52 Weeks to College: Week 40 -- I've Been Wait-Listed...What Should I Do?

Being wait-listed may be the cruelest fate of them all. You want a decision. You need a decision. And instead, you get a decision that isn't a decision. What do you do now? This week we offer you 5 essential dos when it comes to handling being wait-listed.

Week 40 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. 
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

This Week

  • Decide which, if any, wait list offers you are going to accept and then take the recommended steps below to maximize your chances of being admitted from the wait list.
  • Continue evaluating your choices for college. 
  • Schedule/plan your post-acceptance visits.

Tips & Tricks

1. Do hold a spot on a wait list if you know that if you received an offer from this college, you would accept it immediately, and you would happily turn down all of your other offers of admission. If you would not accept that offer of admission, then there is no reason for you to be on the wait list. Staying in limbo keeps you from moving forward, directing your energies to ending your senior year well, and investing emotionally in the college you will attend. Keeping yourself in the running for a college you will not attend is also unkind to others on the wait list who really do want to attend that college. Be a good applicant citizen and do the right thing.

2. Do send an update to be added to your application file with any positive news you have to share. Good grades on your most recent report card? Forward a copy of your most recent grade report and ask your school counselor to send an optional report in support. Any new academic honor or award? Share the news in your email update. Likewise, if you have had major developments on the activity front, let the admissions office know – especially if they demonstrate passion, talent, initiative and/or impact (the core four)! (If you've forgotten about the core four, refer back to chapters 4 and 8.)

3. Do communicate that you will accept an offer of admission if made in your update. Colleges are not interested in admitting applicants off the wait list who are going to say “no.” It decreases their yield (yield is the percentage of applicants who accept offers of admission), and yield is important to rankings. Communicate your intentions directly and forthrightly to the college in your email. If you have never answered the “Why College X?” question (because it was not asked on the application), then incorporate a brief answer to “Why College X?” in this communication.

4. Do ask anyone you know who has influence with the college to send a note of support for your admission. Because the college is focused on serving its institutional goals when admitting from the wait list, admissions officers are very attuned to who is advocating for particular applicants. Here is the short list of possible influential advocates:

  • Your school counselor, if he or she has a relationship with an admissions officer at the college or your school is a feeder school for the college (feeder schools provide a steady stream of students to the college every year) 
  • Anyone you know who is a graduate of the college, if he or she has been involved with the college since graduation as a volunteer, donor, and so on Anyone you know with a high-level contact at the college (a high-level contact would be someone like the president or one of the vice presidents of the college, a board member at the college, or a particularly influential faculty member at the college) 
  • Anyone you know who is on the board, faculty, or senior staff at the college Anyone you know who has been a major donor to the college (a major donor would have been recognized for at least a six-figure gift and might have something at the college named in his or her honor).

5. Do be prepared to respond to an offer of admission promptly. You are often asked to respond to an offer of admission within a short period of time – sometimes as short as 48 hours. So stay on top of your email and telephone messages and be ready with your answer! 

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.