How Does the College Waitlist Work?

How does the college waitlist work?

Right now, many excited students are celebrating acceptances to their top colleges. Others are putting on a brave face after receiving painful rejection letters. Then there’s the third category of students. . . those who have been waitlisted

Being on the dreaded waitlist puts students in a liminal space that can be excruciating. They may feel stuck, with no real sense of their future. But there is hope—whether it involves doing what it takes to win acceptance or getting excited about other options. 

Why Do Colleges Waitlist Students? 

It’s helpful to understand why students are waitlisted in the first place. Here are a few of the most common reasons: 

  • The school thinks they’re the student’s safety and wants to assess if they’re really interested 
  • The school is managing their yield and needs to ensure that the students they accept will attend 
  • The school is letting the student—or their high school—down gently as a courtesy 
  • The school was right on the cusp of accepting the student but decided not to, due to factors like class composition or something in the student’s application 

In the first two scenarios, the student has a decent chance of eventually getting accepted to the school. In the second two scenarios, the likelihood of winning acceptance is slim. 

What Should Students Do Next? 

Students who have their hearts set on attending a school that waitlisted them should—first and foremost—follow any explicit directions the school provides. Here are a few other best practices to consider: 

  • Keep working hard. Unfortunately, senioritis is not an option for students trying to get off the waitlist.
  • Be judicious in any correspondence. There are no bonus points for excessive communication. Students should send the right things at the right time—no clever attempts at getting noticed, no extra materials, no superfluous recommendations.
  • Communicate sincere interest. Students should write a concise letter updating the admissions officers on any compelling new information regarding their file and sincerely explaining why the school is their top choice. 

We don’t discourage students from staying the course for a dream school that waitlisted them. But one thing that gets lost in discussions about college waitlists is the fact that students have a choice about staying on one or not. 

For some students, being waitlisted can be a blessing in disguise. It offers the perfect opportunity to reevaluate what they really want—which might be accepting an offer from another college that’s a better fit.

Getting off the waitlist is a stretch at best, so students should start getting excited about their other options. There’s no denying that being waitlisted stings, but chances are students have alternative paths that are worth exploring. 

If your student would like support navigating the college admissions process, Signet’s admissions consultants are here to help. Contact us today to discuss your students’ needs and goals. 

Picture of Signet Education

Signet Education

More Resources