The Waitlist Strategy


Spring is a wonderful time for many students as they get their acceptance letters. Unfortunately, for some students, they are placed on the “waitlist” at their choice college. What this simply means is that they were not competitive enough to be accepted. The good news is that there is still a chance to be accepted; the bad news is that the more competitive a college is, the less likely the student will be able to get off the waitlist. To maximize your chances of being accepted, follow these important steps:

1. Assume the admissions reader(s) did an effective job when evaluating your application. This is hard to accept, but unless there is a clear discrepancy with your application that you did not let the admissions office know about, then you need to accept the fact that your application was properly reviewed. So simply, it is not a good use of your time to refute a waitlist decision, without cause.

2. Follow the college’s waitlist guidelines. This is simple advice, but unfortunately, many students do not take this advice. Instead, they send extra letters of recommendation, write more essays, call the admissions office repeatedly and take other action not listed on a college’s waitlist guidelines. All of these steps can and do hurt your chances of being accepted. Clearly read what the waitlist guidelines are and then simply follow those steps—nothing more, nothing less.

3. Many colleges will allow waitlist candidates to write an additional essay. What this means is that you have one last opportunity to explain to the admissions committee why they should offer you admission to their college. The content of this essay is very important so follow these steps:

  • Focus your essay on what you have done since submitting your application. Again, remember you have to assume your application was read properly the first time so the action you need to take now is to “wow” the admissions committee with all of the successes you have had post application. Focus on your accomplishments both inside and outside of the classroom, targeting your specific area of interest. For example, if you applied as a business major, discuss specific accomplishments you have had in a business related course and/or organization. The same strategy goes for any other targeted major. The important point is that you have to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are continually getting stronger as a candidate, both inside and outside of the classroom.
  • Show your sincere enthusiasm and passion for the college. The key word is “sincere.” I can often tell when I read an application or interview a candidate if he or she has a sincere desire for wanting to attend the college. Usually a passionate candidate will have a lot of depth to their answers and they will be genuinely enthusiastic. This quality is important and should be present.
  • If you do not have the option to write an essay, again, follow the specific waitlist guidelines, whether they are to send an additional recommendation letter or do nothing, and simply wait for a final decision.

Being waitlisted at your choice college is a difficult place to be, but it is not the end of the world. Follow the steps outlined in this post and you will improve your chances of being accepted.

Dr. Jeff & Dr. Brian Haig
The Experts in College Planning and Student Success