What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Does It Mean to Be Waitlisted?

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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Opening your admissions decision can be one of the most stressful moments of your high school career. You’ve spent years working hard in and out of class, you spent months polishing your applications, and now the final judgment is here. If you open that envelope or email to find that you’ve been waitlisted, you might be a little confused. In this article, you’ll learn what waitlists are for and how colleges make the decision to put students on them.


How Colleges Classify Students


When you finally open your admissions letter, you expect to read either, “Congratulations,” or something like, “We regret to inform you . . .” But if you open the envelope or log into the website and see neither and find out that you’ve been waitlisted, you might feel quite a bit of confusion. 


A waitlist is a list of applicants whose admission may be reconsidered in the coming months if there are gaps in the incoming freshman class. Most schools classify their applicants according to certain factors. They take into consideration legacy, race, international status, athletics, and much more. Then, they try to fill their next class with a certain proportion of different types of students.


For example, a school’s officers will set out to admit a certain number of qualified international students. They will compare these candidates to one another and then accept those whom they believe to be most suited for their college. Some students only just miss the cut and will be put on the waitlist. If several accepted international students choose to attend another college, admissions officers will then pull the waitlisted candidates from this group and offer them admission.


As you can see, a waitlist is more or less a backup plan for the college. Many qualified applicants end up there, and some may eventually be admitted if there’s space.


Filling the Incoming Class


If you’re put on a waitlist, it’s not quite an acceptance, but the college is telling you that it will consider admitting you if there’s still space to fill in the incoming freshman class.


A waitlist means schools can ensure that they have a full freshman class. Many students might refuse an offer of admission, and the waitlist enables the schools to have qualified candidates ready to fill the remaining spaces.


At the most selective schools, a rejected student may fail to meet certain expectations. They didn’t have the required academic index—their grades, standardized test scores, and/or course rigor just weren’t enough. Perhaps their application didn’t have enough spikes because they didn’t achieve enough or show a good level of commitment in their extracurricular activities. Admissions officers may also merely feel that they’re not a good fit for the school. 


When it comes to the difference between accepted and waitlisted applicants, simple luck can be the deciding factor. Two students may be similar in terms of grades, extracurriculars, and scores, but maybe the admissions team read Student A’s application before they got to Student B’s, so Student A got the acceptance letter. It can be unfair, sadly.


After acceptances and rejections get sent out, students then have to make their decisions. If one student gets in but decides not to attend, that may open up a space for a waitlisted student to fill. There often aren’t clear differences between waitlisted candidates—they all can be equally qualified. It comes down to filling the incoming class in the way that the college wants, and sometimes, it just depends on certain demographic classifications.


Making Your Final Choice


You have reason to hope if you find out that you’ve been waitlisted. The admissions committee clearly thinks that you could have a place at their college. They didn’t reject you, after all. But it’s important to have a backup plan. If you find yourself on the waitlist at a school that you’d really like to attend, you shouldn’t dwell on what could be. This type of imagining could lead you to turn down a college that’s accepted you, one that could be perfect for you, simply based on the hope of getting a final acceptance letter from another school.


Choose a school to attend, and then learn about all the opportunities that await you there. It might be different than what you initially hoped for, but it could be a great decision. If you pick a school that’s accepted you, feel excited about attending! If your acceptance letter from your dream school eventually arrives in the summer, you can greet it as an exciting surprise.