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What To Do If You're Waitlisted

You finally get that email from your dream school, but instead of digital confetti, you’re greeted with a notice saying you’ve been waitlisted. Fear not! I promise you it is not the end of the world!

First and foremost, know this is not a rejection of you as a student. Spots on waitlists are only offered to qualified applicants. The school is quite open to having you and thinks you would do fine if you attended. Otherwise, you would have been rejected. In addition, this year (2020-2021) has been a particularly tough admissions year so making it on a waitlist is no small feat. Schools that waitlist are usually schools with lower yield rates (the percentage of accepted students who actually choose to attend) or that are highly selective. Selective schools in particular saw a huge uptick in applications this year. The elimination of test requirements at many institutions and the inclusion of last year’s seniors who chose not to apply at the beginning of the pandemic created an abnormally large and competitive applicant pool. For example, Harvard saw a 57% increase in applications from last year!

How Do Waitlists Work Anyway?

Schools have a certain number of spots available for each freshman class. They predict their yield rate before applications come in and keep a waitlist of students in case the rate is lower than predicted. Though waitlists are sometimes ranked, schools usually make choices about who to admit based on what their needs are for the freshman class community after students have made commitments. For example, if women or computer science majors are underrepresented in the freshman class, the school will be more likely to reach out to people who meet these needs. Waitlist decisions are released throughout late spring and the summer.

What Now?

Decide what you want to do and let them know either way. If you figure waiting does not make much sense - understandable given the fact the school won’t let you know until after commitment decisions (and monetary deposits) for other schools are due - let them know.

If you do want to wait, in addition to any formal means of notification, send an admissions representative a letter. You will likely only be interested in doing this if this school is your first choice so make that clear to them! You want to highlight achievements and other positive developments that have popped up since you applied as they won’t know about them. But it should go without saying that you should continue to excel in and out of school in the meantime. Remember that universities can request second semester grades!

What About Other Schools?

Regardless of whether or not you choose to wait on a waitlist decision, you need to move as if you were not accepted to the school in question. The commitment deadlines for other schools will likely pass before you receive a decision. You never want to risk putting your eggs in one basket so choose another school you can see yourself attending and commit to attend. Do everything you would do if you were 100% certain you were going including attending information sessions and orientation programs. Hopefully your list of schools was balanced enough to ensure that you’d be happy at any of your choices!


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