Advice If You Land on the Waitlist

By Jessica Dickenson
August 11, 2022

When you apply for colleges, you usually have a pretty good idea of how to respond to a college letter of acceptance or rejection. However, you may find out that your application is "waitlisted." What does that mean for your college plan? Should you be concerned?

It's challenging to navigate your college plan when it isn't straightforward. While being waitlisted doesn't happen to everyone, it is best to be prepared and understand your options.

What Exactly Is The Waitlist?

Once you get a notice that you have waitlisted, you may wonder what that exactly means.

Receiving notice of waitlist means that the college has reviewed your application and decided to put you on a waiting list for admission. Rest assured, you didn't do anything wrong to end up on the waitlist; it depends on how many college students can acce pt a semester.

Colleges predict how many students they anticipate will enroll for the semester, but this is difficult to predict accurately. In some cases, far more students than the college anticipated will apply and are qualified, which means the college cannot accommodate everyone. Instead of turning away the "extra" qualified students that they don't have room for, some people move to waitlist. Since not everyone who is accepted will decide to enroll, colleges then have the flexibility to admit addition al students from the waitlist.

It is important to note that the waitlist isn't a ranked system. Admissions look at a school's institutional needs and decide who to admit based on certain factors. For example, suppose a school expected more nursing students to enroll than the number of students who signed up. In that case, they may go to the waitlist and admit select nursing applicants to fill those spots.

What Should You Do If You Are Waitlisted?

Before you launch into action, you should congratulate yourse lf. While you may not have received an acceptance letter, you weren't turned away either! It's important not to become disheartened as you plan your future steps, so make sure you focus on this positive!

  1. Decide where the college ranked for you. Was this the college of your dreams, or are there other colleges you like more? Your feelings about schools can change, especially as decisions come in. If you receive a waitlist decision, consider if that college is still a top choice. You may determine that waiting through the spring or early summer when you hear back from the college is worth the wait, or you may feel otherwise. You may also determine that another college will help you attain your education and career goals. Make sure you weigh all your options when determining whether waiting is the best option.

  2. Secure your spot at another school. Even though you may determine that the college is worth the wait, applying to another school is still in your best interest. Don't worry — accepting an admission offer at another college will not hurt your chances of being admitted off the waitlist. Colleges realize that students need a place to go in the fall and will not penalize someone for accepting a spot somewhere else while waiting to hear back on a waitlist decision. You may decide to start earning credits at one school and later transfer.

  3. Emphasize your interest. Some colleges will encourage students to contact admissions to give a little more information about what they've been doing since they submitted their applications. It can help you show that you are still interested in enrolling in their college and how you are an asset to their institution. You can leverage your application and why you should be accepted from the waitlist by reaching out.

  4. Proceed with your college plans. After accepting your spot and following up with the waitlisted college, there isn't much more you can do than wait to hear if you've moved off the waitlist. That doesn't mean that you should put your life on hold! Enjoy your summer, and ensure that you fully participate and enjoy the benefits of the college you accepted. You can network with other students and continue to plan for your future. You can reassess your options if you hear back and are accepted into your waitlisted college, but you may discover you love your other college!

What happens if you are accepted?

Congratulations on being accepted! No matter what you decide, make sure you sit down and discuss your options. There is some cost involved, as you may have to forfeit any enrollment and housing deposits you've already put down at another school. Depending on your circumstances, it may be worth it in the end if you get to attend the college of your dreams.

If you decide to accept the spot off the waitlist, inform the college and send in your deposit; make sure you let your alternative college know you will not be attending. However, if you decide not to accept the spot off the waitlist, let the college know so they can offer your spot to someone else.

Jessica Dickenson

Jessica Dickenson graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran College with degrees in English and communication. She has applied her abilities working as a young marketing professional for a local university but works as a freelance writer and photographer in her spare time. She currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband.
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