to another and from one year to the next. The good news? The waitlist can be a place where admissions officers take a fresh look at applicants, and there are several things you can do to improve your chances of moving up the list and toward an acceptance letter.

Here are a few quick tips on what to do if you’ve been waitlisted at your top-choice school:


  1. Read your waitlist letter carefully. The college may indicate what additional information they will review on top of what you’ve already submitted, including letters of recommendation and your most recent grade reports, or they may say they have all the information they need. (Regardless, see Step 2.)
  2. Send a letter to the admissions committee. You should both confirm that you want to take your spot on the waitlist and express your continued interest in the school, while advocating for yourself authentically and concisely.
  3. Provide the committee with NEW information about yourself in the letter if possible. This might include academic or personal accomplishments or awards that weren’t on your original application. If this doesn’t apply, do some more research on the programs, professors, or opportunities you will take advantage of if admitted. Think of it as an additional “why essay,” if you already completed one with your application, or as an original essay if you haven’t. Always tie what a school has to offer back to your interests and talents, to show that you not only are a good fit for the school but also will be a valuable asset.
  4. Contact your school counselor. Ask him or her to call the admissions office and advocate on your behalf, as this can make an impact.
  5. Stay focused. Remember, your final grades or grades in progress matter in this decision. Banish the term senioritis from your vocabulary!

We wish you the best of luck in getting off the waitlist! In general, keep your grades up, write an authentic letter, and then let it go. It will all work out in the end—we promise.