Have You Been Placed on a Waitlist?

Learn why colleges use waitlists, when students are typically notified, how you can let the college know you are interested, and when you should submit a deposit.
Student holding books in hallway

You've waited and waited for your college admissions decision and now…(sigh!) you may need to wait some more if you're one of thousands of students receiving news that you've been placed on a college's waitlist. It's helpful to understand the facts about waitlists if you're hoping to be admitted from one, as well as the action steps you can take to help your chances for admittance. Here are the details about what you should know and do while you…well...wait!

About Waitlists

  • Admissions offices create waitlists to allow them to select additional qualified students if space allows. But most waitlists aren't "lists" at all but rather wait "pools." In other words, colleges don't typically rank the order in which they will take students. That decision depends on how many students stay "active" on the waiting list and what the institution's needs are after May 1st (the deadline to enroll in a college).
  • A college may offer waitlist status to 500 students, but only 200 of those may actually still be interested in admission. So really, 200 students will comprise the waiting list and the college, once it has room, will re-review those students' applications and determine which candidates to admit. A student's interest in attendance and the institution's goals (such as gender balance, geographic diversity, or test score average) often come into play with waitlist decisions.
  • Until May 1st, schools don't usually know how many waitlisted students they will admit. If a college hopes to enroll 1,000 freshmen and receives 1,100 deposits by May 1st, it may not admit anyone else. But if on May 1st, 950 students have enrolled, slots are available for waitlisted candidates.
  • The majority of waitlist "activity" happens in the first two weeks of May. Some schools do admit or deny waitlisted students earlier, and some will be working with applicants through the summer. Colleges will notify you of a final decision on your waitlist status once one is reached; it's a good idea to inquire if you don't have a decision by mid-May.

What You Can Do

  • Talk to your school counselor or college counselor! He or she may be able to help you with next steps or be in a position to advocate for you.
  • Let the college know of your continued interest. Read the waitlist offer letter carefully to see if you have to take any steps (return a card, fill out a form, etc.) to be considered for admission from the waitlist and don't miss a deadline to do so.
  • Follow the directions from the institution that offered you a place on the waitlist. Does it welcome an additional recommendation? Get one and send it. Or does it tell you NOT send additional materials? Then don't.
  • If the college allows it – and most will - write a letter advocating for yourself! Direct your communication to the admissions committee and confirm your interest in attending the college (and explain why!) and share any new information that wasn't in your application.
  • Tell the school if it's your first choice….but only if it's true. Don't say a place is your first choice as a strategy if you aren't being honest.  Your integrity is important in this process.
  • If applicable, make sure the school(s) where you are waitlisted has your financial aid documents. Many colleges offer financial assistance to waitlisted students, but some don't; be sure to check on each school's policies.
  • If you decide you aren't interested in attending a school at which you are waitlisted, you could do a great service to other waitlisted students if you let the college(s) know they can give a spot to another applicant.
  • By May 1st, send your confirmation and deposit to a school that has admitted you. If you later choose to attend a school that admits you from its waitlist, you will likely forfeit the deposit at your first school. But you want to make sure you have secured at least one option for college by May 1st.
  • Breathe! While it's stressful to wait, if you follow the steps above, you'll know you've done everything you can to give yourself the best chance of admission. And if the waitlist doesn't work out, the school where you enroll will be thrilled to have you join its community.