Waitlisted? 5-Step Action Plan for Getting off the College Waitlist

Waitlisted? 5-Step Action Plan for Getting off the College Waitlist

Decisions, decisions, decisions. ‘Tis the season!

For many, online college portals will bring a loud “YES!” or a quiet “noooo” to the room. But for others, reactions have to wait. Every year, thousands of students are waitlisted by their dream schools.  

The length of a wait list and the speed at which it shrinks varies from year-to-year and from school-to-school. What remains constant? Your role in the process.











There is a lot you can do, starting now, to improve your chances of going from waitlisted to accepted.

Here is your 5-step action plan to getting off a college waitlist (and a back-up plan if all else fails):

1. Take a deep breath. You weren’t rejected!

After reading your application, admissions officers didn’t outright reject you. Admissions officers receive thousands of applications from qualified candidates, and are tasked with making incredibly hard choices. There was something about your application that intrigued them and that showed you could be a good fit for their program. Remember: there is still hope!

2. Accept your spot on the college waitlist (literally, not figuratively).

In today’s college admissions landscape, it is not assumed that all students accept their spot on their college waitlist. Make sure to READ. EVERY. EMAIL. Click every link, and actually press “accept” if offered a spot on the waitlist.

3. Write a letter of continued interest, and then send it.

This is your opportunity to tell your dream school that it is still your number one choice. This letter should be to-the-point and professional (no need to write more than a page; in fact, don’t). While admissions officers at different schools have different preferences for how they’d like students to handle the waitlist process, there are a couple of standards that apply across the board.

In this letter, you need to:

  1. Express a strong desire to go to the school for specific, relevant reasons. There should be no doubt in the reader’s mind that you will attend his/her school if you are accepted. Remove their concern about protecting the yield rate. If it’s your number one choice, then say it — clearly, persuasively, convingly.
  2. Provide relevant, new information. There is no need to repeat the information on your application, but you do want to tell the admissions office about anything positive and new you have done since you applied. Have you received any new awards? Do you have new scores to report? Has your startup doubled in size? Did your team win the state championship? I know it can be hard to do a lot to improve your candidacy between application deadlines and decision notifications, but try to think creatively. For a full list of questions to ask yourself, scroll down about halfway through our article on Deferred From College: What Happens Next?

Here is a sneak peek at some school-specific insights from our Former Admissions Officers:

  • Harvard — The most important thing for the Harvard wait list is for the student to write in and reaffirm his or her interest. In the message, it is good to include any updates if the student has them, but even simply stating “Harvard is still my first choice” is enough — because the office wants to make sure that anyone who is offered a spot will take it.
  • University of Chicago — At UChicago, admissions officers only look at students on that college waitlist who sent letters of continued interest that were basically another “Why UChicago?” essay.

For more detailed or school-specific information, contact our team.

4. Consider an additional letter of recommendation.

Keyword consider. Most of the time, an additional letter of recommendation will just be another piece of paper that an admissions officer has to read. But if you have a strong and close relationship with an influential person — a professor at the school, powerful alumni, or highly elected official — consider asking for a letter of recommendation. If you barely know this person, don’t ask. If you have a close relationship, then do.

5. Talk to your high school counselors.

Over the years, high school counselors develop relationships with admissions officers. At some schools, they play a key role in bridging gaps between high schoolers and their future college campuses. If you have a good relationship with your high school counselor and will definitely accept a spot off of the waitlist, ask him/her to contact the school on your behalf. A quick confirmation that you’re awesome and will attend might go a long way.

If all else fails…

You need to have a plan in place if all else fails. For most people, this will come in the form of a “fit” or “safety” school — a school that wasn’t your dream school, but to which you still applied. If this isn’t you, and you are still DEAD SET on going to the school that waitlisted you, you have a couple of backup to the backup options:

  1. Take a gap year – If you are open to it, it might be worth taking a gap year. You can either tell your regional counselor that you would be willing to take a gap year and be admitted in the next class. At some schools, they might offer this to students directly. Alternatively, you can do something meaningful during your year off and reapply the following year.
  2. Transfer – If you accept a spot at another school, and still can’t get “Dream School” off your mind, you can try to transfer. To do this successfully, you’ll need to perform extremely well academically and extracurricularly at your current school and have a compelling reason for wanting to transfer (what not to say: I haven’t made any friends, the professors are lame, this school isn’t prestigious enough, etc).

This is an incredibly exciting, emotionally intense time of the year. If you didn’t get the result you wanted, try not to get absorbed in the craziness around you. Think clearly, act strategically, and don’t give up. There is a school out there that is a great fit for you — the “waitlist-er” or otherwise — it just may take you a bit longer to find!


About the Author

Yosepha Greenfield grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Political Science. While at Yale, she was the Captain of the Women’s Basketball team and the starting point guard. Under her leadership, the team advanced to the NIT tournament for the first time in program history.

Throughout her academic, athletic, and professional career, Yosepha has dedicated herself to helping people become the best version of themselves. She has mentored several young female athletes, promoted the importance of fitness through children’s exercise videos and fitness startups, and now works to help as many students as possible achieve their admissions goals.

Yosepha is also a six-time National Champion in Tae Kwon Do.