The College Waitlist: Everything You Need to Know


The College Waitlist: Everything You Need to Know

It’s been four months since you applied to your dream college. You’ve been checking your inbox everyday, hoping for an acceptance but stealing yourself for rejection. Finally, the moment of truth arrives. You hold your breath and open the message. You’ve been…


Although the waitlist is undeniably frustrating, it is also becoming increasingly common (In fact, the average number of students offered a position on a waitlist increased by 18 percent between Fall 2018 and 2019). With that in mind, here is some information on what the waitlist means, as well as advice for what to do next.

What exactly is the waitlist?

If you have been placed on the waitlist, it means you have not yet been admitted but may be considered for admission in the future.

Why do colleges use waitlists?

Colleges use waitlists because of uncertainties surrounding their yield percentage, or the percentage of admitted students who end up enrolling. Let’s say that a college expects their yield percentage to be 50%, but only 40% of admitted students actually enroll. This school would then admit students from the waitlist to fill the remaining spots.

Are students on the waitlists ranked?

The answer to this question is almost always no. Instead, when colleges do utilize the waitlist, they admit students who support institutional priorities. For example, if the initial round of applicants did not include many students from the midwest, the school might be more inclined to admit a student from Nebraska off the waitlist in order to increase geographic diversity. Or perhaps their initial round of applicants didn’t include as many “full pay” students as expected; as a result, the school might be more likely to admit a student who is not seeking financial aid.

In short: the criteria a college uses to determine who gets off the waitlist is hard to predict, and can change significantly from year to year.

What should I do next?

If you are still genuinely interested in attending the college, the first step is accepting your spot on the waitlist. Most colleges require students to “opt in” to a waitlist rather than placing them there automatically.

Be sure to "opt in" to a waitlist

Once you claim your spot, consider sending a brief email of continued interest to the admissions office or your regional admissions counselor. As the name suggests, this message should reiterate your desire to attend if offered a spot (If the school is your first choice, tell them that!). In addition, mention any of your new accomplishments since you submitted your original application (e.g. a new club leadership position, a top finish at the science fair, improved grades, etc.). Do not repeat information from your original application, and do not write in a frustrated or disappointed tone. Also: be wary of going overboard. As MIT cautions waitlisted students:

“Here are some things you should NOT do: Fly to campus to make the case in person. Send us ridiculous things (or “things” in general). Submit a whole new application. Bombard our office with way too much stuff. Be pushy. Be sketchy. Let your grades drop.”

Finally, submit a deposit to enroll at another university before May 1st! This step is absolutely critical. Waitlist decisions are typically not announced until June or July, so you will need to commit to another school to ensure your spot on campus.

What are my chances of getting off the waitlist?

Unfortunately, the odds are pretty slim. Nationally, only 25% of waitlisted students were ultimately accepted. And at some schools, the numbers can be even bleaker. For example, of the 404 students who accepted a place on the waitlist at Claremont Mckenna College last year, just one was ultimately offered admission.

Waitlist information for Claremont Mckenna College

Because your chances of getting off the waitlist are low, it is best to get excited about the school that has already accepted you.

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