What can you do if you get placed on a college waitlist to convince the college to accept you? Should you worry about coming off too strong?


Amy Yvette Garrou, College admissions expert (US and international colleges)

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Great advice from Michael Schoch and from Brendan Merlin, writer of the waitlist article (click on the link above). From my experience both on the college side and as a high-school counselor, I'd add just a couple of tips:

  1. By "letter," I would advise an email, because after May 1, the waitlist status can change quickly. Admissions offices want to know that they have enough students--and some extra--to fill their entering class. If they are using their waitlist, they will inevitably make offers and some students will turn them down, meaning they need to make more offers from the waitlist. So there is some "churn," and you want your letter to get to them quickly. Ask the admission office for the name of the person, or one of the people, who read your application and ask for that person's email address. Email him, or her, and ask your school counselor to send an email as well. Or, if you have a teacher who attended that college or who's sent a lot of students to that college, a teacher could write on your behalf.

What you want the counselor or teacher to do is to confirm your intentions: If you would absolutely go there if admitted, say it. Have your counselor or teacher say the same thing.

These days, it often happens that students end up on multiple waitlists. In this situation, narrow yours down to (ideally) no more than two colleges whose waitlists you'll stay on. If you would attend either one if they offered you a spot, I think it's okay to say so, but you need to be sure about this. If you like one somewhat better than the other, stop just shy of telling your second-favorite that you would attend if admitted.

There's also financial aid to consider: some colleges have less financial aid or even no financial aid for students they take from the waitlist. Be sure to ask about financial-aid possibilities for waitlisted students if that's a concern for you.

The other thing to know is that, if you are given an offer from the waitlist, you won't be given much time to reply: maybe 3 days, maybe less. So you need to think ahead about whether you would attend.

And, most importantly, go ahead and accept the offer of a college that accepted you! Getting off a waitlist is icing on the cake, but you first have to have the cake.

Michael Schoch, Answers questions on Noodle

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There's actually an excellent article on Noodle that deals with just this issue. Similarly, if you check out the college waitlist topic page, you'll find a variety of resources that address how to handle being waitlisted or deferred.

Generally speaking, most resources advocate establishing a back up school to attend in case you don't make it off the waitlist. From there, you may choose to write a very polite, very upbeat letter to your college-of-choice's admissions department expressing your gratitude for having been considered and your strong desire to attend. If the school is your absolute first choice, emphasize the fact that you will definitely attend this school should you be accepted.

You should probably avoid coming off too strong. A polite, well-written letter that reminds the school of your attributes and passion is sufficient. Don't swarm the department with emails, phone calls etc. Also, of course, don't complain, make accusations or otherwise come across as bitter. Colleges don't like that.

Good luck! Feel free to write back with more questions any time you need!

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