First thing’s first: know that not all hope is lost and there are many reasons a student can get waitlisted. Sometimes it’s because you may not be as qualified as other applicants, but often times there just are not enough spots for every qualified student to be granted admission in the initial round. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance of gaining admission down the road if there is still mutual interest between you and the school.
What exactly is a waitlist?
When an admissions department is determining how many students to accept, they have to estimate the percentage of admitted students who will enroll so they can have a full class of incoming students the following year. Sometimes these estimates are wrong, and that is where the waitlist comes into play. As more students apply to more schools, the yield (percentage of students accepting the offers) is falling. That means more students are getting put on the waitlist.
There are some strategies you can use to turn that waitlist into an acceptance letter. (The following tips and strategies are not a guarantee of admission into any school, rather they are what we have seen to be successful in the past.)
1) Stay on the waitlist
The first thing you should do is notify the school as soon as possible about your intention to stay on the waitlist. This will ensure that you remain in consideration as they begin to accept students off the waitlist. If you haven’t already established a personal connection with your regional admissions representative, now would be the time to do so.
2) Express interest
We recommend you put together a short (300-500 word) letter for the admissions committee. In your letter, state clearly your conviction for attending the school, explain that if you were accepted you would definitely be enrolling in the fall. On top of that, describe what you would bring to their campus, take a moment to reflect and envision yourself as a student at their school. What would you be doing to make it a better place? Research in a certain building or field? A specific activity or cause that you want to champion? Admissions committees tend to appreciate students who show initiative and have a plan for what they want to do if admitted. This is your second chance for a “why your school” essay, show them what kind of college student you will become.
3) Supplemental materials
Some committees allow for additional material to be submitted for waitlisted students. Check with your school, but if this is the case we suggest finding one or two additional people who could write you a recommendation. Be sure to choose people who you think would highlight qualities that have not already been featured in your previous application materials. Show the committee something new about yourself.
4) Keep them in the loop
A lot has probably happened since you submitted your application, your fall semester grades are finalized, maybe you achieved something significant in an extracurricular activity or went on an educational trip; keep them updated on any new accomplishments in your life. The waitlist period is a great time to address any perceived weaknesses you had the first time around, use this opportunity to highlight your strengths of your application and improve upon the areas that you think could use some work.
5) Cover your bases
In the meantime, you should accept an offer from another school you have interest in attending, and put down a deposit. You don’t want to be left empty-handed of you aren’t offered a spot at your waitlisted school.
6) Wait and see
After a certain point, you have done all you can do and you have to let the admissions committee do their job. This means do not harass the admissions department by asking for weekly updates on your admissions status. We also recommend parents don’t get involved, admissions committees tend to prefer students taking the initiative and you are the student they are considering admitting, not your parents.
As previously admitted students begin to notify the school that they do not plan on attending, the school will begin to admit students off the waitlist. If you follow these steps and show how you could be an asset to the school you have a real chance to gain admission. The decision is now out of your hands and the admissions committee has some tough decisions to make, good luck.