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What Does it Mean to be on the Waiting List?

Nov 13, 2023

I know how it feels to go through an application process for admission to a school only to be put on the waiting list. It is a major disappointment! It happened to me when I was in high school. My hopes were riding on attending a specific ivy league school and I put a lot of work into my essays, my interviews, and the rest of my transcript. The letter that finally arrived in the mail told me that I was not accepted, but I wasn’t rejected either. I remember not knowing what to do with that notification. If you find yourself in the same situation, then I hope that the following information will help you to move forward more easily.

What does it mean to be on a waiting list?

Being placed on a school waitlist means that you may be reconsidered for admission if space becomes available. Schools use waitlists when they've offered admission to a certain number of students but aren't sure how many will actually enroll. If enough admitted students decline their offers, then new spots open up, and the school may turn to the waitlist to fill those positions. It's a bit of a limbo - you're neither in nor out, but there's still a chance of getting in if circumstances change. Being on the waiting list requires an applicant to exercise patience and to take steps that mitigate the risks of ultimately not being accepted.

The percentage of students who are eventually accepted from a waitlist can vary widely based on a range of factors, including the school's yield (the number of admitted students who choose to enroll), the number of spots available, and the strength of the waitlisted candidates.

It's difficult to pinpoint an exact percentage as it varies significantly from one school to another and from year to year. In some cases, schools might not accept anyone from the waitlist due to meeting their enrollment goals, while in other cases, a significant percentage of waitlisted students might be admitted.

I’m on the waiting list - now what?

If you find yourself on a school's waitlist, here are some steps you might consider:

  • Confirm Your Interest: Let the school know if you're still interested in attending. Some schools might ask for confirmation that you wish to remain on the waitlist. Sleep on this decision before making your decision. Don’t reject the school right away just so that they don’t reject you first. That is what I did when I was put on the waiting list. My feelings were hurt and I was too immature at 17 years old to recognize that it made the most sense to agree to go on the waiting list while making contingency plans at other schools.
  • Update Your Application: If you've achieved something new or significant since you applied (such as improved grades, new awards, or accomplishments), consider updating the school. This could strengthen your application.
  • Write a Letter of Continued Interest: Express your enthusiasm for the school and update them on any relevant achievements or developments since you applied. This can reinforce your commitment and potentially sway their decision.
  • Explore Other Options: Don't put all your hopes on the waitlist. Secure a spot at another school to ensure you have options. If the waitlist pans out, you can reevaluate your choices. I was happy at the alternate school that I chose to attend, and you can be, too!
  • Consider Visiting the Campus: If circumstances allow, visit the campus. Sometimes, showing a continued interest by physically being present can make an impact.
  • Be Patient and Prepared: Understand that the waitlist decision might not come until later in the admissions cycle. Stay patient and be prepared for either outcome.

Remember, while being on the waitlist can be stressful, it's important to stay positive and keep your options open. Hang in there!

What is a Letter of Continued Interest? 

A letter of continued interest is a formal communication that a waitlisted student sends to a school to reaffirm their strong interest in attending that institution. It typically includes:

  • Expression of Continued Interest: It reiterates your enthusiasm for the school and the reasons why you believe it's the right fit for you.
  • Updates and Achievements: Any new developments or accomplishments since your initial application. This could be improved grades, new awards, extracurricular activities, or other relevant achievements.
  • Relevance to the School: Connect your new achievements or experiences to how they align with the values, programs, or opportunities the school offers. Show how you would contribute to their community.
  • Respectful Tone: It should maintain a respectful and grateful tone, acknowledging the waitlist decision while expressing eagerness to join the school if given the opportunity.

This letter serves as a way to update the school on your progress and to reinforce your commitment. It's a chance to showcase your continued interest and any additional reasons why the school should consider you for admission from the waitlist.

How Do I Write a Letter of Continued Interest? 

Here’s an outline that you can use to write your letter:

Subject: Letter of Continued Interest

  • Introduction
    • Introduction stating your name and the fact that you've been waitlisted.
    • Express gratitude for being considered for admission.
  • Reiteration of Interest
    • Express your continued interest in attending the school.
    • Highlight specific aspects of the school that appeal to you (academics, culture, programs, etc.).
  • Updates and Achievements
    • Detail any new accomplishments or developments since your initial application (grades, awards, extracurricular activities, etc.).
    • Connect these achievements to your desire to contribute to the school's community.
  • Fit with the School
    • Explain how your values, aspirations, and skills align with the school's mission or specific programs.
    • Connect your personal growth to how the school will play a crucial role in your future.
  • Conclusion
    • Thank the admissions committee for their time and consideration.
    • Reiterate your enthusiasm for the school and express hope for a positive outcome.
  • Closing
    • Sincerely, [Your Name]
    • Enclosure: List any additional materials enclosed with the letter, if applicable (e.g., updated resume, new achievements).

Remember to personalize the letter and keep it concise and respectful. Also, be sure to follow any specific instructions provided by the school regarding communication from waitlisted students.

When Will the School Make Their Final Decision?

Sorry, but there is no way for me to know exactly. The best advice I can give you is to ask the school directly. The timeline for schools to make final decisions regarding their waitlisted applicants can vary. It often depends on various factors:

  • Enrollment Numbers: They'll wait to see how many admitted students actually accept their offers before turning to the waitlist. This can take time, sometimes well into the summer.
  • Response Deadlines: Some schools have specific dates by which they expect responses from admitted students. Once these deadlines pass, they can determine if they need to pull from the waitlist.
  • Movement on the Waitlist: If there's significant movement in the earlier rounds, where admitted students decline offers, you might hear back relatively earlier. If not, it might take longer.
  • School Policies: Some schools have a strict timeline for waitlist decisions, while others might inform waitlisted students closer to the start of the academic term.

In general, expect that schools might not finalize their decisions from the waitlist until late spring or even early summer. It's a good idea to remain patient and stay in touch with the school if they allow updates or expressions of continued interest. 

Hooray - I’ve been accepted off of the Waiting List! Now what? 

When a student is accepted from a waitlist, it's crucial to respond promptly, as timelines can be tight. Typically, schools will specify a deadline by which they need a response from waitlisted students. This timeline can vary from a few days to a couple of weeks.

It's essential to check the communication from the school carefully. If you're accepted from a waitlist, they will provide clear instructions on the deadline for your response. This may include how to accept the offer, any deposits required, and any additional steps to secure your spot. If you're still waiting to hear from other schools or need more time to make your decision, communicate this with the school to see if an extension is possible. However, it's best not to wait until the last minute as spaces might fill up quickly once the offers go out to waitlisted students. 

I hope that this article will help you to understand what a waiting list is and will help you to make the best decisions for yourself if you find yourself on one. If you want some 1:1 coaching to discuss this topic or any other part of the application process, then contact me and we can schedule time to meet for free

Good luck!



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