Decision Day is here, and you’ve found yourself… neither accepted nor rejected. You’ve been… waitlisted? Don’t panic! This guide is here to break down what that means, what your next steps should be, and whether you still have a chance to get in.
Waitlisted vs Deferral
If you’ve applied Early Decision or Early Action, you may not be waitlisted, but ‘deferred.’ This means that your application has been sent into the normal applicant pool, and they’ll come back to it on the standard deadline. It’s very much not a rejection, so don’t despair - you’re still in the running, with the same chance as anyone else.
If you’re waitlisted, it means that they consider you a really strong candidate, but there just isn’t space for you… yet. After other accepted students decline their offers and decide to go somewhere else, universities open up their waitlist places.
Why was I waitlisted?
There are tons of reasons to be waitlisted, and you’ll never really know the full reason. At a certain point, colleges are choosing between thousands of equally-qualified applicants for a limited number of slots, and it’s difficult to say exactly why they decided to admit one and waitlist another. But the important thing to remember is that being waitlisted means they would still be very happy to have you at the university if the opportunity arises - and by the time you get to campus, no one will know if you were waitlisted or not.
So will I get in?
It really, really depends. Getting an offer when you were on the waitlist entirely depends on students with offers turning them down. It’s difficult for a university to predict exactly how many students will do that, though students are applying to more and more colleges in recent years, so it’s common for many students to end up with more offers than they can accept.
Universities try their best to predict what percentage of offers won’t be accepted, but it’s hard to do. Some years, they might not be able to let in anyone from the waitlist - other years, they might make offers to 100 or more.
Steps to take after you’ve been waitlisted
So you’ve been waitlisted, and you really want to attend this university. Here’s what you should do.
- Confirm your interest. Contact the university’s admissions team and let them know you definitely want to remain on the waitlist. (The opposite applies too, by the way - if you know you wouldn’t accept an offer, it’s polite to let them know so they can concentrate on waitlisted students who are still interested.) The waitlist letter itself will often tell you how to do this.
- Make your intentions clear. If this university is still your top choice and you’d definitely accept a place if they offered it, tell them that. It’s extremely useful for an admissions officer to know that they won’t have to waste time making waitlist offers that will just get turned down.
- Remind of how much you’d like to attend. After you’ve confirmed your interest, write an email to your admissions counselor (the admissions officer who covers your region - if you haven’t been in communication with them already, you’ll be able to find this information on the university’s website) and the dean of admissions. Think of it like another personal statement (but definitely don’t just copy that): give them some new information about why you’d be a great fit, classes you’d like to take, the way you see yourself spending your time on campus. Be polite and cheerful, not frustrated! Coming across as angry, entitled, or desperate will sink your chances. No matter how frustrated you are, the tone here needs to be grateful that they’re still considering you.
- Keep them updated. If anything remarkable happens in your life, like winning an award or getting high scores on a major test, let the admissions team know. You can also consider sending an additional letter of recommendation, if you’re really serious. You don’t want to be constantly bombarding them with emails, so if you want to do this, limit yourself to sending them one email a month total, compiling several updates into one message. This also indicates to them that you’re still interested.
- Listen to what they say. If you’re sending messages and updates and they are only responding with polite reminders that decisions can’t be made until other students decline their offers, take the hint and dial it back. If they’re not thanking you or responding warmly, that’s a sign that they have the information they need from you and you won’t help your case by continuing to email them.
- Make a back-up plan. No matter how closely you follow these steps, there just might not be any waitlist places this year. Don’t turn down all your other offers! There will be ways to withdraw and enrol at your top choice if you eventually get in, but you don’t want to reject your other universities and end up with nowhere to go. Pick a second choice, and proceed as if you’ll be going there. Let yourself get excited about your new university - and maybe you’ll even realise you don’t want to go somewhere else at all.