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Frequently Asked Questions About College Waitlists

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Yesh Datar in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


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In this post, we answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about college waitlists. For more information, check out this blog post on common reasons for being waitlisted.


Getting Off the Waitlist


What Are Your Chances of Getting Off the Waitlist?


Your chances of getting off the waitlist largely depend on your profile as an applicant. Generally, the waitlist admissions process considers all the same factors as the initial application process, but you will have the opportunity to update the school or schools about any new accomplishments.


Waitlist acceptances vary from school to school and even from year to year. It all depends on how the regular admissions process goes that year. Some colleges have ranked waitlists, which means their admissions office already knows who will be offered admission in what order if spaces open up. Many colleges don’t have this system, however.


Keep in mind that the waitlist process offers no guarantees. The number of spots that open up in the matriculating class is often quite low and consequently, so is the waitlist admissions rate. At highly competitive schools, there are a few years when no waitlisted applicants can be admitted at all.


Is It Harder to Get Off the Waitlist in Liberal Art Colleges due to the Smaller Class Size?


It can be. Some colleges have small class sizes, so they will admit few students. These schools could also have a large enrollment yield—the percentage of accepted students who enroll at the school—making it harder to bring applicants off the waitlist. At small schools and more prestigious schools, fewer applicants tend to be admitted off the waitlist.


Honors Program Waitlists


Do Waitlisted Students Ever Get into Honors Programs?


It’s possible. Students who are admitted to honors programs are academically successful, so the chances are higher that they’ll be admitted to several schools. If an honors student opts to attend the more prestigious of the two universities where they were accepted, that can open up a spot in the honors program at the school that they didn’t choose. The more high-achieving the applicants are, the more gaps there may be to fill in an honors program.


However, students are usually waitlisted because they don’t quite meet the school’s academic requirements or are not quite as competitive as the accepted applications. For that reason, you might not see as many honors program matriculations from waitlisted students.


Enrollment Yield


Why Might There Be Space in the Matriculating Class for Waitlisted Candidates?


Each year, a college aims to admit a certain number of students to compose its incoming class, but not every student who’s admitted will choose to matriculate to that college. This can be for several reasons, including choosing to enroll somewhere else, taking a gap year, or having financial concerns.


Ivy League schools ideally want to increase enrollment yield as much as possible. For example, if they offer admission to 100 students, they’d like all 100 to enroll. The students who are accepted but choose to attend another school will create openings for students to come off the waitlist. Waitlisted students look forward to a low enrollment yield. This is also why they have to wait longer for a final admission decision. It can’t be made until the college hears back from the original batch of accepted applicants.


Waitlist Size


How Long Is a Typical Waitlist?


The number of students on the waitlist varies by school, but the waitlist is typically not as large as the rejection pool. Its size depends on how prestigious and selective the school is, as the most competitive schools expect a higher percentage of accepted students to attend. The more competitive the school, the shorter the waitlist can be.