Being waitlisted at a college, particularly if it’s your dream school, may feel a bit like you’re in limbo. You haven’t been accepted to attend, but you still might be if spaces open up in the matriculating class. Meanwhile, you still have to go on with your day-to-day activities, settle on a firm backup school, and send that school a deposit. What else can you do now to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist?

Colleges across the board vary considerably in regard to their procedures and specific details concerning the waitlist. Some schools may accept a number of students off of their waitlist in a given year, while others only choose a handful, or none at all. Individual schools also may vary in their waitlist acceptance rates from year to year. In general, however, expecting to get in off the waitlist is a bit of long shot. That said, there are solid steps you can take to maximize your chances of being accepted off of a waitlist. In this post, we will go over steps you can take to better understand what being on the waitlist means, what your chances of being accepted are, and how you can boost them.

Want to work with an expert consultant who will walk you through the waitlist process, help you draft a waitlist letter, and answer any questions you may have? Learn more about our waitlist program.

Waitlisting and admissions today

Generally speaking, admission to higher-tier schools has become more competitive over time. To some extent, admission to elite colleges is a matter of chance, although there are certainly steps you can take towards improving your odds (through top grades, impressive standardized test scores, a strong essay, and compelling extracurricular activities).

Competitive colleges have more qualified applicants than they can actually accept. Therefore, they must reject or waitlist many good candidates. If you ended up on a school’s waitlist, it means the admissions committee thought you were plenty qualified; your application may have been very solid, but just didn’t stand out as especially engaging, or perhaps was too similar to the application of a slightly more qualified applicant. The waitlist helps colleges ensure they can completely fill their freshman class with qualified candidates even if their yield rate is not what they expected. (Remember: just as much as you want to get into a particular college, that college wants to look competitive and desirable, which translates into students they accept accepting them in return.)

Finding information about a college’s waitlist

It can be difficult to find specific information about a college’s waitlist. Colleges probably won’t tell you how many students have been put on the waitlist or how many people they plan to admit off of it—even they don’t know how many waitlisted students will receive an offer of admission until they hear from the students they have admitted about their own decisions.

However, you should still try to gather as much information from official sources as possible. Look at the college’s website, particularly the admissions page. You should also look at reputable news sources, such as national or local newspapers and magazines, and the campus newspaper. Often, you may find statements about an applicant pool for a given year that may give you further insights into the waitlist, such as the number of applicants on it or how much of the freshman class has already been filled. Be cautious about believing other information you find online—often, these reports are misleading or false altogether. Also remember that statistics can vary significantly from year to year, and this year’s statistics may be nothing like those from last year, even within an individual college. You can call the admissions office, but be respectful of the time of the person to whom you speak, and remember that you are probably not the only one who is calling for information.

Questions to ask yourself

In assessing your chances of admission from a waitlist, ask yourself the following questions:

-Did my application represent my accomplishments to best advantage?

-What were the biggest weaknesses in my application?

-How severe were those weaknesses?

-Where do I stand compared to admitted applicants, if that data is available?

What you may be able to do to help improve your chances of admission

Once you have assessed the information you have available, take some further steps to help boost your chances of admission. First, write a compelling letter affirming your commitment to the school. As we discuss in How to Get Off the Wait List, you should do this as soon as possible, because colleges may start accepting students from the waitlist once they start receiving responses to offers of admission from the regular pool of admits. It’s all a numbers game, and you want to boost your chances as much as possible at stay on their radar.

In your letter, provide evidence of new accomplishments, such as awards, honors, or leadership positions, since you submitted your initial application. Also offer evidence of improvements to weaker areas of your application since you admitted it. For instance, if you have better test scores to show, pass those along. If you improved your grade in a certain class, let the admissions committee know.

In some cases, you may submit additional materials, such as additional letters of recommendation, but don’t do that if a school says not to. In fact, if the school at which you are waitlisted explicitly states that there is anything you shouldn’t do, follow these instructions! Remember to always be respectful of the rules and the people with whom you communicate. If an admissions office worker tells you he or she can’t give out information regarding waitlist decisions, say thank you and don’t ask again. Pestering him or her for more information will only reflect badly on you.

Other reminders about waitlists

You can’t count on a waitlist. Regardless of how good you think your chances of acceptance are, the fact is, it is always possible that your dream college may not admit any students from the waitlist that year. Be sure to make backup plans. This may mean sending a deposit to another school to which you have been admitted. Don’t get too hung up on your waitlist school, because unfortunately, it is more likely than not that you won’t be admitted. Be patient and understanding, and move on.

Getting help with your waitlist status

Give yourself the best chance possible of getting of the waitlist at your dream school. Sign up for a one-hour session with one of our expert consultants, who will walk you through the process, help you draft a waitlist letter, and answer any questions you may have. Click here to schedule an appointment or learn more.

Be sure to check out some of our other posts about waitlists as well:

How to Get Off the Wait List

Envisioning a New Future: Preparing for Life at Your Second-Choice (Or Third, or Fourth) School

How to Deal with College Decisions and Make a Choice

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine