College Applicant Strategies When Waitlisted

by Dr. Kelly S. Meier
Being on the waitlist is like being in college admission limbo.

Applying for college is both exciting and stressful, especially if you have your heart set on one particular school. When you get that letter in the mail and tear it open, what does it mean if you've been waitlisted -- neither accepted, nor rejected? Since filling a class roster is a difficult job, college admission offices have this special category to adjust for the fact that not all accepted students ultimately enroll. If you have been waitlisted, you are faced with the choice of choosing a different school or holding out in hopes that your name will move up on the list.

Find Out the Facts

Call the admission office at the college and ask for some information regarding the waitlist process. For example, find out how many students are on the list and if there is a ranking system. You may also want to know how likely it is that the college will tap the list. Talk to your parents about your financing and ask the financial aid office some questions about how aid works at the institution. You may have access to less aid if you are admitted later in the process. Be certain your family can pay for your education if you end up with less funding from the college.

Sell Yourself

Put together a packet of extra information about why you should be among the first to be considered if space becomes available. If your grades are strong, send a recent record of your academic achievement, especially anything you accomplished after your initial application. Share some additional information about your extra curricular involvement and community service or employment positions. If you share the reasons you are special, it could make a difference. Be diplomatic when sharing this information so that you don’t appear conceited or overbearing.

Wait it Out

If you just can’t see yourself anywhere other than your first choice, wait it out. This may mean that you won’t be able to tell your friends and family where you are going to college at graduation. It may also mean that you don’t have anywhere to go in the Fall. Only you can decide if it is worth it to wait. In the meantime, consider what you will do if you have a year without college. Line up a job or look for a community service experience that will allow you to stay mentally engaged and remain an impressive candidate when you apply the following year. This is a big decision, so be sure to discuss this choice with your family and school counselors.

Take Your Second Choice

Chances are you have applied to several colleges. Start prioritizing the colleges that have accepted you as a student. Make a list of pros and cons for each school and consider accepting a second or third choice institution. Each college has their own decision deadlines, so be sure that you stay on top of the details. College is a big investment of time and money. Ultimately, you are the consumer and you need to be happy with your decision. There are no guarantees that you will make it off the waitlist, so accepting admission at another college may be better than waiting a year, hoping you will get admitted to your first choice.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly S. Meier is a professor and college administrator for a large public institution in Minnesota. She received her undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University and her master's degree and doctorate from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has published more than 15 books on education, group development and diversity.

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