Originally Posted: Apr 2, 2018
Last Updated: Oct 27, 2020
On the day I received my first college decision, I was so nervous that I asked my friend to come job-hunting with me for the sake of distraction. We wandered around a job fair for hours, learning about all the opportunities we couldn’t apply to yet, until I suggested we go out for a late lunch. But pizza and nerves don’t mix well. I spent the 15 minutes before the college decision message was available hanging my head over the toilet bowl of a filthy Pizza Hut, convinced my aching stomach would soon rebel against me. But I steadied myself with a morbid comfort: At least if they reject me, it’ll be final and I can move on.
I asked my friend to open the message, and I was dismayed at the news: I got waitlisted. Another college decision came two days later, and I found out I was waitlisted again! I had to wait another two months to know whether I could go to my dream school. If you're in the same boat, I’ve compiled a list of advice to help you get through it. The rules for your colleges may vary, so be sure to check, but these practical and encouraging tips should help.
1. Don’t despair
If a school has placed you on their waitlist, they really do like you! A very small percentage of applicants to many schools are put on the waitlist, and that’s only because they don’t have enough room to accept every fabulous student (like you) who applies. So take a moment to be proud of yourself!
2. Understand the reality of the situation
There isn't a good way of estimating your chances of acceptance from a waitlist, since the number pulled can fluctuate depending on how many from the accepted class don’t attend. However, only 5%–10% of applicants are accepted (and even fewer for elite schools), so make contingency plans that will help you go to college in the fall.
3. Indicate that you would like to stay on the waitlist
Some schools make their forms immediately available, and some don’t go live until early April (check your letter for information). If the school is one that you're genuinely interested in attending, elect to stay on the waitlist. If you’re not sure whether you would actually attend if admitted, you should refuse the offer.
4. Make a deposit for a different school by May 1
May 1 is National College Decision Day, which means you should submit a deposit to one of your accepted schools on or before this day. This ensures you will be entering some college or university in the fall. If you're eventually accepted from the waitlist, you can “unenroll” at your accepted school and enroll at your waitlist school. However, keep in mind that your security deposit from the first school will be lost if you choose to attend another college.
5. Stay involved
You may feel discouraged, but now is not the time to let senioritis sneak up on you! So keep your grades up and stay active in your extracurriculars, even as senior year comes to an end. It can only help you, no matter where you end up in the fall.
Related: 10 Ways to Conquer Senioritis
6. Be persuasive, not pushy
Your case will not be helped by being rude to the admissions team, excessively emailing the school, or bombarding the office with supplementary materials. Contact the admissions office and find out what information they want before sending or requesting anything. Follow the rules exactly. If it’s allowed, it probably isn’t a bad idea to:
- Send a short letter in mid- to late-April updating the office on your activities, how they affect you, and to reiterate your commitment to the school. Be natural and show your passion for the school and its values.
- Send another letter of recommendation—especially if you think your case would be strengthened by a glowing letter from a teacher whose subject you’ve improved in since the deadline.
7. Take a deep breath
If you’ve made it this far, you have the courage and intelligence to succeed anywhere. So take a look at the colleges where you’ve been accepted and fall in love with them too.
Being waitlisted may feel like purgatory, but you still have a lot to be proud of—and you have a lot more options than you may think. Just take the right steps and try to see the big picture, and it will all be a distant memory when you're enrolled at the school you're meant to be in the fall. Good luck!
Determined to earn a spot at your top-choice college? Check out this article on How to Escape Your Dream College's Waitlist.