You’ve sent in all your applications. You’ve crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s. You’ve anticipated this moment for a long time. Finally hitting the submit button, you leave it in the admissions officer’s hands. 

A few months later, you hear back from the school. You’re prepared for a deferral but hoping for an acceptance but it’s neither of those. Instead, you’ve been “waitlisted.” Another blockade that you’re unsure how to navigate. 

What is a waitlist?

When you apply to colleges there are four different decisions a school can reply back to you with. There is an acceptance or a rejection, a deferral, and the final option is being waitlisted. To be waitlisted means that a school has reached its maximum number of acceptances and they want to keep you on a “waitlist” in case those students don’t decide to enroll. Should an accepted student decide to enroll in a different school, it is possible a spot will open up for you. 

According to the College Board, you won’t know if you’ve been taken off a waitlist until after Decision Day onMay 1st (This date may change due to each school’s COVID-19 guidelines.) By May 1st, the school will have received a final count of how many students have decided to place their deposits and enroll.

Before all of this though, there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of being accepted. 


1. Decide if you still want to attend

Ask yourself if you still want to attend this school. You might decide there is a better school out there for you. If this is the case, no further action is needed and you can wait for their decision on May 1st.

The waitlist letter you receive from the school can either provide enough information to encourage you to continue or not enough to convince you of your odds. According to an article by The Washington Post, some colleges give more insight into your chances in your letter while others don’t. For example, Stanford University submits a very lackluster letter leaving you with much to be desired. The University of Pennsylvania however, provides more information into how many students off the waitlist they typically admit. 

You can also decide if you still want to attend by finding out where you are on the waitlist ranks. Not every school releases its ranks, but for those that do, it is a helpful tool. For example, MIT does not rank their waitlist applicants and state clearly that it is unlikely they’ll be accepted. If this is enough to deter you, then continue pursuing your other applications. 

what to do if you've been waitlisted

2. Accept your spot on the waitlist

After deciding that you definitely still want to be considered for this school, you must accept your spot on the waitlist. You can do this most likely online. According to this article in The Princeton Review, you should keep your communication open with the school, letting them know that you will attend if accepted. This is, of course, assuming you mean it.


3. Follow the instructions on your waitlist letter

Some schools will request you submit additional materials or something of that nature. Other schools will indicate they don’t want anything from you beyond an email of interest. Make sure you are following the instructions.  It won’t reflect positively on you to not follow their specific instructions once they reevaluate your application.


4. Restate your interest in attending the school

If you are waitlisted, you should continue to demonstrate interest in the school. You should contact the admissions office whether by phone or email. You should remain positive and not restate what is in your application, but rather your enthusiasm about potentially attending. 

The school may ask you to submit more information to them to make a final decision. This could include newer test scores, AP scores, or an overall update on your extracurricular activities. 


5. Submit a deposit to another university

Since you won’t hear back from your waitlisted school until after Decision Day, you need to ensure you have a spot in the fall in case you don’t get admitted. Submitting a deposit will secure your spot at another university. While you won’t get this money back, it is still a security blanket you can and should be falling back on. This is a risk that students and parents both  agree to take. 


6. Continue to excel in school and beyond

We know that it’s hard to keep the momentum when the end of the school year is so close, but make sure you aren’t losing focus. According to NYU, you should be updating the school on any new accomplishments. If you have let yourself slip it will be hard to demonstrate to a school that you are still a good fit. It will also show that you are able to remain positive, hard-working, and determined during the inevitably stressful college application season.

Waitlisted is not a rejection, but students should be prepared to attend a different school in the fall than the one they previously envisioned. This is okay! In the end, you will be happy at any school as long as it is the right fit for you.