What To Do If You’re Waitlisted for College

dog sitting next to computer with waitlisted on screen lg

After months of prepping for standardized tests, perfecting your admissions essays, and submitting applications, you receive a letter from your dream school. But the news is mixed; while the college didn’t reject you, it didn’t accept you either. Instead, you’ve been added to the waitlist.

Getting on a waitlist can be an uncomfortable feeling, and you may not be sure how to proceed. Here’s what to do if you’re waitlisted for college and how to improve your odds of getting into your selected school.

What Does It Mean to Be on a Waitlist?

When a college adds you to its waitlist, it means you meet the school’s criteria for admission, but the school has already accepted the maximum number of students for the upcoming academic year. If a spot becomes available for example, if an accepted student chooses to go elsewhere the college may offer you a place in their incoming class.

But the college won’t make that offer until after the national college decision deadline of May 1, so it’s hard to know whether you’ll ultimately get in until the last minute.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 43% of colleges use waitlists. On average, those schools end up accepting about 20% of all the students that chose to remain on the waitlist.

However, how many students are accepted from the waitlist varies year to year, and at more selective schools, the percentage of students accepted from the waitlist tends to be much lower. For example, Dartmouth University reported that fewer than 10% of applicants are offered a place on the waitlist, the number of accepted students from the waitlist ranges from zero to a couple dozen.

What To Do When You’re on a Waitlist for a Target College

If you’ve been added to a college’s waitlist, here are tips for what to do next:

1. Respond to the College

When you receive a notification that you’ve been waitlisted, the school will give you instructions on next steps. Students can decline a position on the waitlist if they don’t want to deal with the uncertainty and intend to enroll in another school. Or if they want to stay on the waitlist, they can let the college know that they’re still interested in attending.

If you want to stay on the waitlist, be aware that you may have fewer financial aid and housing options than other students since those students will have access before you.

2. Find Out Where You Stand

Contact the admissions office to find out where you stand on the waitlist and how they ultimately selects students to attend. For example, some schools rank students on the waitlist and will go down the line until all spots are filled, whereas other colleges have a more subjective approach.

3. Prioritize Your Grades

Because you’re on a waitlist, keeping up your grades is essential; this isn’t time for the senior slide. The college may ask to review your third- or fourth-quarter grades, so studying hard and excelling in your classes can improve your chances of getting in.

Tip: If you have the time and are willing to sit through standardized exams again, retaking the SAT or ACT could help your odds of getting into your desired college. If your scores are higher than your results on your previous exams, notify the school and send a copy of the new scores.

4. Send in a Deposit to Another School

Hopefully, you’ve applied to several colleges. If you’re willing to enroll with another school if your first choice falls through, send in a deposit to the alternative option ahead of the deadline. Sending in the deposit ensures a place is held for you so you can attend classes in the fall.

Otherwise, you risk not being able to start classes if your waitlist position doesn’t result in an acceptance.

5. Notify the College of Your Achievements

If you’ve won any awards or achieved any academic or athletic feats since you applied, notify the admissions department. Whether an article you wrote was published by the newspaper or you won the state science fair, those achievements could encourage the school to accept you over other students on the waitlist.

Try to be patient and stay calm. You’ve got this!

Coping with the College Waitlist

Although ending up on the college waitlist isn’t the result you hoped for, it’s much better than an outright rejection. It shows that you met the school’s criteria and have done all you can; now, it’s up to the college’s admissions department to make the final decision.

This period can be a nerve-wracking and stressful time. If you have your heart set on attending a particular school, focus on your studies and keep the college updated on your recent achievements to give yourself the best chance of getting in.

When it comes to college waitlists, follow this guideline: hope for the best, but plan for the worst. If the dream school ultimately accepts you, that’s wonderful! But you should plan for that not happening and move forward with plans to attend another school so that you can start college in the fall either way.


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