You’ve Been Wait-listed. Now What?

You’ve Been Wait-listed. Now What?
  • Opening Intro -

    You applied to more than a half dozen colleges and heard back from each one.

    Most have accepted you, two have turned you down and another one has sent you a letter of ambiguity -- as in you've been put on a college wait list.


If you’ve been wait-listed, you’re now in a virtual no-man’s land — at least with that one college. You haven’t been turned down, but you’re not on the school’s list of freshmen applicants. At least not at this moment.

Wait Lists — Why?!

Why wait lists? Well, as the National Association for College Admission Counseling advises, wait lists are a college’s insurance policy. This means that if some of the students on its acceptance list drop off and go to college elsewhere, then the school will go to its wait list to accept more students. That is, if it has seats it must fill.

Being put on a wait list can be nerve-wracking, especially if that list is for your top choice school. Colleges generally do not share information about their wait lists, leaving students guessing the number of people ahead of them on the list and wondering how long they’ll stay on the list. In the meantime, schools will often wait until well into the summer before issuing a final acceptance or denial, much too late for some who need a decision now to make plans for the fall academic year.

University of Texas

Some colleges are much more transparent and student-friendly about the wait list process. For example, students put on the 2012 Freshman Wait List for the University of Texas number approximately 300. Those students are expected to be notified by May 15, 2012, whether they’ve been accepted or denied. That will give prospective students enough time to enroll or accept admission elsewhere. Were all schools that forthcoming!

If you’re unsure of a college’s wait list procedures, you can call its admissions office to learn more. Likely, you’ll be told where you are on the list if the link is ranked and you may be able to find out what the percentage of students on the list are accepted. For example, if there are 100 people on the list and half are typically accepted, you may still get in if you are in the top 50. But, don’t despair if your number is lower as some wait-listed students will have quickly moved on to their backup plan.

Top Choice School

If the school that has wait-listed you is your top choice, then tell them so. Colleges prefer to offer acceptance to students most likely to enroll. If there have been changes in your application, such as an academic award received, notify the school too. An improved academic standing may result in an acceptance offer.

The NACAC notes that colleges cannot require wait-listed students to put down a deposit. Schools must also notify wait-listed students by August 1.

Moving On

If being on a wait-list has you down, but you were accepted by a desirable second-choice school, then forget the wait list and move on. Where you attend college won’t make or break you, but languishing on a wait list can distract you from your college preparation plans.

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