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Waiting on the Waitlist

It’s a tough place to be, the waitlist. If you’ve been dropped there by your top choice (or maybe your top three) you may feel helpless, confused, resigned, or maybe just depressed. This is not the way admissions officers want you to feel. The first thing to remember is that you’re on the waitlist because they like you.

Admissions officers face so many tough choices, and these choices are often between candidates that are all but indistinguishable. Being put on the waitlist means that admissions officers wanted to admit you but didn’t have space. You may have lost out to another applicant who was extremely similar to you. Never call, write, or email an admissions office to ask why you didn’t make the cut; they won’t be able to give you a satisfying reason.

You may not know why you’re in purgatory instead of celebrating acceptance, but it’s no reason to despair. I’ll be frank: it’s not likely you’ll be accepted from a waitlist, particularly at the top schools. This is called realism. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t worthwhile things you can do to improve your chances. Take one more look at your list, and at the schools that waitlisted you, and decide whether you would go if accepted. If so, it’s worth fighting for the chance to do so.

Don’t give up. Most admissions offices won’t get around to their waitlists until after May 1st, when accepted applicants have to either say Yes or communicate a tacit No. They won’t make decisions regarding their waitlists for another couple of weeks. This is a long time to wait, but in the meantime there are some things you can do:

  • Write a letter to your top choice, reiterating your interest in the school and specifically letting them know you plan to attend if accepted. Mail a hard copy of the letter, addressed to the admissions office, as well as sending it by email. Time is of the essence: send this letter as soon as you’ve reexamined your list.
  • Notify your top choice, by letter, of any large accomplishments or significant developments in your projects and activities.
  • Keep your grades up as high as possible.

Results are not guaranteed, but at least you’ll know that you’ve done everything possible. There is, of course, the possibility of doing too much. To make sure you don’t, check out our list of the Five Things Not to Do When You’re on the Waitlist.


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