The Waitlist: 10 Things to Know

In the college admissions world, May 1st concludes the application cycle. This is the deadline when seniors in high school must submit a deposit to the school that they will attend in August. Unless…you are on a waitlist. The waitlist is a tool that colleges use to manage enrollment. They offer students the opportunity to have their application remain under consideration, should the college want to add more students to their incoming class. Here are some things to consider if you know someone that is waiting on the waitlist:

  1. The waitlist is not ranked. You will not be able to ask where you are on the list. When a school has an opening, they will look at their enrolled class and see what type of student they want to add to round out the class and fill institutional priorities. (You can read about institutional priorities in this piece here by the great Rick Clark, from Georgia Tech. He also has his own waitlist post here). Do they need to balance gender ratios? Add more STEM majors? Pull in more students from the Pacific Northwest? They will go to the waitlist to try and fill those goals. 
  1. There is no downside to staying on a waitlist. Just make sure that you submit a deposit to a school where you have been admitted by May 1st.
  1. Follow the school’s directions carefully. Do you have to take specific steps to stay on the waitlist? Do you accept by adding yourself or does the college add you? Is there an additional writing piece or other action you need to take? Do they specifically tell you NOT to reach out or submit more letters of recommendation? It is critical to follow the college’s instructions. 
  1. Monitor your email and voicemail (and make sure that your voicemail greeting is appropriate). Colleges might call or email you with a time sensitive offer, so this is important. 
  1. Colleges will use the waitlist to capture full-pay applicants. Schools have exhausted their financial aid resources in the regular admissions cycle. 
  1. The admit rates from the waitlist are often more selective than regular acceptance rates. (And not receiving an offer can feel like another rejection).
  1. The timetable for waitlist movement can vary. Some schools go to their waitlist before May 1st, while others might keep their list open and make offers until the incoming class arrives in August. Some schools will announce in June or July that they will not be going to the waitlist or the waitlist is closed.
  1. If a college contacts you to offer you a spot in their first year class, the school will likely give you a fixed deadline to make a decision, usually 2-3 days. (One institution called a student I worked with and asked them point blank if they would accept a spot if it were offered!)
  1. Colleges offer the waitlist to large groups of students. Sometimes the waitlist can be larger than the incoming class. 
  2. Waitlist movement varies from year to year. The past two years, waitlist activity has been scarce but I see many more colleges offering waitlist spots for the class of 2023. 

If you have a student that is offered a waitlist spot at a college it is important to know that the waitlist is much closer to being denied than admitted. The most helpful suggestion for students on the waitlist is that they get excited and commit to a school that has admitted them because that is where they are most likely to be in August.

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