Everything You Need to Know About the College Waitlist
Your child has gone through the entire application process and is waiting patiently (sort of) to hear any news, and finally word from a college on their list comes through.
“You’ve been waitlisted!”
If the college admissions process wasn’t stressful enough, being waitlisted can add extra tension for students anxious to get their results.
Getting waitlisted doesn’t provide the excitement of an acceptance letter or the closure of a rejection, and rather leaves students in a state of limbo and unsure about where they’ll end up.
It’s understandable to be frustrated or apprehensive if your child is waitlisted for a school they applied to.
Not only do they not get the definitive answer that they were hoping for, but it will also force them to delay making plans for the next year because they don’t know their results.
While the dynamics of college waitlists are changing as a result of COVID-19, there are important things to know about waitlists and follow-up strategies for families put in that position.
What Is a Waitlist and How Does it Work?
The college waitlist is a pool of applicants that are neither rejected nor accepted for admissions. Students’ applications are put on hold with an official confirmation set at a later date where the school may or may not accept them.
Colleges use waitlists for several reasons. Schools may want to avoid the stigma of sending out a large number of rejection letters, and some may want to assess the statistics of their next freshman class and accept more students.
Other times, students may have been waitlisted because of something related to their application.
If there was a discrepancy in their application that the school wanted to look into or multiple applicants with similar qualifications, schools may put off making a final decision until the later date.
When Are Waitlist Decisions Made?
Colleges generally won’t start admitting applicants off of the waitlist until after the May 1 deadline, so waitlisted students should expect to not receive the decision until mid-May at the earliest.
Schools will typically send out a notice letting students know if the class has been filled, but the date can fluctuate based on the individual school.
Students who are seriously considering a school they are waitlisted to should be in regular communication with the admissions department regarding when decisions will be made.
As the COVID-19 situation continues to impact how colleges operate, it is important to stay informed and have your child regularly check their email for updates from the school.
How Often Are Waitlisted Students Accepted?
A student’s likelihood of getting into a school they’re waitlisted for will vary based on how selective the school is.
In 2019, around 20% of waitlisted students who chose to stay on the list were accepted, with 7% at selective schools. Each school has different standards and reasons for waitlisting students.
William & Mary University offered a guaranteed spring admission to waitlisted students who either attended a semester abroad or were at a two-year college program, but other universities have accepted as little as zero applicants from their waitlist.
Tools like College Transitions can help students and parents find specific waitlist information regarding the offers and admissions for schools they’ve applied to.
What Does it Mean to Accept a Waitlist Offer?
Waitlisted applicants have the option of either accepting or rejecting a school’s waitlist offer, and students and parents need to make that decision as soon as possible.
You both will need to evaluate whether staying on the waitlist is the best option as you plan in advance, all while considering financial and mental health concerns.
If you both decide that you want to continue with the application, you will need to officially accept the waitlist offer, which is generally done either through a notarized letter or an online portal.
If your child decides to accept the offer, they need to also think of a backup plan if they are not accepted. The admissions deadline is May 1, so families will have to make a non-refundable deposit to a second-choice school as an option if they don’t get in.
Considering the waitlist acceptance rate is relatively low, your student will need a second choice that they are happy with and confident in.
How Can Waitlisted Students Boost Their Acceptance Chances?
While being on a waitlist can be disheartening for students who were confident in their application, they still have ways to boost their likelihood of getting accepted into their school of choice.
The most important follow-up action your student can do is send a letter of interest to the school.
Not only will this affirm to the college that your student will attend if they’re accepted, but it will also help them stand out and remind the school why they considered them in the first place.
A great letter of interest will allow a student to show their enthusiasm, while also highlighting their skills and achievements.
Sometimes schools will ask for an additional essay from waitlisted applicants, and it goes without saying that a well-written essay will help a student’s chances.
It is also important for students to not let their grades suffer before the end of their senior year. Students who are put on a waitlist will be in fierce competition with each other, and a strong academic performance in their final days of high school could make a difference.
Students may consider retaking the SAT or ACT if possible, and remaining active in any extracurricular activities that may stand out on their resume.
Deciding to stay on a school’s waitlist can add additional challenges, but if it is worth it for your student to get into their dream school, utilizing these strategies can give them an advantage.
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