3 Ways to Work a College Waitinglist

3 Ways for Parents and Students to Work a College Waiting List

With college decisions coming in fast and furious, many students get the sometimes-confusing “waitlist” decision. I had a mom email me last week to tell me that her son was waitlisted at Northwestern and she was not sure what that exactly meant. While I’m sure the college explained it well in their letter, I understand that how to proceed can be unclear. I hope this blog helps.

A waitlist decision is not a “yes” and it’s not a “no”. It’s a “wait, and we will see.”  Ultimately the college is “waiting” to see how many of the students that they have admitted will say “yes” to them and if their yield is high, they probably will not go to their waiting list. If their accepted students say “no” then they probably will admit some students who are on the waiting list. Upon immediate receipt of a waitlist notification, there is very little a student can do to affect the final decision. Yes, the student must indicate if they would like to remain on the waiting list or not — colleges will send instructions — but do not expect to be able to talk or write emails that will carry significant weight. At least not immediately. Here are some tips to help students to manage their waiting list decisions and what they can do in the coming weeks to possibly influence a decision in their favor.

Be Patient. Sounds cheesy and obvious, but it’s very necessary. Take a deep breath, respond that to the school that you would still like to be considered and then survey your options. You will have to make a decision about another school and probably send a non-refundable deposit to another school while you awaiting a final decision. Most schools will not move students off of their waiting list until late April, early May or even possibly over the summer.

Email your regional admissions rep to indicate your sincere interest. I call this being “pleasantly persistent.” If this school is one of your favorites, tell them so. If you will commit to them if admitted, say that. Share information about what you have recently accomplished in school that may be worthy of note (making honor roll, lead in a school play, new community service project). Expect a perfunctory “thank you for your interest and we will be in touch” but you will at least initiated a dialogue. DO NOT do this if would prefer to go somewhere else or if you have not heard from everywhere you applied. It’s good to know all of your options before you extend yourself.

Ask your school counselor to follow up. Your school counselor has the ability to help you with the admissions rep. They should also email or call on your behalf to reinforce your interest. Sometimes colleges like hearing from adults — their colleagues in the profession — as a more formal agreement. They know that the school counselor will stick to their word because they have a separate relationship and will see each other repeatedly for years to come. 

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