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[College Application] What does it mean to be wait-listed?

Your notification letter doesn’t congratulate you but it also doesn’t go into some long and wordy way of telling you they did not accept you. Instead, you’re on a wait-list. Here’s what it means and what you should do about it:

  1. While there are some potential action steps to take on a college that wait-listed you, I would encourage you to move beyond this college and think about the ones that have accepted you.
  2. Wait-lists are managed by colleges based on a priority system. They are going to see how many students accept the back by 1 May. Based on those numbers, transfer applicants, students declining their original acceptance, colleges will go through the summer taking students off the wait-list to accept them based on their own internal ranking of their wait-listed candidates and how many slots they have left to offer to the incoming freshman class. Some colleges never even resort to their wait-list in a season. You must not have your heart set on this.
  3. If you’re keen to see how that wait-list will turn out (or not), you must absolutely, one hundred percent deposit at another institution by the 1 May deadline. If you do not do this, you are not assuring yourself a space at any institution and statistically speaking will have a very high chance of being without a college to attend come August. That deposit, in the case where you are accepted by the wait-listing institution sometime in June or July or even August, will be forfeited by you if you choose to attend the school that took you off your wait-list. The bottom line is to choose and deposit on one institution by 1 May.
  4. In the case where you are very keen on your wait-listing institution and want to give it every last effort, you may want to refer to my advice on being deferred, which I outlined in my book. You’ll want to follow similar advice for being wait-listed.
  5. Wait-listing stats on a college can be found and these are stats I direct my students to give them an idea of what we are looking at here at this stage in the process. The stats can be found for many universities on the college’s own website or by searching for it. Some institutions do not publish this data overtly. This data gives perspective to a last minute hold-out. Psychologically, I believe it’s not fair to you to plan for a wait-listed institution when all the cards are already on the table, when you’ve done your due diligence for months and even years, and have your acceptances from institutions that truly do want you.

Go ahead and follow through with your wait-listed school(s) but you should also move on and focus on the schools that have accepted you.

This is a series of excerpts from my book, “The International Family Guide to US University Admissions”. You can read a review of the book here.

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