College waitlists include qualified students who might be admitted if room in the class becomes available. Why do colleges use waitlists? Because colleges know that some students they admit will turn them down. If more students say “no thanks” than they expect, the college turns to its waitlist to find more qualified students. Being put on a waitlist does not mean that you are not qualified or that you are not a good fit for the school. Furthermore, there are critical steps you should take to increase your odds of acceptance.
What Should You Do If You’re Placed on the Waitlist?
Get a clear picture of the odds
Get as much information as you can about your chances of getting into the school: Where are you on the waitlist? How many individuals does the school wait-list in a typical year? What percentage of individuals on the waitlist typically end up being admitted? When will wait-listed students be notified if they are accepted or denied?
According to a 2019 survey from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), 43 percent of four-year colleges reported using a waitlist in 2018. Of the students who accepted a position on the waitlist at these colleges, 20 percent were accepted. However, of the students who accepted a waitlist position at the most selective colleges, only 7 percent were admitted.
Express interest in remaining on the waitlist
Make a reasoned decision about whether you want to be included on the waitlist and write a thoughtful letter to admissions expressing your interest. Articulate quickly and clearly an authentic desire to attend the school and be sure to state that if you are accepted, you will without question attend. Evidence your desire with thorough knowledge about the institution and why you are prepared to take advantage of the institution’s resources.
Be specific about what programs you plan to take advantage of if admitted and provide any updates to your academics, leadership, or extracurriculars since applying. That way they’ll know of any recent changes in your candidacy and will be informed of all new accomplishments since your initial application. Give an impression that you want to keep communication open, but you don’t want to be a pest or appear desperate.
Pay the deposit for another school
Keep your options open. Paying a deposit at another school guarantees you a spot and gives you breathing room to consider your next steps.
Increase your chances of getting in
If there’s room for improvement, consider retaking the SAT or ACT. A higher score can help to bolster your application, as well as demonstrate your dedication to proving you are ready for the academic rigor at the school.
If colleges will accept additional recommendations, then you can ask for one from an alumni or from another teacher or mentor. Ask a family friend who has graduated from the institution to send a supporting letter on your behalf. Most institutions value the opinions of committed alums who continue to support the school financially.
Or consider a new recommendation letter from someone who hasn’t already written a recommendation letter for you and who can add new insights into your character or academic achievements that your other recommenders didn’t mention.
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