You Got Waitlisted: What to Do and How to Handle It

A girl is distressed because she's been waitlisted.

Tiko Aramyan /

You’ve been anxiously awaiting an admissions decision for months. Time ticks by slowly as you debate the two scenarios: acceptance or rejection from your favorite college. When you finally receive the letter in the mail or your inbox, you realize you didn’t prepare for this. It says you are neither in nor out. You are in limbo.

You are waitlisted.

Sometimes it’s more difficult to receive a “maybe” than a definitive “no” from a school. Unlike your friends who are announcing their future plans, you are still unsure where you will end up in the fall. You can’t proudly wear your future alma mater’s sweatshirt through the halls of your high school, and you dread social events where your aunts and uncles can hound you about college.

After you have accepted your place on the waitlist, you might feel helpless to do anything else. Do not fret!

There are many actions you can take to move forward:

  1. Celebrate your success. Make sure to take some time to pat yourself on the back for actually getting waitlisted. You were a stronger candidate than all of the students that received a flat-out “no.” Even if your friends or family tell you otherwise, you should feel proud of your accomplishment. Do something special for yourself!
  2. Consider other offers. Don’t forget about the other schools that said yes! Evaluate their strengths and choose one of them to be your backup plan. Use the next couple of weeks to revisit campuses, network with current students, and talk with admissions counselors. You might be surprised by what you find. In fact, you may realize that you would be just as happy somewhere else and decide to take your name off the waitlist. No matter the case, send in a deposit by May 1st (National Decision Day) to secure your spot elsewhere.
  3. Keep up your grades. This may be a no-brainer, but it is very important to continue doing well in school. Work to improve your grades in a class if you struggled the previous semester. Colleges love to see progress. Show them that you can keep up with their academic demands by sending in your impressive mid-semester and final transcripts.
  4. Write a letter. Advocate for yourself by writing one brief statement to send to the admissions committee. Explain why the school is your top choice and why you would be the perfect fit. Talk about any academic programs that interest you and how you feel the school would help you achieve your future goals. It’s important to take a mature and positive tone. Refrain from begging or using overly emotional language. Do not send any gifts to accompany your letter.
  5. Show off your accomplishments. If you win any awards in your last semester of high school, let the admissions committee know. It’s important not to bombard college personnel with emails and letters, so when you do reach out, make sure you have something remarkable to share.
  6. Schedule an interview. If you can make it to campus in the near future, try to set up a time to speak with an admissions counselor. Show off your interpersonal communication skills while you talk about why the school is your top choice. Making the effort to reach out and travel to campus will show your commitment to the college.
  7. Let others speak. It is okay to send in one (just one!) additional recommendation letter from someone who can speak to how you have grown in the past year. Ask coaches, volunteer supervisors, or teachers who did not write your previous recommendations. It’s an added bonus if you can find a person who has a connection to the college.
  8. Research gap year programs. If you are unhappy with all of your other college options, you may need another backup plan. Don’t assume you will get off the waitlist and put all your eggs into that one basket. Instead of attending college in the fall, you may be happier taking a year off to volunteer, travel abroad, or pursue an internship. Using a year to grow personally and consider your goals will make you a more competitive college candidate next spring. Visit The American Gap Association to learn about accredited programs. 

Colleges may notify students that they are off the waitlist and accepted to their school any time between April and August. Once you have taken all of the recommended actions, try to put the college out of your head so you can enjoy your summer. Focus on the school you chose as your backup or the gap year program you plan to attend. Take a trip with your friends as a last hurrah before you head in separate directions. Simply, have fun and de-stress!

Best of luck to you!

About Megan Reynolds

Megan loves listening to podcasts while doing all of her favorite things: researching, cooking, taking long road trips, and running in freezing temperatures. Curious to a fault, Megan thinks her personality is best suited for teaching so that she can constantly learn alongside her students. While she pursues a master’s degree in New York City, she hopes to share her strategies for conquering admissions and financial aid with all students who are interested in pursuing higher education. Stay tuned to see if she can break her undergraduate habit, formed at Emerson College, of pulling multiple all-nighters fueled by a mixture of coffee and Swiss Miss—the poor student’s mocha.

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