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What To Do If You’ve Been Waitlisted

Stephen Friedfeld, Ph.D.

Seniors must have heard from colleges. While students might think of only two possible responses from a university (accept or reject), many colleges will add a third option to the mix: waitlist. (There are actually a few other responses, such as a guaranteed transfer, or summer or winter admission.)

Being waitlisted by a college can be exasperating. It can also leave students in an uncomfortable position – they don’t know what their next step should be. If your top choice waitlists you, don’t become complacent. Instead, make sure a college knows you are still interested in attending and that you will attend if admitted. (Of course, you cannot say this if it’s not true.) Send any new information about yourself that will strengthen your application. Did you win an award since your application was submitted? Did you accomplish something special? Did your grades improve? Let colleges know!

If you haven’t interviewed already with the colleges that waitlisted you, call and see if you can set one up. When doing so, do not come across as entitled – because they will then not want to meet with you.

Sometimes, though, there is very little you can do to get off a waitlist. All you can really do is try to improve your application and express your interest in attending if admitted. It is entirely possible that colleges do not use their waitlists at all – it simply depends on how many students accept their offer of admission.

While we can give general advice on what to do, it might be more important for you to consider what not to do:

•    Do not have alumni write letters of recommendation on your behalf.
•    Avoid getting your parents involved. If anything, the college wants to see you advocating for yourself.
•    Do not contact the university to ask why you were waitlisted. You’ll never get the real answer. Ever. And you’ll just annoy the admissions office.
•    Do not send gifts to try and curry favor – admissions officers are not allowed to accept them, and you’ll come across negatively.
•    Do not pester an admissions officer with your eagerness. For example, do not try to be clever with poetry of your love for the college, or other creative efforts – they will almost certainly backfire.

If you’re going to get off the waitlist, you might hear from a college starting around May 15, and it can go on as long as late July, typically. In the meantime, you will need to send in a deposit to another university to lock in your space – and simply forfeit that deposit if you’re admitted to (and will enroll at) the university that waitlisted you.

Get excited about the schools that admitted you and don’t expect to get in off a waitlist. And, if you do, think about it as a pleasant surprise!

(Stephen is the COO of AcceptU (www.AcceptU.com), a college admissions counseling program that connects applicants with former admissions officers. He has 10+ years of admissions experience at Cornell University and Princeton University. )

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