If you're headed to college next year, there’s a good chance you applied to at least three schools:
Your dream school
Your “pretty sure I’m going to get in” school, and
Your safety school.
Sounds like a pretty fail-proof plan, right? But what happens when you get wait-listed for your dream school and you feel like the other two are just ... meh?
If you’re not sure what your next steps are, you’re not alone. Let's talk about what your game plan should be.
What does it mean to be wait-listed?
Before we get into the do’s and don’ts of being wait-listed, let’s cover what it means when a school says you’ve been put on their wait-list.
Being put on a wait-list means that you weren't denied acceptance to the school ... but you weren't accepted just yet either. Generally, this is because the school has other students that have ranked ahead of you in terms of desirability.
Sometimes the reasons are nothing personal at all. For example, you're more likely to find yourself on the wait-list if you're applying to a public college or university and you're out of state.
One possible reason for being wait-listed is you applied too close to the deadline. Since a lot of colleges accept students as they apply, fewer spots are available as you get closer to the deadline.
Some colleges will also wait-list you if your grades are borderline. Most schools set a minimum criteria for admissions, and if you're right on the bubble, they may wait to offer you admissions until after the other students have accepted or declined.
You may also end up on the wait-list just because of space. If a school is highly competitive and their freshman applicant pool is swimming with near-perfect applicants, they may decide to wait-list you. Yes, this is frustrating because it has nothing to do with you. But that's how the world of higher education works.
What should you do if you’re wait-listed?
Just because your dream school told you “maybe” doesn’t mean you need to give up and throw in the towel. There are a few things you can do to make your name standout.
If you decide to wait it out, make sure to inform the school that you would like to stay on the wait-list. There may be additional steps you need to take to remain there.
Be sure to carefully read any correspondence from the school. Call the admissions office if you're unsure about something.
If you have a relationship with your high school counselor, now is the time to use it. Ask if they will call the admissions office on your behalf — especially if you have any unique or extenuating circumstances that the school should know about.
You can also send an email or letter thanking the school for continuing to consider you for admissions. This is your chance to shine, so make sure the letter you send is free of mistakes and truly shows who you are outside of your transcript and test scores.
Make a connection between your interests and what the college has to offer. This shows that you have a passion for the community of the school.
If the college is small, there’s a good chance you can request an interview with an admissions officer. In-person is ideal, but even if you can secure 20-minutes on the phone, this will give you the opportunity to really connect with the person who may be reviewing your status.
Don’t expect to hear about your acceptance status until after the May 1 deadline. Once the colleges have received all of their “yes” letters from prospective students, they will then determine the number of spots they still have available. And if you're one of the chosen ones, you will be offered admissions.
What not to do if you’re wait-listed
Let’s face it: waiting to hear if you’ve been accepted takes a ton of patience. While this waiting game may feel like it's taking over your life, remember, the admissions officers are dealing with thousands of other kids.
Checking in is perfectly acceptable, but avoid emailing or calling them every single day.
Unless you’re prepared to take a year off, don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Use this time to take a second look at the other schools that accepted you.
Picture yourself going to your second-choice or safety school. You might find that it feels a whole lot different now that you’ve been wait-listed at your dream school.
This is also a good time to remind yourself that there is no perfect school. You are likely to get a good education and have some fun at any of the colleges on your list.
So, if one of the other schools feels like a good fit, consider sending a deposit. Even though you may lose this money, securing a spot will ensure that you have a place to attend in the fall.
Sara Lindberg, B.S., M.Ed., is a freelance writer specializing in business, finance, health, and wellness. She holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in Exercise Science and a Master's Degree in Counseling. When she’s not writing, Sara can be found at the gym lifting weights, running the back roads to train for her next half-marathon, and spending time with her husband and two children. Read more by Sara Lindberg