The Dreaded Waitlist

Written by Lisa Bleich

Four students in a library looking at a tablet screen, checking the dreaded checklist for college admissions.
Photo by Yan Krukau on

Student who were waitlisted are in good company. Colleges used the dreaded waitlist heavily this year because they are trying to manage their yields and have no way of predicting how many of the admitted students will come.

For example, for the last couple of years The University of Michigan over enrolled by about 500 students. This resulted to this year’s numbers being down.  Both domestic and international applications were up in record numbers at many schools. As a result, colleges used the waitlist for students that are qualified and that they would love to admit if they had the space.

Therefore, as they see who matriculates and who doesn’t they can easily go into their waitlist and call or e-mail the applicant who best matches the type of person they need to create the class. You will have to matriculate by May 1 and then colleges will move to their wait list. Some schools, such as Carnegie Mellon have created a priority wait list and will let students know by early May.

Reasons Colleges Use Waitlists

  • This is for students who they want to accept, but simply do not have enough slots.
  • Determine if a student is truly interested in coming to the school.
  • Manage their yields and only accept students when others do not matriculate so they do not over enroll and make sure they have enough freshman housing.
  • Manage enrollment by not having to offer financial or merit aid to waitlist students.

How to Get Out of The Dreaded Waitlist

Accept your position on the wait list according the the school’s directions. If your letter does not explicitly say not to contact admissions:

  1. Write a letter to the regional admissions representative. Some large states do not have regional reps, so just send it to the admissions office. To make the catch, let the college know that it is your first choice school and that you will come if accepted.
  2. Imagine what you will do when you are there in a very specific way. Try to communicate that effectively to admissions.
  3. Send the letter out quickly to show that you are truly interested in the school.
  4. If you’re waitlisted at numerous schools, meet with your guidance counselor to have them advocate on your behalf. Ask them to do this to the school that is top of your list. The admissions person from the college may ask your guidance counselor if this school is your first choice. So it helps if it is.
  5. Send along relevant new information since you applied, if there are any.

I have seen students successfully get off the waitlist each year, so it’s not without hope. However, I recommend moving forward with your other options with a positive mindset. For those students who were deferred and then waitlisted, the chances of coming off the waitlist are more difficult.

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