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Creativity Can Be Your Friend in the Waitlist Process

Ah, March. Spring has sprung, wildflowers are super-blooming, and college admissions decisions are rolling in. At long last, the waiting game for our patient seniors is coming to an end. Except, unfortunately, for many it is just beginning. 15 years ago, students were almost always either “accepted” or “rejected” by this time of year. Now, due in large part to the increasing number of applications and colleges’ difficulty in determining their yield, “waitlisted” has become just as common as a response.

We’ve written thoroughly on the waitlist in the past, so if you’re at all confused on what this response means, or the standard techniques for navigating it, start by checking out our previously published guide. Today, I want to talk about how students can harness their creativity to go above and beyond with their waitlist letters. Although the waitlist pool consists of a smaller number of applicants than the general admissions pool, standing out is still a student’s number one challenge, and a little creativity can go a long way.

Our Founder, Billy Downing, often tells the story of his student who wrote his waitlist letter on the bottom of his basketball shoes. Determined to stand out, and having just led his team through a successful playoff run, Billy’s student meticulously printed a lengthy update letter to the college admissions officers at his top-choice school. He explained to them that he would enroll immediately if accepted, and presented the shoes, wrapped up and mailed neatly in a Nike box, as proof of his dedication to the university. Obviously, questions abound here: How did he write neatly given those grooves on the bottom of the shoes? How did he ensure that the officers even noticed the writing, rather than just throwing them out immediately? Most disturbingly of all (considering the state of my basketball shoes in high school), were these shoes game-worn? Billy is reticent to go into details on any of these probing questions, but he maintains the overall moral of the story: his student stood out, and his student was accepted. I’m not saying that we should have all of our students write waitlist letters on hockey sticks or violins, but I am a fan of personal creativity and wit, especially at this late juncture when, really, what do you have to lose? The average waitlist letter looks a lot like this:

This is a fine letter. It’s well-written, and it does everything we laid out in our guide above. It may even be enough to push the student over the edge to an acceptance, but, it isn’t likely to stand out. Recently, I had a student submit this letter to her top-choice school:

She harnessed many of her creative talents in crafting this update letter. She included photos of her artwork, wrote about her singing, and showed off some of her budding graphic design skills. This letter forces admissions officers to consider her as a complete person, replete with passions and in the midst of growth towards adulthood. It’s easy to see what a positive impact she could make at the school. Nonetheless, students shouldn’t do something like this more than once; instead, they should reserve it as a last-gasp effort for their top-choice. It may not always work, but at least they’ll walk away from the application process knowing that they did everything possible to prove themselves to the admissions committee.