Waitlisted at Your Dream College? Here’s How to Get In


By Lisa Heffernan
April 13, 2016

It’s the purgatory of college admissions: Neither accepted nor rejected, thousands of students every year are placed on waitlists and asked to hold on until at least June to learn if there is a spot for them.

If you are on a college waitlist — and still hope to attend that school — here’s a guide to upping your chances of ultimately gaining admission:

Make another case for yourself.
Some schools allow you to submit more information, such as new recommendations, grades, test scores, and awards, so be sure to check with the admissions office or online; the admissions blog at Georgia Tech, for example, provides detailed guidance.

“The key is to package all the information and send it once,” said Mary Tipton Woolley, Georgia Tech’s senior associate director of undergraduate admission. “Students should look to make one strong, purposeful communication as opposed to several that accumulate over time.”

However, if a college specifically asks students to refrain from sending additional materials, respect the school’s wishes, said Kat Cohen, founder and CEO of college consulting company IvyWise.

Make clear the school is your top choice.
Colleges like admitting students who really want to be there. If you do contact your dream school, make a case for yourself.

“This is an opportunity to reiterate your commitment to the college,” Cohen said. “Explain why that college is still your top choice and how you intend to contribute to the campus community if admitted.”

Sit tight and — well — wait.
May is the month of waitlist activity. This year, May 2 is the national decision day deadline for accepted students. Colleges will have a better sense of available spots for waitlist students after this date and complete waitlist activity, when possible, by June.

If you secure a spot off of the waitlist, colleges will often email or call students or even reach out to parents to deliver the good news. However, unlike students accepted in the earlier rounds of admissions, students from the waitlist may only be given a few days to review financial aid offers and decide whether or not to accept a place at that college. Given the short turnaround, think through your options, make college visits and prepare an answer as soon as May 2 arrives.

Make peace with the process.
IvyWise has looked into the past admit rates off the waitlist from some of the most selective colleges and found that the rates hovered between 0 and 6 percent — which means that while it’s certainly possible to earn admission off the waitlist, the likelihood of it happening is small. Plus, Cohen added, “Waitlists aren’t ranked, meaning there’s not a number one student who will definitely get in if there’s room.”

In the meantime, move forward with enrollment at your second choice, fully embracing the opportunities there, like orientation and freshman events. By networking with other students, “you’ll get excited about the future,” Cohen points out — which not only makes the waiting more bearable, but also prepares you for whatever comes next.

Lisa Heffernan is the mother of one college student and two recent grads. She is a writer and cofounder of Grown and Flown, a site for parents of 15 to 25-year-olds.