According to a 2015 report by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), 39% of colleges surveyed reported using waitlists. Of those students remaining on the waitlist, colleges only accepted an average of 32%. And at highly selective institutions, this number can be dramatically lower.
How can you improve your chances of being accepted off the waitlist? Frankly, not that much (hence the term ‘wait’ list)—but there are some things you can do:
- Select a school you WERE accepted to and complete all the steps to secure your spot: fill out forms, send in your deposit, etc. Don’t assume you’ll get off a particular waitlist, and instead spend your energy on learning more about the school you’ve chosen. Consider the waitlist like a hope and a prayer: you may be delighted if you eventually receive an acceptance, but until then it’s not real.
- Take a deep breath, and decide if you REALLY still want to attend the school that waitlisted you. Visits, research, talking with alumni, counselors, etc. should still take place if you have the opportunity. If the college encourages its waitlisted students to visit, absolutely set one up. This is also a good time to meet with your admissions representative.
- Write a letter to the waitlisted school’s admissions rep (the person responsible for evaluating applications from your high school) reiterating your desire to attend. Stay positive and absolutely refrain from expressing frustration. Include details about how you see yourself at the school, including courses you would take and activities in which you would participate. Show how you would enhance the school community. If you will definitely attend if you get in, state that in no uncertain terms. Also, be sure to give an update on anything significant you have been doing since your submission.
- Maintain your grades, activities, etc. Don’t give the admissions office any reason to drop you from the waitlist.
If you ultimately don’t get off the waitlist, remember it’s not the end of the world. College truly is what you make of it, and many institutions provide a great fit with your social and academic needs without necessarily being your ‘dream’ school. Moreover, you can always apply later as a transfer student if you choose to… though we encourage students to first genuinely try to make the best of the school they’re already enrolled in.