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4 tips to get admitted off a college waitlist

Published April 18, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    During college admission season, some students share their excitement around college acceptance letters, and others feel dismayed around rejection letters, but what about the students who remain in limbo? Waitlisted students haven’t been denied a seat outright at the college that has waitlisted them, but they haven’t been accepted yet, either. Their acceptance is hinging on whether a seat opens in the class they’ve applied for.

    Let’s break down what being waitlisted during the college admissions process means, and four tips to try to boost your acceptance chances if you find yourself waitlisted.

    What does being waitlisted mean during the college application process?

    When colleges send you a waitlist letter, it means that while you meet their admission requirements, they’ve accepted other candidates they perceive as being more qualified ahead of you. Because of that, they don’t have any available seats in the academic class you’re applying for.

    Still, by waitlisting you, the college isn’t outright rejecting you. According to the educational nonprofit College Board, if a spot becomes available later, usually after the school’s official acceptance deadline, they may make a place available to you. However, this is never guaranteed.

    Being on a waitlist or multiple waitlists may be challenging for students to navigate because most schools have an enrollment deadline of May 1 and require students to make a deposit by that date to secure a spot. Waitlisted students may not find out if they receive a place until after May 1, making it difficult to decide whether to enroll in a different school.

    What’s the difference between being deferred versus waitlisted?

    Being deferred and being waitlisted during the college admissions process aren’t the same. A college admissions deferral is when the admission decision for an early decision or early action candidate gets moved into the regular decision application pool.

    As a refresher, early decision is a college application process in which students apply earlier to a school than regular decision candidates, find out earlier than regular decision candidates if they’ve been accepted or not, and, if accepted, their admission is binding. Early action is a process in which students apply earlier than the regular decision cycle and if accepted usually have up until the regular decision enrollment deadline to respond.

    On the other hand, a student who’s waitlisted has been denied admission unless a seat opens for them. As there may be many qualified students waitlisted, there isn’t a guarantee the applicant will get a seat.

    Of note, students who apply early decision or early action may see their admission get deferred, and then they may also, in some circumstances, be waitlisted during the regular decision cycle.

    When do college waitlist letters usually come out?

    Letters alerting applicants that they’ve been waitlisted are sent to students during the regular decision cycle. A college usually alerts students between mid-March through April that they’ve been waitlisted if that’s the case.

    When do college applicants get off the waitlist (if they do)?

    Colleges usually expect accepted students from the regular decision cycle to confirm enrollment by May 1 each year (although some schools have pushed back that date for the 2024-25 academic year).

     As for when waitlisted students get off the waitlist, it’s usually after May 1, and it can stretch into the summer as colleges complete the configuration of their classes and release open seats to waitlisted candidates.

    How likely is it to get off a college waitlist?

    How likely it is to get off a college’s waitlist will vary from school to school and year to year. Some colleges release their waitlist statistics if you want to gain a sense from historical data of how likely you may be to get off a waitlist at a particular school.

    How you may be able to increase your chances of getting off a college waitlist

    While there’s no foolproof way to get off a college’s waitlist, there are steps you may decide to take to increase your chances potentially.

    1. Accept the waitlisted offer

    If you’ve received a physical or digital letter in which a college alerts you that you’ve been waitlisted, you’ll likely need to let the college know if you’d like to remain on the waitlist or would like to be removed. By accepting the college’s waitlist offer, you can ensure that if a spot does open, you’ll be in the waitlist pool and available to receive an offer of admission.

    2. Write a letter to the school’s admissions office

     One strategy you may want to try to boost your chances of being admitted is to write a letter of continued interest to articulate to a school’s admissions office just how much you’d like to attend.

    College admissions experts advise that it can be helpful to share how you may have grown — academically and otherwise — since you applied.

    “Pick one school that you would definitely go to and make it a very, very clear statement: If given the spot, I would absolutely take it,” said Hafeez Lakhani, president of New York-based college coaching company Lakhani Coaching, told CNBC. Think about “how your story has evolved since you applied.”

    3. Improve your grade point average (GPA) and resubmit your transcript

    Another strategy to show schools your merit is to showcase how you’ve improved academically since you applied. To do this, you may choose to send a new transcript or connect with an admissions officer to let them know about any academic improvements you’ve made or new academic accomplishments you have under your belt.

    4. Retake standardized tests and send your new test scores

    Not all colleges require or even ask for standardized test scores, but for those that do, you may consider retaking your SAT or ACT to get a higher score to stand out from your other waitlisted peers. If you get a higher score, you may want to consider sending your new score to the school that waitlisted you. Before you do this, you may want to consider asking the college where you’re waitlisted if this would help your chances of getting off the waitlist.

    Final thoughts

    At the end of the day, if you’ve been waitlisted at a college, it’ll be hard to predict your chances of ultimately getting accepted. While you may try different strategies to boost your chances of turning your waitlist letter into an acceptance, you may also want to consider any colleges that did accept you carefully. There may be a school in your acceptance list that might be just as much of a compatible match, and you may be able to spare yourself the headache of remaining in limbo.