You eagerly await the returns. Day after day, you check your email.
You’ve already gotten into two of your safeties and three of your targets. But the one you’ve been waiting for – your dream school? Will it be a yes or a no? Finally, the message comes in. It’s a maybe, baby! You’ve been waitlisted! What does this mean?
It means you weren’t rejected, but you didn’t get in either. It means you have to wait longer, perhaps indefinitely, to find out whether you got in.
Only a very, very small percentage of students get in off the waitlist.
Getting off the waitlist is as hard, or harder, than getting into an Ivy League. Here you will find statistics on the 10 schools with the highest number of applicants on the waitlist. The statistics here are for 2015. Every year it changes, of course. But you can see from these statistics that your chance of getting off the waitlist are slim at best.
Schools have waitlists for one very simple reason: They’re never sure which candidates to whom they offer acceptances will accept them. It’s impossible to know until all the deposits are in. So creating a waitlist is a back-up plan for the schools themselves. If fewer applicants accept a position than they expect – there will be openings. If more accept than they expected – forget about it! What does that mean for you?
It means it’s impossible to predict how many students will get off the waitlist, even for the schools themselves.
You weren’t rejected, true, but you weren’t accepted either. Acceptance rates off the waitlist vary school to school and year to year. Not only that, but some schools wait a lonnnng time to tell you whether they’re going to offer you a position or not. Some wait even through the summer which doesn’t seem quite fair. You should also know that some schools have already ranked their wait list and know which students they will offer spots to first. Some years, at schools like Harvard and Yale, virtually no one gets off the waitlist.
What does this amount to? I wouldn’t hold my breath!
In fact, I would be sure to put down a deposit for your second-choice school, and pretty much count on going there, because the whole waitlist process is UNPREDICTABLE.
That said, there are things you can do to improve your chances.
If you’ve still got your heart set on the school(s) to which you were waitlisted, and you can tolerate the wait and the potentially long swim in the waters of the unknown, put yourself on the waitlist – but be prepared to put in some elbow grease to express your interest and to help distinguish yourself as a strong candidate for that school.
What to Do If You’ve Been Waitlisted
Here are the 5 most important steps you should take when you’ve been waitlisted.
- It may seem obvious, but if you want to continue to be considered for the school to which you were waitlisted, you must accept their offer. Say YES to being waitlisted This doesn’t mean you have to go there. It does mean your application will remain in the pool.
- Just as if you are deferred, you must send a letter of continued interest (LOCI) so the school knows you’re still interested. These letters are extremely important. Think about it. Why would you even consider someone who doesn’t reiterate their interest? They will assume you’ve accepted admission somewhere else unless you write to tell them otherwise. And these letters, like your essays, are very important. They must be sincere; they should express the original reasons you were interested and how this interest has remained and developed; they should include new awards and achievements; they should be short(is) and sweet. Click here for help with your Letter of Continued Interest.
- There is no better way to get information than from the horse’s mouth. Call the school and find out three things: 1) How many people are on their waitlist; 2) When do they expect to let people on the waitlist know one way or the other; and 3) Is there anything you can do, anything you can send them to help your case. You can even ask them if they’ll consider interviewing you. While it’s good to call the school to get this information – once – I would not call again and again. Make that phone call count! And do what they tell you. If they say you can send more recommendations, do so. If they tell you not to send any more recommendations – don’t!
- Put a deposit in at the next most desired school on your list to which you’ve been accepted. There are no guarantees you’ll get off the waitlist, so you need to make sure you are seriously considering your options.
- Make sure you are ready to say “YES” if they finally do accept you. Do your soul-searching ahead of time. Talk it over with your parents and your guidance counselors. You want to be sure that if you say you’re going to go there if accepted, you really are. If you want to review your criteria for choosing a school as a way to solidify or further explore your options, click here for more information on how to choose a college.
The most important thing you can do if you’ve been waitlisted at one of your top-choice schools, besides what has already been outlined above, is to accept the fate you’ve been handed and get excited about your second or third choice schools. I believe everything happens for a reason. If you get rejected at Yale, it may be because your future best-friend, business partner, husband or wife is set to attend George Washington in the fall, and you’re supposed to meet them.
It’s not always the school with the best reputation at which you would be happiest.
It’s the school that is the best vibe/fit for you, the school where you will thrive. If you really feel you must go to that school, you can always apply as a transfer or wait to go to graduate school there. Having been in the business 30+ years, I have really never seen anyone fall off the end of the earth because they didn’t go to their top choice school. College is largely what you make it. You can succeed and thrive anywhere.
If you are out and out rejected, by the way, there is always the option of appeal.
Some schools allow appeal and some don’t. You’ll have to check in advance. Again, don’t hesitate to call the school to find out if they are willing to accept your appeal and what the parameters are for sending information.
They may want an update; they may accept supplementary material; they may want a letter explaining why they should re-consider your application.
UC Berkeley accepts appeals, for example. Here is UC Berkeley’s statement on appeals:
Review of admission decisions:
Our campuses review each applicant’s record thoroughly, and admission decisions are rarely reversed. However, students who are not admitted may request a review of the decision if they believe there was an error in the evaluation or can provide new and compelling information not included in the initial application. Each campus has specific procedures to handle such appeals. Contact the campus admissions office for information.
Similarly to being waitlisted, if you decide to take another shot at admission, you must show the admissions committee something new.
I would love to take you through the process of appeal. Most students don’t opt to do this. The percent accepted via appeal is exceedingly low. But again, very few students even realize an appeal is possible.
Our first step would be to take a look at the application you’ve already sent. We’ll look at your Personal Insight Essays. We’ll analyze what you’ve told them, what has changed, and how we can offer them a new, fresh, and compelling (read: irresistible) view of you. We will make sure the letter of appeal is beautifully worded and packs a punch.
Personally, I think it’s worth a shot. At least you’ll know you did everything you could to try to get in.
I have helped many students with their appeal letters and I have helped many get off the waitlist. Usually, we only need to meet two or three times to achieve our goals.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!”