College and University Blog

How to Get Off a College Waitlist: Is it Really Possible?

It’s easy to equate being placed on a college waitlist with being rejected. After all, the door wasn’t completely slammed in your face, but your chances of becoming a “chosen one” are fairly slim.

Some students just shrug their shoulders and move on to greener pastures, while others cling to their waitlist status as if it were a life raft.

College Waitlists: Things to Consider

That said, getting off a college waitlist is tough but not impossible. There’s no surefire way to guarantee your acceptance, but the following advice will come in handy.

Learn the School’s Waitlist Policy

For all intents and purposes, some elite colleges and universities use waitlists as a courtesy measure to inform students that their good grades and talents were not completely unnoticed. Other schools use waitlists as a method of letting students know that they are runners-up. Those schools may rank waitlisted students and accept from the “top down” should openings become available. If you’ve been placed on a college waitlist, learn the school’s waitlist policy.

Find Out Your Chances of Gaining Admission

The Daily Beast reports that National Association for College Admission Counseling statistics show just one in three waitlisted students were matriculated in 2010—a fancy word that means they actually enrolled as a member of the incoming freshman class. A student’s chances of being matriculated from the waitlist are even much lower than that at some highly competitive colleges. If a school does not prioritize or rank its waitlist, you can ask how many students were accepted from the waitlist in previous years.

Make the Big Decision

Colleges typically ask waitlisted students to return a “response card” or write a letter informing the school whether or not they’d like to remain on the waitlist. You’ll have to ask yourself whether or not the waitlist is worth it. “If they are happy with their other choices, please don’t say, ‘Yes’ to the wait list,” Eric Kaplan, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, advises U.S. News and World Report readers. “They could effectively be taking somebody else’s spot.”

Stay in Touch with the College

Should you decide to remain on the waitlist at your dream school, it wouldn’t hurt to mail a letter or send an email informing them that they are your first choice.

Grace E. Oberhofer, a high school senior who was waitlisted at Harvard, recently took things a step further, creating a YouTube video of herself playing the piano and singing praises about the college while decked out in a Harvard beanie. Her video went viral, reaching more than 5,000 viewers in 5 days. The Harvard Crimson reports that Oberhofer herself calls the video “satirical,” “over the top,” and “just a way to show her sense of humor.”

Will it help her chances? Who knows, but in 2008 Jean Jordan, dean of admissions at Emory University, told U.S. News and World Report that she remembered admitting a student who rewrote the words of the school song to argue her cause.

Update the College about Your Recent Accomplishments

In 2009, Bari Norman, the director of a New York-based college admissions counseling agency, told Forbes that waitlisted students should call the college admissions office and find out what their applications lack. Once they have figured this out, they can describe any improvements they’ve made in the meantime, such as higher grades or awards they may have won.

If you earned straight A’s during the final semester of your senior year or you recently won an award or tackled a new community service project that wasn’t mentioned in your college application, it is okay to let the school know.

Realize That a Second Choice School Really Isn’t All That Bad

Should you decide to “wait out” the waitlist situation, there is a slight chance that you’ll be selected. There’s also a bigger chance that you will have to make alternative arrangements. Many waitlisted students are heartbroken … until they realize that attending another college isn’t necessarily settling for less. Lower tuition or more financial aid might wind up seeming pretty good after all!


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.