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