How to Escape Purgatory: Get Off Your Dream College's Waitlist

Author, College Admission Expert, Valley Prep Tutoring Services

Apr   2015



wait-list n: College admission purgatory for those trying ensure a path to academic heaven.

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The stakes feel high when your #1 choice college writes to say you’ve been waitlisted. But don’t get caught up in whether you should be happy you’re not rejected or sad you’re not accepted. Instead, focus your thoughts on something productive: a plan.

First, there are a few important things to know. Only about 5%–10% of students are admitted off the waitlist for any given school (even less for highly selective colleges). Second, waitlisted students are not told whether they’ve been admitted (or not) until after the May 1 deadline. This means that you will have to choose the best fit from among your acceptances. Note that the security deposit you make with your May 1 decision will be lost if you are admitted from the waitlist and choose to attend.

Before making your stand to be admitted off the waitlist, pause for a moment and consider how much you actually want to attend this college. You should really only ask to remain on the waitlist if you are certain you will attend upon acceptance. If your acceptances from other colleges take priority or are equally desirable, it’s best to refuse that waitlist offer. However, if this is, in fact, your dream college, do immediately notify the admission office that you would like to stay on the waitlist and prepare your best persuasion tactics. At a loss for what those might be? Read on.

You’ve met the basic admission requirements of your dream school having been waitlisted, so now it’s time for the final push. It starts with a little . . .


  • Disadvantages. Find out if being waitlisted has any disadvantages. Due to a later acceptance, you might find fewer housing, parking, and financial aid opportunities. It’s important to understand what these difficulties are ahead of time so that alternative options can be found.
  • Ranking. Call the admission office and ask if the waitlist is ranked. If it is, find out where you rank—the higher you are on the waitlist, the greater your chance of acceptance.


  • Grades. Resist the temptation of slipping into senioritis and maintain good grades. Colleges may use your final grades as their deciding factor for acceptance, so keep up the good work and, even better, show improvement if you can.
  • Extracurriculars. Are you head of a club or interested in becoming one? Want to enter a competition? Go for it. Colleges are interested in students who will contribute to their campus community, not just do well academically. Showing leadership and commitment to your high school and local community can help you gain an edge in the eye of the admission office.


  • Write. Don’t just send your request to stay on the waitlist and relax. This is where those persuasion tactics come in. Write a letter to the admission office and explain why you think their school is the perfect fit and how you can contribute to their college community. Above all, emphasize your desire to attend and make sure to let them know you will be attending if accepted. Also, take the opportunity to inform them about any new accomplishments, honors, stellar grades, or anything else to demonstrate you go the extra mile. I know of one young lady who even made a pop up book of the college’s campus from a brochure and taped a photo of herself, so when they opened the physical mail it said, “I’ve been picturing myself at your university!” Get creative, and compete if you really want this.
  • LOR. Some schools will allow one final letter of recommendation. If you don’t have a spare in hand, find a teacher, mentor, counselor, etc. who is willing to write one for you explaining why you would be a good fit for the school.
  • Interview. If you haven’t been interviewed, request to be. If you did interview, go for round two. It’s important to put a face to the application, and there’s no better way to do that than to sit before the dean of admission and put forth your best self.

Related: Ace the College Interview

Follow all of these steps and know that you’ve done your best. Prepare for the fall semester, and meanwhile, keep your fingers crossed for your dream school’s last-minute decision. A word of caution, however! Do not harass the admission officers with multiple e-mails or phone calls. This could easily provoke a rejection.

Finally, if you are accepted off the waitlist, celebrate the end of college admission purgatory! Inform your previous school that you will not be attending and your dream school that you will be attending. You deserve to look ahead to your first freshman classes and the educational enlightenment your dream college has in store for you. By the time you get there, you’ll have earned it.

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About Pamela Donnelly

Pamela Donnelly

Pamela Donnelly is a #1 bestselling author (SWAT Team Tactics for Getting Your Teen Into College), speaker, and educational expert whose work can be viewed at As Time magazine's go-to college admission expert, she has appeared on regional and national television, and Larry King has endorsed her recently published book, 4 Keys to College Admissions Success.

Donnelly is a frequent speaker at live events throughout the greater Los Angeles region and a passionate advocate for education reform. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with degrees in literature/writing and secondary education, and she has been called "the Suze Orman of education." A professional educator for more than 20 years and a former on-camera talent under contract to ABC-TV, she is the academic expert trusted by some of the most discerning and notable parents in Los Angeles.

A mother of three, Donnelly leads a team of Ivy League educators, helping parents go the extra mile to ensure their teens' transition to colleges of their dreams.

Her brick-and-mortar business, Valley Prep Tutoring Services, Inc., is the hub from which all of Donnelly's brand-related products and services flow. You can visit and for more information.