Wait, I’m Wait-listed? – Some FAQ’s about What to Do


Receiving a spot on a wait list can put you in one of the most precarious situations during the college acceptance season. There really is no clear-cut explanation for what it entails, and more often than not the notifications read like some ex-boyfriend’s way of letting you down easy. So if you, like many students, are finding yourself lost on how to proceed, check out the answered FAQ’s below:

1. What does it mean to be wait-listed?

Being wait-listed means you have been placed in a “holding pen” of sorts. The college has essentially said that you are qualified enough for admission, but they do not currently have the space to accommodate for your awesomeness. However, if enough accepted applicants choose to go somewhere else, the college will begin picking certain students to fill in the gaps.

2. How can I know where I stand on the wait list?

For better or for worse, wait lists are almost always non-prioritized. The admissions committee is looking to balance out the incoming class (whether that’s by gender, race, location, major, hobbies…), so when an opening occurs they will re-look at the entire wait list pool. Each year, schools vary in the size of their wait list as well as in the fraction of those kids that they accept, although digging up past statistics can give you some perspective. For example, according to the New York Times, of the 996 students who Yale wait-listed in 2011, 103 were accepted.

3. Should I send them additional materials?

Yes! When the school begins referring to its wait list, the admissions staff will be keeping in mind those individuals who have demonstrated a keen interest in attending. Sending additional materials is one of the best ways to show your passion about their school and desire to become a part of the student body.

4. What kinds of additional materials are they looking for?

First things first, you need to write some form of email response ASAP accepting your position on the wait list and expressing your continued interest. Specifically re-explain why this school is your first choice, ask any questions that you may have, and promise to send all additional information that you can. In terms of this additional information, there are many things that can qualify: a new letter of recommendation, any recent sports achievements, academic accolades, or special recognitions, your updated senior transcripts, if you’ve started a new job or internship, any scholarships that you have been awarded… At this point, you have absolutely nothing to lose, so don’t be shy in promoting yourself as fully and as best as you can.

5. Do I commit to another school?

The tricky thing about wait lists is that you need to proceed with the acceptance process for another school regardless. And, yes, this means that you will have to make the non-refundable deposit for said other school. But, hey, it guarantees you a spot. While your wait list status remains in limbo, go to the other school’s on-campus days and complete all of their required forms (the registration, the housing, etc.). Let yourself get excited to attend there, and don’t stress about having to potentially make a last-minute decision. As the saying goes, “Cross that bridge when you come to it.”


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  • Elise Gout

    Elise writes articles for the Magoosh SAT blog to help teenagers during an exciting time in their lives. Despite residing in Southern California, where she attends San Dieguito Academy high school, she has no surfing abilities whatsoever; it’s actually rather sad. She is your typical senior high school girl who sword fights daily, and is pretty much convinced that bananas are a food sent from heaven. Elise will attend Columbia University next fall to study environmental science.

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