Roadmap to College: What Happens If I Get Waitlisted?

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

One possible outcome when hearing back from colleges is that you have been waitlisted. Being placed on a waitlist is a positive occurrence, because it is preferable to a rejection. If you are waitlisted at a college of your choice, it means you are a serious contender for a spot in the freshman class, but you were not able to be admitted because all of the initial spots have been filled. Remember, the goal of most colleges is to have a full freshman class so they don’t lose money.

However, more spots may open up once students have responded by the Universal Reply Date of May 1st. At that time, many colleges will go to their waitlist. Since colleges do not know until May 1st how many freshman seats are available, the number of students on a waitlist and the number of students taken off the waitlist vary from college to college and from year to year.

The chances of being accepted from a waitlist can be unpredictable. According to the Rice University Web site, the number of students offered admission from the waitlist in 2007 was six students. In 2006, 110 students were offered admission from the waitlist. As you can see, it is very hard to predict how many students will be accepted from the waitlist every year.

When you are placed on a waitlist, you will be asked if you want to remain on the waitlist. You can remain on more than one college’s waitlist, and you should not be asked for a deposit or a commitment until you have been officially notified of an acceptance. You will need to reply to a waitlist offer by a certain date. If you have already been accepted to your first choice school or if you are happy with the schools you have been accepted to, you can decline the waitlist offer. If, however, you are not happy with the schools you have been accepted to or the school to which you are waitlisted is one of your top choices, then you should accept the waitlist offer. If you remain on a waitlist, you should go ahead and accept one other school’s offer and send the required deposit by May 1st. If you are eventually admitted to your waitlist college and you want to attend, then you must withdraw from the school you originally accepted and go ahead and accept the waitlisted school’s offer. This is the only situation where you can double deposit, and you will most likely lose your deposit to the first school.

There really is no downside to being waitlisted, except that you are in limbo for a while and there is some uncertainty as to where you are going to college. You will start hearing from your waitlisted schools in May and June, and you should be notified no later than August 1.

Many students wonder if waitlisted students are ranked in order of their number on the waitlist, but that is not the case. The applications of waitlisted students are typically reviewed again. Whether you are accepted depends on how a college is building their freshman class and what their needs (academic, sports, etc.) are for that incoming class. You can increase your chances of being accepted from a waitlist by:

  • Maintaining your senior grades
  • Updating your file through a letter or e-mail, expressing your most recent accomplishments and your continued interest in the college
  • Writing a new essay
  • Obtaining a new letter of recommendation from a senior teacher or someone else
  • Planning a return visit to the campus and expressing your interest
  • Continuing a dialogue with your admissions representative through e-mail
  • Considering alternate admissions terms, such as a guaranteed transfer (you will be admitted as a transfer student if you meet certain GPA requirements), an alternate semester, or an alternate campus
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