College waitlists: What to do if you’re waitlisted

Tips to keep moving through the college process after being waitlisted 

Knowing what to do when waitlisted or deferred can be nerve-wracking. While your college application has not been rejected and is still under consideration by the admissions office, the extended period of uncertainty that comes with it can leave an applicant wondering what to do next.

As someone who has been on the college waitlist before, the first thought that might come to mind is: What does being waitlisted mean for me? Let me explain.

What’s the difference between waitlisted vs deferred?

Waitlisted means that the admissions office has reviewed your college application and determined that you have the academic and personal credentials for admittance, but you were not selected during their first round of admissions. This is often a result of there not being enough available seats in the class to offer you a spot for registration. But, keep in mind, spots may become available down the road. Being waitlisted is not uncommon. One survey showed about 10% of applicants placed on them, with about 20% admitted laterfootnote 1.

Deferred typically means that the admissions committee still needs more time to review your application to determine if an offer will be made. If you applied through “Early Decision” or “Early Action” and get deferred, your application will simply be pushed into the regular admission period for review and consideration. Therefore, you could still be accepted, rejected, or waitlisted.

As far as deferral statistics go, it really depends on the school. Sometimes the more selective institutions will defer more early applicants than others. Unfortunately, many schools do not release their deferral numbers.

If this happens to you, here are nine things you can do right now.

1. Accept your waitlisted offer

First things first—be sure to accept your waitlisted status. When a school informs you that you have been waitlisted, they are essentially offering you a spot on the waitlist. Therefore, to be added to the waitlist, you must accept the waitlist offer. By failing to accept your waitlisted offer, the admissions office can leave your name off the waitlist and refuse to consider you when class seats become available.

So, how do you accept a waitlist offer? Often, it consists of submitting a brief online form to tell the admissions office that you’ve accepted their waitlist offer and you want to be considered once class spaces become available.

2. Express your interest

If you’re waitlisted by a school that you had your heart set on, express your interest to the school shortly after accepting your waitlisted status. This conveys to the admissions committee that you’re interested in this college and want to be a student there.

Use this opportunity to stand out from the crowd; write a letter to the admissions office and discuss recent academic achievements and noteworthy qualities that may sway the admission decision in your favor. And, of course, be sure to highlight your genuine desire to become a student at the school throughout the letter!

Additionally, you can reach out to the admissions officer overseeing your application. Go to the college’s website to find out who that is and how you can contact them. If that information is not publicly available, send an email to the general admissions email address requesting your advisor’s contact information.

Then, reach out to your admissions officer via email to ask questions about your waitlisted status. This is a great way to display interest, but be sure you check your school’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page to make sure you’re not asking the same questions.

If you’re deferred, remember that this means that your application is still being considered, so there’s no immediate need to write to your admissions officer to plead your case. Instead, reach out to them to ask questions that express your interest in the school.

3. Evaluate your other options

When waitlisted or deferred, take time to evaluate the other schools you applied to. While it may not be a rejection, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll ultimately receive an offer letter. Therefore, use this time effectively by further investigating your other options.

A great place to start is by reading through the financial aid offers and admission materials received from each school that has extended you an offer. Not only will you be able to nail down the respective decision deadlines and important admission details for each, but you can also start to consider which of your other options may be the best fit for you.

4. Put down an enrollment deposit

If you’re waitlisted, don’t hold out for a final decision before making your move elsewhere. Waitlist timelines are arbitrary and a final decision on your application can take weeks. Therefore, once you have evaluated your different options and decided on another school that’s the best fit for you, put down an enrollment deposit!

By making an enrollment deposit, you’re telling the school that you have accepted their offer of admission and that you plan to enroll next semester. That is not to say you must give up hope on your waitlisted application. If you ultimately receive an offer letter from a school that had waitlisted you, you can simply sacrifice the enrollment deposit and then accept the other school’s offer.

Enrollment deposits can cost anywhere from $50 to $500 and are usually non-refundable. So, keep that in consideration as you evaluate your other college options. Ultimately, you should make an enrollment deposit when you are confident that you have found the next best alternative.

While it is possible to make multiple enrollment deposits to various schools, it’s not recommended. In some instances, it’s seen as an unethical practice, since you would be accepting multiple admission offers with the intention of only attending one school. Additionally, playing that game can easily get expensive (especially if your enrollment deposits are each in triple digits). Therefore, the best game plan is to place an enrollment deposit down at your second-best alternative. Then, if you ultimately get accepted off the waitlist at your first-choice school, you can place an enrollment deposit there and promptly notify your other school that you will no longer be attending.

5. Send letters of recommendation

Few things can reveal an applicant’s true character better than a strong letter, or letters, of recommendation. Whether it be from a teacher, boss, or coach, a strong letter of recommendation can provide the admissions office with important insight into who you are and why you would be a good fit. Look to those who you have a strong relationship with and can speak to your strengths.

When you have found your recommender, provide them with a list of details and accomplishments that you want to have highlighted in your letter. Sometimes a recommender may not know everything about you and can miss details that would have otherwise made a difference in the admission process. Therefore, coach your recommender and provide them with important insight into who you are and why you are a great fit for this school. Not only can it help ensure that your letter of recommendation is the strongest it can be, but it may also increase your chances of being admitted off the college waitlist or following a deferred application.

6. Resubmit improved grades or supplementary materials

Demonstrating academic improvement is a great way to possibly sway a waitlisted or deferred admission decision in your favor! Whether you originally applied with incomplete grades or you’ve since significantly improved them, capitalize on your recent academic achievements to “wow” the admissions committee. Simply connect with your admissions officer and send an official transcript with your most recent grades. Doing this can demonstrate to the admissions office that you have what it takes, and you want to be a student at their school.

7. Retake the SAT or ACT

Resubmitting improved SAT or ACT scores is another great way to turn the tide on your waitlisted or deferred application status, so if you have the time and resources to invest in improving your scores, do it!

In addition to studying on your own, some additional options that can help you increase your score quickly include getting a personal tutor, joining a study group, or taking a prep class. Overall, taking the initiative to improve your test scores for the sole purpose of getting that offer letter is a great way to stand out from the rest of the waitlisted or deferred crowd.

8. Follow up

Be sure to follow up! If it has been a few weeks since you were waitlisted or deferred and you still haven’t heard anything back, check in with your respective admissions officer. Ask questions about the status of your application, see if there is anything you can better clarify for the admissions office, and ask what they recommend for waitlisted or deferred students waiting to hear back. Even a simple follow-up email to ask questions can go a long way in conveying to the admissions office that you are still interested.

9. Stay calm

Upon receiving the news that you have been waitlisted or deferred, the best thing you can do is to remain calm. Yes, it can be stressful. But you still have a chance of receiving that offer letter! Remain calm and focus on taking action to improve your chances of receiving an offer letter.

It is important to understand that, whether you're waitlisted or deferred for college, you still have a shot of being accepted. By remaining calm, expressing your interest, and taking active steps to improve your application, you can increase your chances and stand out.


footnote 1.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

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