Harvard Waitlist: How Hard Is It to Get Off of It?

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

harvard waitlist

Harvard is one of the most popular first-choice colleges for students, and it’s also one of the most competitive. In fact, in the latest admissions cycle, just 3.43% of applicants were offered a seat in next year’s freshman class.

Given this competitive admissions rate, some very talented students are going to find themselves on Harvard’s waitlist. While most applicants have a general idea of what a waitlisted outcome means, few understand how waitlists really work and what they can do to boost their odds of admission, which is what we’re going to explore here:

What Does It Mean to Get Waitlisted?

Before diving into the specifics of the Harvard waitlist, it’s important to understand what being waitlisted means in general. Simply put, being waitlisted means you will be considered for admission if a school needs additional students for its freshmen class. Waitlists are made up of strong applicants who met the college admissions criteria for the school they applied to, but the institution was unable to immediately offer them admission. According to NACAC, nearly half of all colleges surveyed report using their waitlists, with highly selective schools like Harvard placing a greater proportion of students on those waitlists.

What The Harvard Waitlist Stats Show

So, what happens if you apply to Harvard and find yourself on the waitlist? The first question students generally ask is how likely they are to gain a spot in the class, followed by what they can do to improve their odds of admission.

Neither of these questions has a simple answer, but there are a few statistics you can look at to gauge your chances of admission and gain a better understanding of how the waitlist really works.

How Many Applicants Does Harvard Waitlist?

If you find yourself on the waitlist, you’re not alone. Since Harvard receives approximately 40,000 applications each year (and sometimes even more than that), there’s always a group of talented students that find themselves waitlisted. Our admissions counselors frequently say that schools like Harvard could build several different classes, all filled with qualified candidates who have the grades and test scores needed to be accepted.

How Many Waitlisted Students Get Into Harvard?

There’s no set number for how many students get in from the Harvard waitlist. According to the Harvard FAQ page, the number of accepted students can vary greatly. Some years, more than 200 students have made it off the waitlist and earned a seat in the upcoming class. However, during some recent admissions cycles, Harvard’s yield rate has been so high that the school hasn’t been able to admit a single applicant from the waitlist.

To give you a better idea of the Harvard acceptance rate, as well as the number of students who apply and those that choose to enroll, check out the table below:

Graduating Class YearClass of 2021Class of 2022Class of 2023Class of 2024Class of 2025
Number of applications39,50642,74943,33040,24857,435
Acceptance rate5.2%4.59%4.5%4.92%3.43%
Yield (% accepted spots)84%81.7%82.1%81%85%

Last year, 34 students from the waitlist got accepted into Harvard for the Class of 2024. However, according to the Harvard admissions statistics, there are none admitted from the waitlist for the Class of 2025.

What to Do If You’re Waitlisted by Harvard

Getting waitlisted doesn’t mean you should literally wait around and do nothing. In fact, there are a few steps you will need to take and a couple of additional action points you can pursue if you want to improve your odds of getting off of Harvard’s waitlist, including:

Submit an Enrollment Deposit to Your Next-Choice College

Even if Harvard is still your first choice school, it’s important to play it safe and submit an enrollment deposit at your next choice college. Submitting a deposit guarantees that you will have a spot in that class, which is why it’s worth sending one in, even if you won’t be able to get a refund for it.

Decide If You Want to Accept Your Spot On the Harvard Waitlist

The next step students need to take is deciding whether or not they wish to remain on the waitlist. Harvard’s waitlist isn’t ranked, so each waitlisted student has an equal chance of getting accepted.

Generally, students are admitted off of the waitlist to fill institutional needs and ensure that the upcoming class year has a diverse array of interests, ambitions, and backgrounds. If financial aid is a major deciding factor for you, keep in mind that most of the financial aid may have already been given out to accepted students.

If you want to accept a spot on the waitlist, you will need to follow these steps to boost your odds of admission:

Keep Up a Good Academic Performance

Don’t let low grades get in the way of your chances of getting off the Harvard waitlist. Students need to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to academic excellence, so make sure to keep studying, participating in class, and doing your homework.

Not only will this help you stand out as a strong waitlist candidate; it’ll also ensure that you’re academically engaged and ready for the challenges of college-level coursework.

Send Additional Letters of Recommendation

Consider submitting more letters to round out your Harvard letter of recommendation that you submitted with your application originally.

If there is a teacher, coach, mentor, supervisor, or instructor who can speak on your behalf and help give the admissions office more context into who you are both inside and outside of the classroom, reach out to them to see if they might be able to write a letter for you.

Make sure this is someone new, and avoid asking anyone to write a second letter of recommendation for you.

Write a Letter of Continued Interest

College admissions officers will always affirm students who demonstrate their passion for their institution and the Harvard waitlist is no exception. Write a letter to the admissions office restating your desire to attend, articulating the impact you’ll make on campus, and the courses and activities you wish to participate in.

Don’t forget to update them on any new accomplishments you’ve made or milestones you’ve reached since submitting your college application.  A letter of continued interest shows that you’re still very committed to enrolling in the upcoming class upon admission and that you’re still engaged in the application process.

While receiving a waitlisted outcome can feel disappointing initially, earning a spot on Harvard’s waitlist is an accomplishment in and of itself. If you’re looking for additional guidance on getting off of the waitlist, or support while deciding what you should do next, consider college counseling.

Related Topics

College Application Tips, Waitlist

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