When a student receives an admission response from universities, they can either be accepted, denied, deferred, or waitlisted. Here's the lowdown on what being waitlisted means, and how to get off it.
- A deferral is for Early Decision and Early Application candidates and means that the admissions team will reconsider that application at a later date, normally at the next application cycle (so for Early Decision this might mean they will be reconsidered when it comes round to Regular Decision). This admissions decision is very popular at some schools because it gives the admissions team time to reconsider ED applicants with the larger pool of RD applicants. Every year Yale defers just under half of its ED applicants.
- Being waitlisted means that there are no remaining spots in the university for the applicant at the moment. However, the waitlisted student might be accepted if additional spots open up after the accepted students respond to their admissions by not making their enrollment deposits.
Who gets off the waitlist
According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 39% of schools end up enrolling students from their waitlists.
But the number of students that will be accepted from each waitlist greatly varies from university to university and from year to year. For example, University Carnegie Mellon selected only 4 students from their waitlist for the graduating class of 2020 while Claremont McKenna accepted 75 or 17% of the total class.
“In the past five years we have admitted between zero and 164 students off the waitlist. We do not know yet if we will be able to use the waitlist this year.” Janet Lavin Rapelye, dean of admission at Princeton University
Getting accepted off the waitlist
Being on the waitlist is frustrating. What can you do to get off it?
“What should you do if you end up deferred or waitlisted? The approach is essentially the same for both. You must undertake a carefully deployed program of self-marketing to further enhance your “almost good enough” application.” College Confidential staff
First of all, if a student is interested in staying on the waitlist, it is important to communicate this to the university.
Demonstrating particular interest for the university can augment a student’s chances of getting off the waitlist. Universities like knowing that the school is a student’s first choice as this gives the university certainty in an applicant's response if the student is eventually offered a spot.
In addition to this, if a student submits additional material (such as test scores or portfolios) that is of higher quality or more competitive than their original application material, the admissions team might review the application differently.
So the main things that a student can do to get off the waitlist and into the school are:
- Indicate that the school is a student’s top choice
- Demonstrate interest - communicate with the admission counsellor/officer
- Submit additional material that increases the application’s competitivity
“Being waitlisted is really the same kind of thing as an acceptance, but without a seat in the classroom. It's like waiting in the hall looking into a classroom full of people. If there were a seat, you'd be in the class. You're qualified but there just isn't enough room." Student
Demonstrating interest and communication
Universities care about their ‘matriculation rate’ (also known as ‘enrollment rate’ or ‘matriculation rate’ or ‘yield rate’, which is the number of students admitted who end up actually attending). For the Class of 2019, Cornell University achieved a 51% yield rate while Stanford University’s was 81.1%. Universities want to turn very offer of acceptance into an enrollment.
Some schools, such as Duke and Stanford, claim they do not track demonstrated interest. However, Rhodes College and Carnegie Mellon state it is a big part of their decisions. Therefore knowing the ethos of the school a student is applying to is always helpful.
Demonstrating interest is simple. This means:
- Contacting one of the university’s admissions officers
- In the initial application process (ie before being waitlisted), a student should reach out at least once to admissions officers with questions. It’s best if a student can create a natural dialogue about their interest in their program/major or opportunities on campus.
- If a student is then put on the waitlist, they should email their admissions officer as often as once per week with one question and something that they have done since their application - this might push the admissions officer to review the student’s application one more time. Remember to always be respectful in this process and to not push too hard.
- Visiting the campus
- If a student has the opportunity to visit the campus, this is a great way of demonstrating that the student is interested and motivated to attend the university. In this case, the student should leave their contact information at the admin building so that the university knows that the student has visited. However, if a visit is not possible, taking a virtual tour and emailing the university with additional questions will have a similar effect.
Submit additional material
Submitting additional material after being put on the waitlist can increase the chances of getting in. Examples of additional material include:
- An additional essay that highlights a student’s fit and interest
- Any awards or distinctions the student has earned since submitting their application
- An additional teacher or supplemental recommendation
- An analytical essay that highlights academic writing skills
Deposit somewhere else
It is important to make the deposit at another university to which the student has been accepted so that they are not at risk of ending up with nowhere to go.
Some schools will take until early August to notify students of their standings on the waitlist. Although there is a chance that the student might get off the waiting list, there is no guarantee.