Waitlisted: What does it mean for you?

If you have applied to colleges and universities in the United States, you should now know which have accepted you and which have not offered you a place. For some, there will be a third category where the college has put the student on a waitlist. If the college is your top choice college, then being on a waitlist can feel like being in purgatory, somewhere between heaven and hell. Read on to find out how you can judge your odds of being admitted off the waitlist and what you can do to improve your chances.

What is a waitlist?

First of all, don’t think of it as a list, rather it is a pool of students, all of whom have met every criterion for being admitted but where the college has run out of spaces that they can offer to them. Colleges and universities know that not everybody that they have made offers to will choose to take them up, so will use the waitlist pool of students to dip into, in order to fill the gaps. 

It is important to appreciate that this process is more than a numbers game, admissions teams at college seek to craft a diverse community from each application pool. This means that when they need to fill a place, they will want to also find somebody who fits into the community they are building. For example, if more males than females have not taken up an offer, male students on the waitlist are more likely to be offered a place.

What are the odds of being offered a place from the waitlist?

Nobody, including colleges, can tell you if you will be offered a place after going onto the waitlist, there are too many variables. Historical data would suggest that about 20% of waitlisted students were accepted, however, for the most competitive institutions it is significantly fewer. With the changing pattern of applications linked to COVID 19, where more selective colleges are receiving many more applications than in previous years, it is likely that the number of students applying this year that will be offered a place off the waitlist will be even smaller.

To help you judge your chances of being offered a place it is worth spending some time researching what has happened in previous years. A short search on the internet should provide you with the waitlist statistics, although not all colleges release that information.

What should you do if you’re waitlisted?

It is important that you understand that a waitlist may or may not offer you the chance to go to your preferred college, so the first thing you should do is accept an offer from a college that has offered you a place and that you want to go to. This will involve paying an enrolment deposit to the college and you will also be asked to pay for your accommodation very shortly after. If you subsequently decide not to attend you will lose the money you have paid, but at least you have a college place to go to.

Spend some time thinking and talking to people about if you really want to attend the college you have been waitlisted at more than colleges that have already accepted you. If you stay on the waitlist, you will have additional work to do and you may need to ask others to support your application. If you are offered a place off a waitlist you should be clear that you want it.

What can you do to improve your chances of being accepted?

  • Follow any instructions – when the college writes to tell you that you can go on the waitlist, they will tell you how you need to tell them you wish to be added to the list and by when. Make sure you do everything needed.

  • Write a letter – you want the college to be absolutely clear that you will attend the college if you are offered a place. This is also the opportunity to update the college on any updates on your school performance or extra-curricular work you have done since your original application.

  • Involve your college counsellor – ask them to write to the college you are waitlisted at to support your application. You should only ask them to do this if you are totally committed to attending if offered a place, remember you are asking them to stake the reputation of the school when they support you.

  • Let things happen – don’t try to push the college to offer you a place. Colleges have an established way of managing waitlists and trying to put pressure on them to prioritise you is likely to have the opposite effect. It is natural that you will want news about your chances, but continually emailing them or ringing the admissions office will not help, you will just be seen as being a nuisance.

Finally

Every year many people are offered a place at their chosen college after going onto the waitlist, but you should not build your future on the expectation that this will happen. You should have already accepted an offer from a college that you have made a conscious decision to apply to. Plan on making the most of the opportunity you have, if you do get accepted off the waitlist by the other college, that’s great, but if not, you still have a wonderful future waiting for you.

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