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  • Writer's pictureKate Pedigo, M.Ed., NCC

Waitlisted By Your Favorite College: Determining Whether to Accept a Waitlist Position

Worried student on computer
Being waitlisted can be stressful.

You've waited for what seems like forever for an admission decision from your favorite college.

Maybe you were even deferred in the Early Action or Early Decision round and were hoping to receive an acceptance in the Regular Decision or Early Decision 2 round.

You open your college portal to check your admission status and discover that you've been waitlisted. Waitlisted? Now what?

What does "Waitlisted" mean?

When colleges send out out acceptances, they know that not all of those acceptances will result in matriculated students (students who end up enrolling and attending the school). Each college makes educated calculations about the percentage of acceptances they believe will result in matriculation. For example, a college might accept 10,000 students assuming that 3,000 students will choose to attend their institution.

Of course, colleges sometimes overestimate their calculations and end up with fewer matriculating students than expected. In those cases, colleges may need to accept additional students, and they want a pool of students from which to choose. That's where the waitlist comes in. If you're waitlisted, it means that the school would like the opportunity to offer acceptance to you or to other students in the waitlist pool, should spots become available.

Does being waitlisted mean I have a good chance of acceptance?

At some colleges, yes. At others, definitely no. Some schools only waitlist students that are strong candidates for acceptance. Others waitlist a very large pool of students and accept very few. For colleges that accept students by major, your chosen major might play a role as well.

How can I determine whether I have a good chance of acceptance?

One resource that can help you determine the general odds of eventual acceptance is the Common Data Set for your college of interest. There's a wealth of info in a school's Common Data Set; it's a great source of statistical information that can be found through a Google search or on a school's website. For the purposes of this article, though, we'll just focus on the waitlist data. Follow these steps:

  • Do a Google search for "Common Data Set (School Name)"

  • Click on the Common Data Set for the most recent academic year

  • Scroll to Section C2: First-time, first-year waitlisted students

You will find data about the number of students offered a spot on the waitlist that year, the number of students who accepted a spot on the waitlist, the number of students eventually accepted, and whether students are ranked on the waitlist. Note that not all schools will provide complete data in this section.

Once you understand the general odds, you can decide whether you'd like to accept a spot on the school's waitlist.

Am I obligated to attend if I'm accepted from the waitlist?

Typically, no. Many schools may ask if you plan to attend if accepted though, and some may even contact you directly about your intentions before they accept you from the waitlist.

If I want to accept a spot on a waitlist, what are my next steps?

First, review the details of your waitlist letter, and follow the directions. Usually, steps include accepting a waitlist spot through the school's portal.

Unless your waitlist letter tells you NOT to communicate with the school in other ways, you might consider one or more of the following:

  • Add a statement of continued interest if available in the school portal, or you can send one to your area's admission representative for the school. State your intention to accept an offer if provided. If you're not completely sure you will enroll if accepted, reiterate that the school is a top choice.

  • Send additional updates to your application, like new honors/awards or updates on your extracurriculars.

  • Contact your area admission representative by phone to ask any questions you have about the waitlist, like how housing might be affected, how/when notification is likely to occur (this info may be in your waitlist letter), how long the waitlist will stay open, or whether merit aid is possible for waitlisted students who are eventually accepted.

College acceptance
Consider moving forward with your first choice school among your acceptances.

Most importantly though, you should consider moving forward with your first choice school among your acceptances. You'll probably want to take part in important steps like roommate matching, housing selection and orientation registration.

It can be hard to put your heart into one school while hoping you'll be accepted from the waitlist at another, so it's important to consider your emotional well-being when deciding whether to accept a waitlist position.

Waitlist offers come with some uncertainty, but the information above should help you determine next steps.

Kate Pedigo, M.Ed. NCC is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Growing2College. Join us on social media for college planning updates, tips, and resources: Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn    

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