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You’re on the Waiting List… Now What?

By Amy Tamargo and
Robert LeVine

In your inbox sits an email from the admissions office of your dream college. At last, a decision! With trepidation, you click on the message, envisioning yourself lounging on the Freshman Quad. You open the email and read that you are offered a position … on the waiting list. It is not what you were hoping for, but at least you weren’t denied. Yet after spending months anticipating your future, you remain in limbo.

Being placed on the waiting list for a top-choice school can be agonizing. What does this mean? What can you do?

It is important to understand that schools use waiting lists differently. Some admit freely from their lists, while others only accept students from the lists only as a last resort, creating inflated wait lists as a tactic to convince high schools that their students might have better luck next year. Though the odds may seem stacked against you, there are strategies to improve your chances.

First, reevaluate whether your wait-list school is really your top choice. In other words, will you turn down all other schools in exchange for their offer of admission? If the answer is “yes,” immediately accept the wait list invitation by completing and returning any forms the school requires. Do not delay. Some schools actually take your response time into account when evaluating their perception of your level of interest. Be sure to remember to withdraw your name from colleges that you will not attend; it’s not fair to other applicants to hold a spot you have no intent to accept.

Once you have indicated that you wish to remain considered for a spot at your dream school, don’t just sit still. You can increase your odds by making strategic communication with your admissions representative. Find the direct email for the admissions representative covering your region. This information can often be found on the college’s admissions website, but if not, call the admissions office and ask or, as a last resort, use the general admissions email address. They’ll know how to route your email, especially if you indicate your name, city and high school on your correspondence.

Send a carefully crafted update email to your admissions representative reaffirming your wish to remain on the waiting list and informing the representative that the school is your absolute first choice. Tell them that you will definitely enroll if admitted. In addition, use the email to update the school about your latest grades, accomplishments, honors and activities. Don’t overdo it; just give them the new efforts and accomplishments that have occurred since you submitted your application. The update should be brief, but specific. This is not a second application, it’s a supplement to the material you already submitted.

Your high school college counselor can also be a huge help. Counselors often have relationships with colleges, and even when they don’t, they can make a phone call on your behalf. Ask them politely if they can assist with your wait-list efforts, and let them know that the college they are contacting is really your first choice. Never ask someone to do something for you if you’re not definite about your decision.

Then, the waiting continues, as you are once again at the school’s mercy. You probably won’t hear anything until after the acceptance deadline for schools that have offered you admission, so make your college deposit by the deadline. Ensure yourself a spot in that freshman class; you can always change your mind if your wait-list school says yes.

It is true: waiting lists are longshots. Plan your future as if the longshot will not prove successful, but keep your sanity while you do your best to increase your wait-list odds.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email BobLeVine@SelectiveCC.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com

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