College Application Purgatory: What you Must Do if You’re Waitlisted

The wait list is certainly the most stressful position during the college application season. Many applicants with deferred admissions offers in hand are left wondering what to do. As to what you have to do, the answer is easy. Sometimes you can do nothing and remain on the waitlist. Other times, you simply check a box indicating your interest and mail the latter back. But the question of what you should do if on the wait list is more complex.

Being added to a college's waitlist should put you back into action mode. Hope is absolutely not lost because universities almost always admit many applicants from their wait list in an attempt to keep the incoming student body of an expected size. Your goal now is to stand out amongst the other waitlisted candidates. Your foot is already in the door, so the trick is to make sure that the admissions committee opens it for you and not someone else. Try one or more of the following tips:

  • Indicate your interest. If you don't have to do anything to remain on the wait list, do something anyway. If you only have to check a box, do something more. Personally call the admissions office to indicate your continued interest in the college and ask if there's anything they would like you to send in to help them make their decision. They're already interested in you as a student, otherwise they would have just rejected you. So make sure you make it clear that the interest is mutual.
  • If they don't ask, send it anyway. Several months have passed since you sent in your application, so let the university know all the good things that have happened in the meantime. If your GPA has gone up, send in an updated transcript. A quick report on your new awards, honors, or club presidencies should be sent as well. Anything you believe could have helped you the first time around should be shared.
  • If you have nothing new to send, make something. Staying the same guy or gal they wait listed the first time isn't going to get you accepted the second time. Work as hard as you can in your classes and let the school know that you anticipate a GPA increase. Sign up for a college prep class at a local community college to show initiative and preparedness. Shoot for leadership opportunities or community involvement. You need to add to your application in some way to make yourself more attractive to the university. And, of course, let them know all about it.
  • Understand why colleges defer applicants to the waitlist. One of the hardest things for admissions committees to do is to make sure they select the right amount of students. This includes complex calculations regarding their typical yield (or the percentage of students they accept who actually attend) and the likelihood that certain applicants will accept an admissions offer. The more sure they can be about you, the more they will like you. So if you're waitlisted at your top-choice school, tell them that they're your top choice and that you will definitely attend if they accept you. If you're less of a risk, you're a better choice for them.
  • Find an advocate. If you want to be a college athlete, contact your sport's coach and let him or her know that you've been wait-listed and see what he or she can do to help you. Somethings the athletics department has some sway over who gets to come off the waitlist. If you're not going for sports, find any other contact. A professor, an advisor, or even an admissions officer all make great advocates. If you have someone at the school who likes you and wants you in, you have a much better chance.

The wait-list can be an uncomfortable place to be, but keeping your hopes up and continuing to play the admissions game is the trick to getting accepted off the waitlist. The majority of deferred candidates will do nothing -- they will not call, update their application, or show that they care. By being different, you will stand out and have a decent shot at acceptance. Don't pester the admissions office of course, but do make sure they know that you're interested.

The wait list is never the end of the road, but just a beginning to a new one. Good luck.

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