What the Waitlist Means
Some students would rather be denied than waitlisted and I don’t blame them. For many, the college application process has been a long and protracted ordeal; with a waitlist letter, it’s going to last a few months longer with far less certainty about how it will end.
Here is a little pretext: some waitlists are “honest” waitlists. They truly signify that if there is space in the class that opens up, the college would like to extend you an offer of admission at that time. Schools with “honest” waitlists simply had too many qualified applicants to take all those they really wanted. However, some waitlists are “courtesy” waitlists. These are for the applications where the admissions officer knows they are not qualified for the class, but for whatever reason doesn’t want to send out a deny letter. Maybe your mom or dad is an active alumnus or your uncle is a board member; or it could be that your application was the first one the college received from your high school and the office doesn’t want to discourage future applicants. There can be all kinds of reasons for a “courtesy” waitlist.
How do you know which category your waitlist offer is? You don’t and it’s highly unlikely that an Admission Officer will tell you unless they have a very good relationship with your guidance counselor and trust them implicitly.
So what can you do?
7 Things You Should Do If You’re on the Waitlist
- Most schools will give you some mechanism for you to contact them and stay on their active waitlist. DO THIS QUICKLY. There is a big difference in perception if you reach out a few days after the decision or if you do it on April 30th. You want to be toward the front of the line.
- Write a letter to your admissions officer and tell them that you are still very interested in their school. Wait a week or so to take this step. Don’t do it five minutes after step one. Put a reminder on your calendar on April 14th to take this step. Oh, and file your taxes too if you have forgotten.
- Wrap your mind around the fact that your waitlist school is Plan B at best. Have a Plan A. This means moving forward with a school that did accept you by sending in your deposit and reserving your place in the class.
- Once you have had time to let this settle in and the rawness of the decision has subsided a bit, consider the reality of your options. If you do get in, can you afford the waitlist school? Or do you really need that scholarship to make the finances work? In my experience in admissions, I never offered a scholarship to a waitlisted student. Are you prepared to uproot and forfeit your deposit at School A to accept a waitlist offer at School B? Often you have already talked to your roommate at School A and possibly even chosen classes and your dorm room when you get the call from School B. It might be hard to make that switch.
- Send another brief letter in early May if you are still interested. Many, if not most, students feel at this point that they are so committed to their Plan A school they have lost interest in their waitlist option. At this time, you may think that this is impossible, but it may happen to you too.
- Be prepared to make a quick decision. When I was calling waitlist students and making an admission offer, I would ask them to make a decision within 24 hours. If they needed financial aid, they would have a week to process everything and make their decision. If the call comes, everything will happen at light speed, so be prepared.
- Wait. Hence the name, waitlist. There is no way to know if you are going to get a call or not and sometimes that call may come as late as July. The National Association for College Admission Counseling rules state that waitlist offers have to be made by August 1. That’s a long time to wait and not be sure where you are going to be in the fall. Most students commit to their Plan A well before this point.