Applying to College Special Circumstances

Wait Listed? Now What?

Written by CB Experts

It is April 15th.

Your long-awaited letter from your first choice college has finally arrived. You open the envelope…only to find that you have not been accepted!

Wait! You have not been rejected outright either. Your favorite school has put you on their “Wait List!”

What does this mean? And what can you do about it?

What is a “Wait List?”

College admissions committees can estimate from past history the number of accepted students who will actually enroll at their school for the coming fall. This is called the “yield,” the actual enrollment as a ratio to the number of students admitted. Believe it or not, there are very few colleges who obtain yields greater than 50%, so if the enrollment goal of a college is 3000 students, then 6000 students will be accepted to attain the desired 50% yield.

If everything goes as planned, the enrollment goal will be actualized by May 1st, the date when students need to decide which college they will be attending. Most colleges maintain wait lists to allow them to bring the number of students in their incoming class up to the size they need. In effect, they use the wait list as protection against a low yield. Needless to say, colleges want every dorm room to be filled and as much tuition coming into the coffers as possible!

Colleges are not obligated to admit any of the students on their wait list. In fact, some colleges use their wait list at times as a courtesy to legacy applicants who are not strong enough to be admitted. Rather than send a rejection letter, they opt to put the student on the wait list—never to be taken off.

However, most wait listed students are applicants who would have been accepted if the class size only were a bit larger. So if you were wait-listed, rather than feeling depressed about the decision, you should congratulate yourself for being placed in this group of quality applicants. Although there are no guarantees you will be admitted, you still have a chance at getting in.

Strategies to Use if You Are Placed on the Wait List

First of all, you need to decide if you REALLY want to go to this school in the fall. If it is not your top-choice school, you need not pursue a course of action that will get you off the wait list because it does require more money, a deposit fee on a school that has admitted you, which you could lose if you are eventually admitted to the wait listing school.


But, what if you are wait listed at your top choice school? What action can you take? Just follow these steps:

  1. First complete the school’s wait list form or post card confirming that you want to remain on their wait list, and mail it back to the school as soon as possible.
  2. Next place a deposit on your second-choice school so that you reserve a spot in the class at this school if you don’t get off the wait list at you top choice school
  3. Now write a letter to the school which wait listed you confirming that you will definitely attend their school if accepted from the wait list. Explain why they are still your first choice and why you should be their first choice too. In the letter be sure to point out any accomplishment or recognition that you have obtained since first applying to their school and which now makes you a better candidate.
  4. Call the college rep who is responsible for your state at the wait listing school to verify that your letter was received and re-emphasize your desire to attend this college. While you have the admission rep on the phone, take the opportunity to request any advice that the rep can give to improve your chances on getting admitted from the wait list.

Then another wait begins. When you do receive the letter stating whether or not you have finally been admitted, and it isn’t the news you were hoping for, take heart. You did everything in your power to be admitted!

Now it is time to move on and start getting ready to attend the school that can’t wait to have you on their campus!

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.