College Waitlist Admissions: How to Get Admitted

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

High school student considers his chances of waitlist admissions to his top choice schoolYou’ve worked hard throughout high school, hoping to be admitted into one of your top-choice colleges. You put time and effort into your application and supplements, only to find out you’ve been placed on the waitlist. Confused? You’re not alone. Fortunately, there are steps you can take in this situation.

What Is a College Waitlist?

A college waitlist is a list of students who are waiting for admission into a specific school.  If you’re considered a great candidate for admission but the university doesn’t have the space for you, you may be put on a waitlist. Learning how the admissions decision process works, especially at the colleges you want to apply to, can help you emphasize the achievements and strengths in your application that will give you the best chance for admission.

What Happens if You Are Waitlisted

If you are waitlisted for admission into a school, you will be notified if a spot for you becomes available. Just be aware that spots don’t always open up.

What Are the Chances to Get Accepted if You Are Waitlisted?

Do waitlist students get accepted? Sometimes. According to the most recent data from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, 20% of all waitlisted students were admitted on average. For more selective universities, the admission rate is 7% on average.

Admission rates of waitlisted students can vary widely by college and even fluctuate from year to year. These college waitlist statistics are the most recent and complete data available for waitlist admission rates.

How Long Do Waitlist Decisions Take?

If you’re waitlisted, you may not expect a decision until May at the earliest and sometimes even as late as July or August. This can make being waitlisted all the more frustrating since there is no set deadline to hear back.

How to Make the Most of a Waitlist Decision

Unlike acceptance or rejection, the path for waitlisted students is a little unclear. Some applicants may be unsure about what their admissions odds are, what they can do to improve their chances of acceptance, and if staying on the waitlist is even worthwhile.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for navigating a waitlist decision, there are several next steps students in this scenario should consider. Here are some of our top tips for improving your waitlist odds, exploring other options, and making the best decision for your needs and goals.

Get the 411

It’s important to get all of the facts and understand how university waitlists work before deciding what you should do next. During the admissions process, universities must predict how many students will ultimately enroll, which can be difficult to forecast. Waitlists are comprised of applicants who are just as qualified as admitted candidates, but there just weren’t enough spots in the freshman class. Once a university can better gauge its enrollment numbers, the school can begin to offer vacant spots to candidates from the waitlist. The waitlist isn’t ranked; instead, admissions officers review the school’s institutional needs and decide whom to admit from the waitlist based on those factors.

Be Honest With Yourself

Ask yourself if the school you were waitlisted at is truly your first choice. After receiving acceptances at other institutions, some students may feel pulled towards another college. Feelings about schools can change throughout the admissions process; accept this and honor your current thoughts on each option. If the school you were waitlisted at is truly your first choice, remaining waitlisted is the only way to potentially gain a seat in the class. On the contrary, if you are excited about another college acceptance, you may choose to remove yourself from the waitlist. Whatever you decide, you should inform the college whether or not you intend to remain waitlisted.

Secure Your Spot at Another School

Whether you choose to remain on a university waitlist or not, it’s important to secure your spot at another college (unless you decide to take a gap year). Many waitlist decisions don’t come until after the May 1 enrollment deadline for most colleges, so lining up another option is imperative. Weigh all your acceptances and avoid factoring your waitlist school into the equation. Students who created a balanced list of best-fit colleges should be excited to attend any institution from this selection and trust there will be exciting opportunities at each school. Celebrate your enrollment, even if you are still waitlisted at another institution.

Show Your Passion and Be Realistic

Students who choose to stay on the waitlist should reaffirm their interest in attending a specific school by sending an update to the admissions office (unless a school specifically states that they do not wish to receive additional materials). This can include any accomplishments that occurred after a student submitted their application, as well as grades and AP test scores. Students should also use this as an opportunity to convey their passion for the college and commitment to enroll if admitted.

Simultaneously, students need to remain realistic about their admissions odds as waitlisted applicants. It’s OK to hold out hope, but strive to also get excited about the opportunity to attend another school and that institution’s unique learning experiences!

How Can Waitlisted Applicants Cope?

If you are currently on the waitlist and struggling to stay calm, there are several steps you can take to make the most of this process. Firstly, take some time to reflect on your circumstances. Write down a list of the opportunities you have to choose from, including other colleges and taking a gap year. Pinpoint the unique skills and learning experiences associated with each choice to help you get excited about every scenario.

Secondly, acknowledge and accept this sense of uncertainty. It can be extremely challenging to keep waiting for something you’re not sure about. Instead of ignoring these feelings, give yourself time to take them in. Turn to activities that bring you joy and help you unwind, such as outside reading, exercising, or checking in with friends. Finally, stay in the know: keep an eye out for updates from the college you are waitlisted at as well as news from another school if you have put down an enrollment deposit.

While being on a waitlist can feel challenging, it’s important to remain optimistic about all the opportunities that await. If you are currently navigating a waitlist outcome, book an Initial Consultation with an expert counselor who can help you develop a plan of action.


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