You’ve spent hours, days, perhaps even weeks putting together the perfect college application. Submitted a top-tier essay, garnered references, accolades and awards from your professors and respected colleagues, crossed every “t” and dotted every “i.” And now… you wait.
While it may seem the only possible outcomes are “accepted” or “rejected,” circumstances around your application are a bit more nuanced. Applicants may be informed they’ve been “waitlisted” or “deferred.” What does this mean? And what can you do in the meantime?
What do “Waitlisted” and “Deferred” mean?
While neither term implies you’ve been rejected outright, it does mean you’ll have to wait longer for an answer from your college of choice.
In most cases, the college you’ve applied to hasn’t yet finished reviewing your file and is pushing their decision to a later date.
In this scenario, the college has reviewed your file and put you on a waiting list for acceptance. In any given year, and for any number of reasons, students officially accepted to a college might not attend. In those cases, a college will go to its waitlist.
Unlike a deferral, new information won’t change your waitlisted status. Additionally, if you’re on a waiting list, there’s still a chance you might not be granted entry.
Julie Fulton, owner and head of counseling at Mosaic College Prep, tells Parentology waitlisting places applicants in educational limbo. “It’s highly unpredictable, when these offers go out, whether a college will need to use it [waitlist] and how many students will ultimately come off of it and [enter] into the class.”
What happens when you’re waitlisted?
Students who’ve been extended an offer are also waiting to hear back from other colleges about their acceptance, which means they’ll likely say no to at least one of the colleges that accepted them.
When a college is deciding how many students to accept, they use historical data to predict how many students will reply yes. “Let’s say a college needs to fill a class of 1000 students,” Fulton explains. “If only 30% of the students they accept typically say yes, (or, in admissions speak, ‘yield’), the admissions office will aim to take about 3,000 students.”
What should you do if waitlisted?
First thing’s first — “Accept the offer to remain on the waitlist,” Fulton says. “The deadline to put down a deposit to save a place at any accredited National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) member college is May 1st and most times, students won’t know if a waitlist placement will turn into an acceptance offer until the spring and/or summer.”
Next, proceed as if you are NOT going to come off the list. Here are some suggestions for managing time and energy while you wait.
You won’t automatically be placed on a waitlist. More than likely, you’ll be given the option of being placed on one either by submitting a form, or emailing the college. Make sure you check the deadline for submitting yourself to the waitlist. If there are additional instructions (for example, sending in updated grades), make sure you adhere to them.
Fulton reiterates, “A college might want materials sent to a particular email address, or submitted through a portal. It’s very important to follow submission instructions, or an admissions office may choose not to evaluate what you send.”
Check the School’s Waitlist History
Do some investigative research to find out if the school has admitted students from their waitlist in the past and, if so, how many were accepted. Alternately, ask the admissions department about the size of the waitlist pool to determine your odds.
Have a Backup School
It’s a good idea to hedge your bets by accepting one of your admissions offers and depositing to another school. Instead of stressing over the waitlist, refocus energy on finding financial aid, securing housing and signing up for classes.
If you do make a deposit to your secondary school and later are admitted to your waitlisted school, you can still accept, though you will lose your deposit. Fulton says “It’s always best to come from a place of strength, not fear. If you put down a deposit and then get accepted to both your first choice AND your backup, you have options. Think of the process as an insurance policy.”
Improve Test Scores
If the admissions office needs additional information to help make a decision, they’ll likely request concrete information such as test scores and grades. While you wait, boost your scores and maintain positive academic achievements.
Take a Gap Year
There’s always the possibility of being waitlisted at every school you’ve applied to and accepted to none.
In this scenario, it’s a good idea to a) breathe and b) take stock. Think about what you’d like to achieve in the coming year while you regroup and prepare to apply for the following term.
Delaying college for a year can increase your chances of acceptance the following year if you use your time properly.
- Continue living at home while working full-time to save more money for school.
- Give your applications a refresh. Review them with new eyes and take time to refine essays.
- Gain internship experience, which will also give you valuable insight into career goals.
What Not To Do:
Don’t harass the admissions department. While it might be tempting to send additional supportive recommendations or documents, inundating them with supplementary material aimed at tipping the scale can actually backfire.
While it can feel torturous, waitlisting doesn’t mean the end of your academic career. Don’t panic. If you manage your time and resources, you can bolster chances of being accepted the following year.
Medium: The Pain, and Pleasure, of Being Waitlisted
Colleges of Distinction: What Does It Mean To Be Waitlisted or Deferred
US News: College Admissions Playbook
ThoughtCo: How Waitlisted Students Can Improve Their Chances