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What to do with a college waitlist decision

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March is the busy month for high school seniors around the country to receive college admissions decisions. While some decisions – like acceptances and even denials – are easy to understand, the waitlist letter can often cause bewilderment. On a basic level a waitlist decision means that though you are admissible to the university, at this time they don’t have a spot for you. The college may or may not move students off the list, and if they do, they will use their own internal criteria for how they manage that list.

If you received a letter inviting you to be on the waitlist for a college you applied to, what should you do?

First, decide on another college where you will accept an admissions offer so that you are assured of a spot at college for next year. There are no guarantees you will get off any waitlist and you should know that often there is not much financial assistance available for waitlist candidates.

Next, is the waitlist college on the top of your list? If not, decline politely so you are not taking a spot on the list for someone who really wants to attend that particular college. Don’t stay on the list of a highly competitive college just to see if you can “get in” to that school – that’s about ego and not truly about the desire to attend. Besides, you will only get an “admit” letter from that college if you are contacted and say you will accept an admission offer. Only stay on the waitlist if this college is truly one of your top choices and if you are offered a spot you would strongly consider attending.

If you want to stay on the waitlist there are several things you should do. First, reply quickly that you want to remain on the list. Send any updates including additional test scores, grades, awards or other activity information that is not already in your application. Contact the admission representative responsible for your region of the country and let him or her know of your high interest in gaining admission off the waitlist. Visit campus again if you have the chance. If financial aid is not really necessary but you originally marked on your application that you were interested in receiving aid, let them know that financial aid is no longer a factor for your enrollment. You will want to remain on the college’s radar screen as an actively interested applicant, but don’t go overboard and aggressively contact the admissions office.

Once the college admission office decides to go to their waitlist there are unlimited factors that will play into who ultimately gets offered admission. Each institution has different priorities and admission goals and therefore it is impossible to predict which students will get the lucky call. However once a student receives a call offering admission off the waitlist the student will usually only have 24-48 hours to respond. If the student declines the offer, they will not receive a letter of admission and the admission office will move on to the next group of students to notify. A student accepting an offer of admission off the waitlist will receive their confirmed offer of admission after they commit to enroll. These students must then cancel any previous enrollment deposit they made at another institution, most likely forfeiting that deposit.

A waitlist isn’t a “deny” decision, but students should also not count on getting in off a waitlist. Consider it a pleasant surprise if it happens but make sure other plans are in place in case you don’t get the lucky call.

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