What to Do When You’re Waitlisted by a College

Unlike a definitive yes or no response, being placed on a college waitlist means that you can only attend if a space becomes available. It can feel frustrating to get this kind of response from a college, especially if it’s your dream school. How do you move forward if you know a school is theoretically willing to accept you, but only if a spot opens up? When you’re waitlisted by a college, it’s important to decide whether or not you wish to remain on the waitlist, have a backup plan in place, and touch base with the admissions office of the school at which you were waitlisted.

Have you been placed on a college waitlist, but aren’t sure how to proceed? Keep reading to learn what to do when you’re waitlisted by a college.

When waitlisted by a college, decide whether or not to stay on the waiting list

When colleges send you a waitlist decision, you may be asked to confirm whether or not you want to remain on the list. You should only keep your name on the waitlist if you really want to attend that college. Therefore, this is the time to re-evaluate if this school is the right fit for you.

When making your decision, you should consider whether or not there are any consequences of remaining waitlisted. Sometimes, students who are waitlisted miss out on items like financial aid or housing opportunities since they will learn of their admission later than other applicants and can’t apply in time. If getting these items is important to you, this could be a downside of choosing to remain waitlisted instead of focusing your energy on getting accepted to another college.

Try to find a college’s waitlist admissions rate online or through its admissions office. Finding out where you are on the waitlist may also help you make a more informed decision about whether or not it’s worth your time and effort to stay involved with that school.

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When waitlisted by a college, create a backup plan

You might choose to remain on a waitlist if you feel passionate about a school and if it makes financial sense for you to attend—even if you don’t get first pick of financial aid, housing, etc. However, you should get ready to attend another college if it turns out you don’t get selected for admission after all.

Take a hard look at all of the colleges that have accepted you (without a waitlist) and select the one that you feel is the best fit. Fill out any necessary admissions paperwork and send in a deposit right away to secure your spot—even if you’d rather go to the school that has waitlisted you. If you ultimately choose to go to the school that’s waitlisted you, you’ll lose this deposit. But since admission from a waitlist is not guaranteed, it’s best to at least know you have a college to attend.   

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When waitlisted by a college, contact the school’s admissions office

Being waitlisted means a college is fairly sure or knows you have what it takes to be a student at their institution—at least based on your academic records and admissions essays. Sending an additional letter to the admissions office of the college that’s waitlisted you may help to push admission in your favor. In the letter, you can include the following:

  • Restate your interest in the college

  • Mention any new accomplishments—academic and extracurricular—that you weren’t able to include on your application

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When you’re waitlisted by a school, it’s important not to panic. Take this time to create a backup plan, research the school’s waitlist admissions rate, and analyze whether this school is the best fit for you.


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