With college decision deadlines, there are a lot of choices to make as a student. However, the most important decision–what school you will attend–may be delayed. Rather than being accepted or denied, you might find yourself on the waitlist. But what is a waitlist and what does it mean for your future?

What does being waitlisted mean for college?

If you are waitlisted by a college, your application has not been accepted yet. The waitlist acts as a sort of “potential student pool”.  IF other students turn down an offer of admission (i.e. decide to attend a different school), then your application might be accepted in their place.

Things to note:

  • More prestigious universities will accept fewer waitlist applicants
  • Waitlist applicants rarely receive financial aid from the university
  • You will have very little time to accept the offer of admission
  • Notice of admission will likely arrive very late – possibly just weeks before the start date
  • There is no guarantee that you will make it past the waitlist so make sure to apply to other schools as well

What to do when you are waitlisted for college

Decide to accept or reject the waitlist

You can only attend one college, so make sure you choose the right one. Only accept if the school is a top choice. Otherwise, you’re “taking a seat” from another potential student. If you do not plan to seriously pursue the opportunity if it is provided to you, do not cause others to miss out.

Contact admissions & express further interest – even if it’s not required

Some schools consider “demonstrated interest”. Showing them that you want to be there and that you are willing to put forth the effort can put you ahead of other applicants. Schools want to know their time and resources will be well spent.

Write a letter of interest

A letter of continued interest is another form of demonstrated interest. A well-written letter can show that you want to continue to pursue a potential offer from the school and that you are excited about the opportunity. The college’s admissions committee may be more interested in you as a candidate with this guarantee.

Look at other universities & possibly submit deposits

In most cases it is unethical to accept offers from more than one school (aka double depositing). However, being waitlisted is considered the exception to the rule. In fact, it is expected. Submitting an enrollment deposit to another school will ensure that you will have a place in the upcoming school year and provide much needed peace of mind.

You can accept another school’s offer if you are waitlisted while keeping your place on the waitlist. Just remember to withdraw from the school you have submitted a deposit to if your application is accepted at your waitlist school.

Be prepared to make a quick decision

You may not have a lot of time between your acceptance and the start date. Be prepared to quickly and efficiently notify the college of your decision. Delaying may cause you to lose your spot, or run out of time. This is another reason you should only accept waitlist offers from top choice schools.

Notify the school if you submitted a deposit elsewhere

If admitted from the waitlist, notify the school where you submitted a deposit and withdraw. If you forget to do this, you will be considered to have double deposited. This can cause enrollment issues and potentially penalties. Withdrawing will mean forfeiting your deposit.

College Waitlist Odds

If you’re applying for an exclusive college or are waitlisted, you might want to know what your odds are. Is staying on the waitlist worth it? Once you’re on the waitlist, should you get your hopes up? 

According to the 2019 State of College Admission report:

  • 43% of institutions reported using a waitlist
  • 10% of all college applicants are offered a place on a waitlist
  • 50% of those students opt to remain on the waitlist
  • 20% of students who remain on the waitlist are admitted
  • At the most selective colleges (those accepting fewer than ½ of all applicants), only 7% of college applicants accept a waitlist spot
  • Each year the waitlist ratio increases and the % admitted decreases

Waitlist offers aren’t for everyone, but if you decide it’s right for you then make sure to follow the proper steps! Keeping multiple paths for the future open can lead to great success. If you liked this post, be sure to subscribe to our weekly blog!

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