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What To Do When You’ve Been Waitlisted

A young woman with brown skin and black hair sits at a table outside on a balcony. She looks down at her phone which she holds on the table.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

So, you’ve finally heard back from most if not all of the colleges you applied to and are wondering what to do next. But, to your disappointment, a lot of the decisions you received were not acceptances or rejections, but waitlists.

I too have been in that situation; in fact, out of the eight colleges that I applied to, I was waitlisted to five of them. Fortunately, I got into all of my safety schools but none of the schools that were initially my first choice. 

Waitlists are frustrating because it’s like waiting for the acceptance or rejection decision all over again. I was waitlisted to UC Berkeley and they stated that decisions might come out as late as July.

Waitlists can also be inconvenient and might cause you extra stress but they also give you hope that you might get in. There are pros and cons to waitlists but you will almost certainly lose some kind of money if you are accepted at a later date.

This is because the date for the latest possible acceptance for the waitlist is usually past the deadline required to commit to a college. This means that if you get off the waitlist you will have to forfeit the money you paid for your acceptance fee for a different college and you will have to repay it for the new college that you are going to. However, if it’s truly the college you want to go to, then that fee will not seem like that big of a deal. 

While you wrestle with which place you would like to go to out of the colleges you have been accepted to, here is what you should do with the colleges that you have been waitlisted to.

Still interested?

Before you commit to the waitlist, you should first consider and ask yourself if you are still interested in attending this college. Did you get accepted to a different college that you would rather go to even if you did get accepted off the waitlist?

Or perhaps you found out that you would likely be a better match for a different college. In any case, you should take the time to think about if you really do want to go to this school if you got off the waitlist. This is especially true if you will be required to submit supplemental information which will take more time on your behalf. 

Supplemental information

As I mentioned previously, I have firsthand experience seeing how different colleges handle the waitlist. For some, they will offer you the chance to provide supplemental and new information that was not previously on your application. UC Berkeley allowed me to do this.

They stated that they wanted me to provide any new updates, career, or academic developments that had occurred since the time that I submitted my application. This was a great opportunity because it allowed me to showcase that I kept working on building my career and developing my academic skills further throughout the time that the decision process was occurring. 

These kinds of opportunities are often stated as optional. However, just as you should know while the supplemental essays on college applications are stated as optional but that you should do it anyways, these additional information essays are the same way.

Even if they say it is optional, take this opportunity to provide additional information about yourself and raise your chances of getting off the waitlist. Of course this opportunity can also harm you if you do not write well. Make sure to take your time and draft a response.

Treat it the same way you did with your college application essays. This is basically your second chance of getting into the college of your dreams.

There are some colleges that do not explicitly state if they would like additional information or not. In this case, it would likely be best for you to write to the admissions office.

In this letter or email, you should detail key developments in your career since the time of applying as well as a persuasive argument for why you would be a good fit for the school. Some students have become internet famous for sending in creative persuasive methods such as music videos; however, unless you have the time and courage, something more traditional is likely to be a better fit for you.

Keep in mind that by doing this you are in no way guaranteeing that you are going to be able to go to the college you are aiming for. If you choose to go a more extreme route to persuade admissions, you might even hurt your chances of getting in. So, be careful with your method.

9 Things To Do While Waiting for College Decisions

Just…wait

I know, I know. It is really difficult to wait and do nothing while the days pass by. Waking up each day and still not receiving the email that you are waiting for is such torture.

Sometimes, some colleges do not offer you a chance to provide supplemental information, nor will they consider it if you provide it. For instance, when I was waitlisted to UC Irvine, unlike UC Berkeley, they did not offer a chance to add extra information. Instead, they stated that students should simply opt into the waitlist if they were still interested in attending the school.

The admissions team even went so far as to say that even if supplemental information was sent, they would not consider it whatsoever. In some ways, this is nice because you do not have to write anything else. As the student, your job here is done. In other ways, this makes it even more stressful because you can’t add anything that might boost your chances of application. 

Even if you can’t send any information, there are still some important things you can and should be doing. For one, you should continue to maintain your grades. I know that with senior year coming to a close and graduation just within grasp, it feels like you can relax a little.

Keep in mind that AP tests are still coming up if you take them, and even if you are not signed up for college-level classes in high school, you still have finals.

It is imperative you keep your grades up, not only so that you will look like a model student if you get accepted off the waitlist, but also so that the college that you do commit to does not defer your decision. 

You also might want to look at some career enriching opportunities, volunteer excursions, or getting a jumpstart on building your resume. While it is the summer before college and you should relax and enjoy your hard work, there are always fun and enriching things for you to do.

Don’t stress!

Again, I know this is something that is difficult to do. Oftentimes, it seems like the more someone tells us not to worry or stress about something, the more stressed we become.

Try to remember that you are an amazing student and that even in the worst-case scenario that you do not get off of any of your waitlists, you have still done incredible work to get to where you are today. Even if it might not seem like it now, wherever you do choose to go to will undoubtedly be your home and you will come to love it.

For me, Penn State was not my first choice at all. But, I have come to absolutely love this school and am really glad that I chose it. It was after I did some in-depth research and experienced this university for myself that I came to realize how academically great it is here. It might not be an Ivy, but I love it all the same.

Commit to a college

As I alluded to in the introduction, while you are deciding what to do with your waitlists and curating additional information if need be, you should also be deciding where you would like to go out of the colleges you have been accepted to.

You should make the decision assuming that you do not get off any of the waitlists and that these acceptances are the only ones you are going to get. Keeping this in mind, it’s a good idea to start talking to other people that you would potentially be interested in rooming with as well as looking into housing options.

As for when you commit, there are certain things you should consider. On one hand, it might be better to commit earlier so that you can secure better housing. Especially for dorms, oftentimes the most recently renovated and nice ones are filled up first.

So, the later you commit, the less options you have with where to live. Another thing to consider is finding roommates. Oftentimes, later on in the process, you might have a harder time finding roommates. This is because a lot of people might have already paired up with each other and they would not be able to room with you even if they wanted to.

If you commit later, you will be able to avoid paying double the acceptance fees. If you did not already know, when you commit to a college, you will often have to pay some nonrefundable fees including housing commitments, etc.

If you commit to a college early and decide to change where you are going, you will be losing that amount of money that you paid. Regardless of if you actually commit or not, you should start talking to the fellow students in your graduating class at the school you are most likely to go to.

This is exactly what I did. I waited until the last minute to commit but in the meantime, I focused on talking to lots of new people and finding potential roommates. In this way, I was able to secure my housing preferences and my roommates without the risk of possibly losing money. 

Waitlists are a frustrating part of the college decision process. Right when you thought your journey had come to an end, you find out that it has a second chapter. However, if you keep hope and keep your options open, no matter what, you can end up at a college you love.

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Author: Sophia

Sophia is a current college freshman at Pennsylvania State University with plans to major in marketing. When she's not studying or in the gym, you can find Sophia watching her favorite Youtube channels or streamers. In the future, she hopes to travel the world while developing her marketing skills and building her network.