College Waitlist Wisdom: Turning A “Maybe” into A “Yes”

We’ve talked a lot in recent blog posts about the effect that this pandemic has had and will continue to have on college admissions, and one area that’s been affected is the waitlist. Right now, many schools have what can only be described as “waitlist fever,” caused by their worries about yield (or the percentage of students who accept the offer of admission). By creating a waitlist, schools have a list of students who could be admitted instantly if not enough students accept their admissions offers on the first go-around. With all of the uncertainty this pandemic has caused, schools are utilizing waitlists to alleviate their yield worries and ensure they’ll have a full freshman class.

As we discussed in this blog post, application numbers for the class of 2025 were record-setting, and students from the class of 2024 who took gap years are also snagging seats. In other words, there was stiff competition. Sara Harberson, former college admissions counselor and general college guru, says that while the most elite schools (think single digit acceptance rates) likely won’t be accepting students off their waitlists, others will. That said, there is no limit to how many waitlist spots you can accept if you are genuinely interested in multiple schools, and you might as well give it your best shot to get accepted off them!

Contrary to what the name might imply, you actually shouldn’t simply sit around and wait once you’ve accepted a spot on a waitlist. As long as you’re on the waitlist, your chances of admission are still alive. Now, it’s time to get to work and show the school why you should be accepted.

Step 1: Accept your spot on the waitlist!

If you have any interest in attending that school, it’s a no-brainer that you should accept your spot on the waitlist! Many other students that the school has waitlisted will end up not accepting their spots because they’ve been accepted elsewhere or decided that school isn’t right for them. The more students who say “no thanks,” the better your odds.

Step 2: Make sure the school knows how badly you want it.

You may already be in contact with the admissions counselor for your geographic area, or you may need to hunt down their contact info. Send them a well-written email that reiterates how much you want to attend their university. Be sincere, and tell them the visions and hopes you have at their institution. Explain why you know this school is the perfect fit. Be honest: if you will absolutely attend their school if you are accepted, tell them that!

Step 3: Visit the campus if you haven’t.

While every school doesn’t factor demonstrated interest into their admissions decisions, many do. In fact, many of the schools that value demonstrated interest will waitlist students who never visited campus, even if they meet all other admissions criteria. If you’re able to, plan a visit to campus and ask the admissions counselor if they have a free second to chat or even simply say hello. Right now, many schools are offering virtual tours and other online resources, which is another way you can demonstrate interest from the waitlist.

A word to the wise: before committing any time or money to a campus visit, really investigate to see if it’s likely that a school will end up utilizing their waitlists. Like we stated earlier, many of the most competitive and sought-after schools will not need to admit students off their waitlists, but others absolutely will. If you can’t determine how realistic a waitlist acceptance is, talk to your high school counselor or an Enrichery coach!

Step 4: Enroll in your back-up school.

You may be passionate about attending College A, but you may not find out if you’re off the waitlist until the deadline for College B has passed. In your worst case scenario, you might miss out on College A and College B! Send in your deposit for College B by the deadline, and your new worst case scenario is losing that deposit if you ultimately get into College A.

Step 5: Remind the school how amazing you are.

If you absolutely dominate your AP exams or get a big award at Senior Night, e-mail your admissions counselor and let them know. If you have a current teacher who could write a great letter of recommendation, submit that. Don’t write in every time you get an A on an exam, but remind them that you’re a great student who wants to attend their school, and will put in the work to make it happen. That being said… put in the work! Keep up your grades and stay focused.

Step 6: Ask your college counselor or even principal to vouch for you.

If you’re waitlisted from your top choice school, don’t hesitate to bring out the big guns. Politely ask your college counselor or even principal if they’d be willing to go to bat for you, putting in a good word at the school and seeing if they can learn any more about your standing. An impassioned letter of recommendation can go far.

At the end of the day, college admissions counselors have the tricky job of filling all the open spots in the incoming class. They want to know that the people who are accepted will actually attend their school. After all, empty spots are no good for anyone. By working hard and reiterating your sincere interest in their school, you’ll be more likely to move from a “maybe” to an absolute “yes.”