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How to Get Off the Waitlist

What are my chances of getting in off the waitlist?

Waitlist acceptance rates at top colleges usually range between 2 and 5%. These figures depend on the school you’re applying to, and ultimately, on how high that school’s yield is in a given application cycle (how many accepted students accept their offers). Finally, they also depend on how many waitlisted students choose to stay on the waitlist.

When will I know if I get in off the waitlist?

This depends on the college. The most important thing to remember is that colleges use waitlists to fill spots if they don’t get as many accepted students as they want. This means that waitlisted students will not know if they’re in or out until after the deadline for accepted students to accept or reject their offers of admission. These deadlines are usually on or around May 1. Waitlisted students will hear back sometime in May at the very earliest.

How do colleges evaluate waitlisted students?

Whether you get in off the waitlist or not has to do with all the same factors that the college initially considered. But, you also have the opportunity to update the college about any recent achievements. (This is one of the main reasons it’s very important not to slack off during your senior spring, by the way!)

What should waitlisted students do now?

Make sure you take any necessary steps to ensure that you keep your spot on the waitlist. You may be asked to confirm that yes, you want to be considered for a spot should one open up.

If the school does not provide a form, or an email address for you to confirm that you wish to remain on the waitlist, send a letter to the admissions office reaffirming your interest in the school.

In fact, you’re probably going to want to send that letter regardless, unless the college specifically asks you not to (if, for example, they simply want you to fill out an online form).

The waitlist letter, also known as the letter of continued interest, is an opportunity for you to tell the admissions office that College X is still your first choice (if it is), and also to highlight any of your achievements that the admissions office doesn’t already know about.

Do you have any new standardized test scores that are appreciably higher than the ones you submitted? Have your grades improved significantly? If so, let College X know. Just as importantly, have you won any new awards? Undertaken an impressive project over winter break? Maybe you recently got a feature in a local paper for your community service work? Put this in your waitlist letter.

Before sending any additional materials, make sure to do some research on the school’s waitlist policy. If you have trouble finding information on the website, give the admissions office a call. Don’t be shy—admissions folks are usually lovely people.

You’re also welcome to ask them: 1) when you can expect to hear about a decision, and 2) whether they rank students on the waitlist.

Some schools explicitly ask that you not send additional information. If the school doesn’t want additional letters of recommendation, if they don’t want to give you another interview, if they don’t want your mom to send brownies, then don’t insist.

If you are unsure how to proceed, ask your guidance counselor for advice. Of course, you’re also welcome, as always, to ask our college admissions consultants.

I’ve sent my waitlist letter. What’s next?

Once you’ve written your letter, and determined which new materials you should send to the school that waitlisted you, there’s one last thing you need to do.

Make sure you have a plan B. You won’t know whether or not you’re accepted off the waitlist until after your reply deadlines for your other schools. In other words, you need to make a choice about what college you will be attending assuming you do not get off the waitlist at your dream school.

Unfortunately, you will need to send this school nonrefundable deposits to secure your spot.

Take your plan B very seriously. In fact, don’t think about it as a plan B. You have the potential to be very happy at your second (or third, or fourth…) choice college.

Last fall, a family came to us to ask for help with the transfer process. Their son had ended up at a big state school (a very good one) after being waitlisted at, and then rejected from several Ivy League schools, including Harvard. We met with the student a couple times, but after a month or so, the student was so happy at the state school that he no longer wanted to transfer. He was so bright and motivated that he immediately formed meaningful intellectual relationships with a number of his professors, and wanted to continue working with them.

If you’ve had a strong senior spring so far, written a great letter, and can convince your parents not to make pesky phone calls to admissions officers, you may still get that acceptance letter.

Need help with your waitlist letter? Contact us

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