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Reasons Why You Might Have Been Waitlisted

a young man checking admission status on computer

If you've been waitlisted, don't panic. It's not what you'd hoped would happen, but you still have a good chance of being admitted. Or you can return to considering other schools, like those with rolling admission application deadlines. 

But before you act on being waitlisted, it's essential to understand what it means to make the right decisions. We'll cover what being waitlisted means and how to handle it now. We also include expert tips from admissions professionals at Pomona College and the University of Vermont. 


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What Does Waitlisted Mean?

The meaning of waitlisted is pretty simple: you haven't been offered acceptance, nor have you been rejected. You are currently being held on a waitlist and might eventually be accepted if a spot opens up. 

Schools use the waiting list to deal with the uncertainty of the admissions process. Prior Director of Admissions at Tulane University, Jeff Schiffman, explains, 

"Every year, colleges and universities have a group of students who are qualified to gain admission, yet these institutions are unsure if they have space available to enroll these students.

Colleges monitor the number of students who accept their offer of admission and will pull from their waitlist in order to create the size and desired makeup of their incoming class.

It's a necessary part of the enrollment management process at many schools, yet it's an understandable frustration for applicants."

Just as students do not know whether they will be admitted, admissions offices do not know how many of the admitted students will accept offers of admission.

Too many students enrolling can be just as bad as too few. However, a waitlist gives the admissions office flexibility to maintain a good class size of incoming students. 

As Jeff explained, once a school has instituted a waitlist, the admissions office will admit students off the waitlist as needed until they have filled the incoming class. The school also might use the waitlist to fill specific gaps in the student body, such as too few students interested in particular academic majors.

It's important to note that being waitlisted is different than being deferred. You can read more about that in this article, Deferred vs. Waitlisted for College Admissions. 

Why Did I Get Waitlisted?

Here are the most common reasons applicants are placed on a waitlist:

  • Too few spaces are available. There might have been too many students with your particular set of credentials or academic interests. The admitted applicants were just slightly better than you in some arbitrary way or applied earlier.
  • If your parents are alumni, work for the college, or are well-connected, you might have been waitlisted as a courtesy. Waitlisting can soften the blow of rejection.
  • You might have been too strong a candidate. The college admissions office might have been certain that you would be admitted by a much more prestigious college. The admissions office might have been concerned about your commitment to enrolling at their college and placed you on a waiting list to determine how keen you are to be accepted.
  • Your application may have flaws that make you a borderline candidate. Maybe your grades weren’t strong enough. Maybe your participation in extracurricular and volunteer activities lacked depth.
  • Your declared major might be the issue. Many schools look for a balanced makeup of their freshman class in terms of area of study. If there are too many students with your intended major, you might be placed on a waitlist while the school attempts to accept more candidates from other majors. 

Is Being Waitlisted Bad?

Being waitlisted isn't terrible if you can be patient and have a backup plan. Alternatively, you can choose to back out and move on. If you were waitlisted by one of your reach schools, you might have already been planning for the alternatives. So, usually, being waitlisted isn't bad. 

Sure, being waitlisted can be anxiety-inducing. But it's better than getting an all-out no, right? 

What Should You Do if You've Been Waitlisted?

If you've been waitlisted, you can stay on the waitlist or back out and move on with your applications. If you're torn and don't know how to proceed, consider where that school is on your list of schools. Evaluating your goals and priorities for admission can help you decide on the next steps. 

We talked to Adam Sapp, Assistant Vice President and Director of Admissions at Pomona College, to get additional advice.

He told us that students should follow up once immediately after being waitlisted or deferred. Then they should reach out again each month to check in and share something new and factual each time.

“Bragging a little is fine. There's no penalty for bragging in these follow-up emails. Recommit your interest and, of course, keep the follow-ups short.”

Moses Murphy, Director of Admissions at the University of Vermont, stressed the importance of keeping your grades up. He also suggested reaching out to update the school with your most recent grades as they become available and providing additional information about your interest in attending.

Jeff Schiffman added,

"I tell students to only  stay on the waitlist if you are pretty sure you'll enroll here if you are offered a spot."

Letting a college know you're no longer interested in being on their waitlist helps you worry less about the college's capacity so you can focus on schools you're truly interested in attending. 

Appily Can Help You Navigate the Wait

If you were waitlisted by your dream school, then it might be worth waiting for a while to see what happens. You could review your list of safety schools and be ready to apply to them, just in case.

Or, if you were waitlisted by a reach school and you still have some other great options to explore, maybe backing out will free up the space to put all your effort into the other schools on your list. 


How likely are you to get into other colleges?

It's always a good idea to be prepared to apply to other schools. See your chances of getting admitted to any college so that you can apply with confidence.




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