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On the Wait List For College? Here Are Your Options.

May 26, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Approximately 10% of college applicants get put on the wait list at one or more of the colleges they apply to. If you get wait-listed at your first-choice college, it can hold up your acceptance process—not to mention causing plenty of worry over whether or not you’ll actually get in.

Colleges do this on purpose. They never know who among the groups of students they accept will choose to attend—so they build up long wait lists as insurance against large groups of their first-choice students choosing other schools.

Getting wait-listed might feel like admissions purgatory. But there are a few things you can do that might raise your chances of getting off the list and into the college.

Let them know you want to stay on the wait list 

If you’re wait-listed, it’s important to let the college know as soon as you can that you want to stay on the wait list. Express your commitment to going to the school and let them know that if you’re accepted, you’ll say yes. Knowing that their school is your first choice could make the difference with the admissions team on whether to give a spot to you or someone they’re less sure will take it.

Get a sense of your chances

Many traditional and online colleges won’t tell you your exact place on the wait list, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. If they won’t tell you, ask how many people on the wait list were accepted in past years—if it’s a low percentage, at least you’ll know it’s not terribly likely you’ll get in.


When trying to get off a wait list, it’s important to be sure that this college is definitely your first choice 



Tell the college about last-semester successes

If you’re like most traditional college students, you probably applied to college during the first half of your senior year. So it’s not likely the college knows about anything you did after that. If you managed to boost your grades significantly in the last half of the year, joined any extracurricular activities, landed an internship or did anything else that could boost your chances, let the college know. It may improve your candidacy.

Write a letter

It couldn’t hurt—and might actually significantly help—to write a letter to the admissions committee about your desire to attend the school. Be sure to express why you feel the school is a good match for you—identify specific programs and extracurricular activities that make it so. Tell them how you could contribute to the school, either academically or through extracurriculars. And be sure they know that they’re your first choice—you’ll definitely attend if you’re accepted.

Ask for an interview

If you haven’t been interviewed already, call the admissions department and ask for an interview. Not all traditional or online schools will interview students on the wait list, but some will—especially if requested. See if you can schedule the meeting directly with the dean of admissions, and don’t shy away from talking about any parts of your history that might make you a weaker candidate. If you’ve had a spate of low grades or took a break from school for a while, tell your story and express your current commitment to education. Most colleges love a success story and will give you a chance if you can cast yourself as someone who has overcome adversity.

Make other arrangements

If you’re waitlisted at your first choice school, it’s important not to let it derail your chances to go to your second choice. If you’re up against the deadline, accept your second choice school and send in a deposit. If your first choice accepts you later down the line, you can still go there—although you may have to forfeit your deposit.

When trying to get off a wait list, it’s important to be sure that this college is definitely your first choice—part of getting in is reassuring the school that you’re committed to going there, and if you’re not really committed, you may be taking the spot of a student who is. Be sure of what you want, and if you are, do your best to get off the wait list—but have a backup plan ready.


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