Waitlisted: What to Do Next

Last updated Apr 8, 2024 

For the past few months, anxious seniors have been finding out if they have been accepted or rejected from their chosen schools. But what if it’s neither? Students who are placed on a college’s waitlist, especially the waitlist of a highly selective school, still have a chance to get in but those chances are limited and a final answer is unlikely until late spring or summer. If  you are stuck in college admissions limbo—unsure about your fate and what to do next—learn more about what it means to be waitlisted and what you can do to not only make the wait worthwhile but also make the best decision for your future.

What does it mean to be waitlisted?

If you are waitlisted, an admissions counselor has reviewed your application and determined that you are qualified. However, waitlisted applicants are placed in a sort of admissions gray area: you are neither accepted nor rejected. Still, there’s a chance you can still be accepted if a spot becomes available. Schools have limited spots, so waitlists are a way to select an incoming class that is highly qualified and diverse. While landing a spot on a waitlist isn’t exactly rejection, the chances of getting admitted off a waitlist are low but not impossible. If you’ve been placed on a waitlist and decide to stay there, expect to wait until as late as the summer to find out if you’ve made the cut. 

Should you join the waitlist?

If you get the news that you have been placed on a school’s waitlist, it’s up to you to take the next steps. A spot on a waitlist isn’t secured until you “yes” or “no” to join it. Don’t worry, though, your decision isn’t permanent. If, for example, you are accepted at another college that you are happy to attend, then all you have to do is let the waitlisted school know that you would like to opt out. You don’t even have to commit to a school if you do eventually get accepted off of the waitlist. It’s okay to walk away. Since the decision to opt in or out isn’t binding, most waitlisted students choose to stay on the waitlist. The only thing that matters, in the end, is making a decision that is right for you.

Students who choose to remain on a waitlist should confirm their choice via the school’s online portal or via email, making sure to carefully read the directions since each school is unique. Then, in order to demonstrate genuine interest, compose a Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI) that provides admissions committees with your case for why you would be a valued member of the incoming class. Take this opportunity to update the committee with anything new since you applied or last made contact: Did you receive any awards of note? Did you start a new job? Show them how you would contribute to the college both academically and as an active member in college life, including clubs and other extracurricular activities. Be specific about how your interests, talents, and goals align with the resources and opportunities a school offers. 

What should I do while I wait?

It may seem like being waitlisted leaves you with no other option than to stick it out until your fate is decided. To push back against the anxiety, do something. Here are some ideas:

  • Advocate for yourself. Make an informed decision about holding onto your spot on a waitlist. Contact the admissions office to find out your waitlist ranking. Since only a small percentage of waitlisted students are admitted, knowing if you rank in the top 20 percent or the bottom 20 percent can help tip the scale towards remaining on the waitlist or moving on to other opportunities. Another way you can empower yourself and self-advocate is to ask your school counselor to contact the school on your behalf.
  • Reevaluate your college list. Students who are waitlisted would be wise to take a second look at their college lists. More specifically, select the school that is the best fit for you amongst the ones you have been admitted to. Even if you are eventually accepted to your top choice from the waitlist, it’s always a good idea to have a back up plan. Ultimately, you must commit to a school by May 1.
  • Do more to stand out. You can send your final high school transcripts to the schools that have waitlisted you, so make sure they will like what they see by working hard to increase your GPA. You may also want to consider retaking the SAT or ACT, providing new letters of recommendation, or submitting supplemental materials like a research paper, a record of your achievement in a leadership role, or an internship update. Without nagging admissions committees or exaggerating accomplishments, share anything else that could impress admissions officers. 
  • Focus on moving forward. Rather than allow your entire future to rest on your waitlist fate, evaluate the schools that have accepted you and enroll in the one that ranks the highest on your college list and in your heart. You could be waiting until as early as May or late as August, so move forward as though that school is the one you will attend. Don’t let getting waitlisted stop you from getting excited about the future! 

What do I do if I am accepted?

Students who are accepted off of a waitlist should take time to consider the offer. It’s possible that time may have altered your perspective on what you want for your future. Discuss the decision with family and friends to make sure you are weighing all of your options carefully. Once you’ve made up your mind, inform the school if you have accepted or rejected their offer. If the answer is “yes,” then send in your deposit, and let the back up school know that you will no longer be attending. You will most likely forfeit any deposits, but that sacrifice will be worth it to go to the dream school you waited for.

How A+ Can Help

No student dreams of ending up on a college’s waitlist. Still, there are concrete steps you can take to make the most of it. Whether you are ultimately accepted or choose to attend another amazing school from your college list, the important thing is that you walk away from the college admission process knowing that you did your best and chose a school that you love that wants you back. A+ Test Prep and Tutoring is proud to offer College Admission Coaching and College Essay and Editing services to students starting out on their admissions journey. We’ll help you create a college list of best fit schools, support you as you submit your applications, and provide guidance as you decide which school to attend. If you are waitlisted, we can also help you craft a compelling letter of continued interest. And, to guarantee impressive transcripts and test scores, consider our subject tutoring services and test prep programs.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, contact us here.


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