Admissions Limbo: Students on the Waitlist

It's simple math, really. College applications increase at a much faster rate than the number of students accepted. Something's got to give, and so each year many schools expand their dreaded admissions waitlist. This can force students to make a really tough choice, especially when they're waitlisted by their favorite institutions. What should they do?

By Eric Garneau

wait in line

Waitlists have seen major growth at popular schools lately. That's due primarily to an increase in the number of applications those schools receive. It's not that there are more students trying to get in to college; the university-bound, in an attempt to hedge their bets, apply to more schools than they used to. By looking to gain a competitive edge, though, they change the game. College admission officers have a harder time pinning down the number of applicants they accept who'll actually attend their school in the fall, necessitating the waitlist phenomenon.

Of course it's not just admissions officers who face a difficult decision. Waitlisted students have to think about their choices and priorities more carefully than before, and the applications process is tough to begin with! It sounds harsh, but students on a waitlist face a bit of a reality check. Regarding those students, Meredith College's associate vice president for enrollment told The Washington Post that 'the truth is that they were not 'top choice'.'

So where does that leave prospective learners? Katherine Cohen, founder and chief executive of an admissions counseling company known as IvyWise, gave The Washington Post some general tips for university hopefuls stuck in waitlist limbo.


First, probably the easiest step - if you're waitlisted by a school that isn't among your top choices, write that school asking to be taken off that waitlist. That lets another student in your position get what they want come fall. This especially applies if you've obtained guaranteed admission to a college you like more. Why sit on a waitlist if you have no intention of going to the school?

This next part's a bit trickier. If you were waitlisted for one of your top choices, there are tactics you can take to help get you accepted. Cohen recommends swiftly writing that school a letter expressing your intent to attend. Make that letter a sort of second-round application: include updated grades from your senior year, a fresh letter of recommendation from a current teacher and a new personal statement describing what you can bring to the school. For that last bit, do some research. For instance, read the school newspaper online to find out about important issues on campus (but don't be too dramatic, or you'll seem disingenuous).

None of the above guarantees admission to your favorite school, but it can help your case. It should be noted, however, that such action is binding; you're making a promise to that school that you'll be there for the fall semester if they accept you. Meanwhile, Cohen also suggests sending a deposit to your favorite school that gave you a solid affirmative. That means you have some place to go in the fall regardless. As Cohen points out, if after a year you still have your heart set on the school that got away, you can apply as a transfer student.

Of course, enterprising students can be successful at many schools, not just their top choice. If you can't secure a spot at your favorite school, don't fret. Make the most of your freshman year experience wherever you go - chances are you'll find it incredibly rewarding no matter where you end up.

Waitlist or not, deciding where to go to school is tough. Presidential speechwriter and game show host Ben Stein has some practical advice for you.

Next: View Schools

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?