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Navigating the Waitlist

Colleges continue to increase the use of waitlists in order to manage their enrollment. Formerly, the waitlist served as a safety net for colleges, assuring them of extra candidates if the number of students who accepted their offer of admission fell below their expectations. However, now colleges appear to be using the waitlist as a way of increasing their yields and thus their rankings.

It has become pretty typical for a selective college that accepts 2,000 applicants in hopes of enrolling 500 students to offer another 2,000 well-qualified students places on the wait list. Of these, a quarter are likely to accept a spot.

What should you do now if you are one of the hopeful applicants who has been waitlisted at your dream school?

First, you need to understand that this is not a denial of admission. Instead, the college is letting you know that they consider you a good candidate and would like to accept you if room allows. Since students on the waitlist are generally not ranked, you need to get the attention of admissions in order to be admitted.

How do you do that?

Respond quickly to affirm your continued interest in the college and your desire to remain on the waitlist. Follow up with a call or letter to the admissions officer who was your primary reader. This is generally the individual who has been assigned to your school or region. Check the website or call admissions if you are not sure who this is. Your contact with the regional representative should reaffirm your interest in attending and restate the qualities that you bring to campus. If this is your top choice for college, let the rep know.

Next, update your file with any additional awards, honors, new grades, or experiences. A visit to campus can help too. Be sure to make an appointment to speak with your admissions rep during that visit.

If you will not need much (or ideally, any) financial aid to attend that college, let the college know in writing that your family is able to handle your college expenses.

Be prepared to make a quick decision on attending if you get a phone call offering you a place in the class. Generally, colleges will expect a verbal yes within 24-48 hours after offering you a place. Only then will the offer become official. If you do choose to attend Waitlist U, you’ll need to withdraw your previous enrollment at your second choice college. Be aware that you will probably forfeit any deposits you have paid to that institution.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by The College Advisor, prepared for our clients and their families.


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