It’s that time of year when all of the news from the Regular Decision round is rolling in! And, alongside the clear outcomes—“Admitted” and “Not Admitted”—you might be faced with a less certain offer: the chance to pursue a college’s waitlist.
It’s important to keep in mind that the chances of being admitted off of waitlists vary widely from college to college, and, in general, they don’t tend to be very high. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of admission from a waitlist, but it’s time to get excited about the top-choice school you have been admitted to and put down your deposit before the deadline.
That being said, waitlists serve a crucial function in college admissions, and there are ways to help them work in your favor.
The two key concepts at work in waitlists are yield and institutional interests. Every year, colleges make offers of admissions hoping to fill their incoming class, but they can’t predict exactly how many applicants will say “Yes”—their yield rate. This is why they hold waitlist spots for qualified applicants. If fewer admitted students accept their initial offers than they predict, they have a list of great students who will—they hope—help fill their incoming class.
The concept that makes waitlists so unpredictable is institutional interest. Colleges admit students based on a huge variety of criteria, and once they have started filling their class they might realize, for example, that they would like more students from a certain state, more students interested in studying a particular subject, or even something as fine-tuned as an oboist for the orchestra. While it can be frustrating for applicants, keeping a longer list of students on the waitlist helps colleges when they start looking around for attributes this specific.
So, what does this mean for you?
Institutional interest is easy: there’s really nothing you can do. If you’re the oboist they need, or if they’re looking for students from your home state, they’ll let you know!!
Yield is the important factor: you can maximize your chances on a waitlist by letting the college know that you will attend if admitted. The first step is to accept your place on the waitlist. The second step is to write a brief email (or message through your applicant portal, as some schools request) to your regional admissions officer, letting them know that their school is your first choice. In the same email, you should also (very briefly—one or two paragraphs) give any new academic or extracurricular updates, as well as any new information on why you are so excited about this particular college. There are a few colleges that require you to write an essay to accept a place on the waitlist, and here the same principle applies: they are looking for you to provide more information about your interests and your enthusiasm about them.
A note on timing: accepting your place on the waitlist and emailing your admissions representative early helps show your enthusiasm, but you also should consider sending a follow-up email sometime in June. You don’t want to flood an admissions officer’s inbox with emails, but it can help to refresh their memory in June with a brief communication of continued interest, as it’s typical for colleges to make waitlist offers around late June / early July.
One last important tip: answer your cell phone!! Colleges often call with waitlist acceptances, so keep your phone charged (and make sure your voice mail message states your name and is something you would want Admissions Officers to hear).
And then it’s time to enjoy your spring and summer—you’ve earned it!