What to Do After Being Waitlisted

Inside the Admissions Office

What to Do After Being Waitlisted

The following is part of an ongoing series, "Inside the Admissions Office," by mentor Evan Cudworth, a college admissions specialist with experience in the admissions office of the University of Chicago.

The waitlist is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the application process. However, it essentially works as a way for universities to fill specific spots in the incoming class after certain students select another program. This means that waitlists are highly difficult to predict. Some years, a program might require more men than women, or more students from a particular part of the world. Don’t try to over-analyze the process and don't take the final decision personally. Instead, focus on your strengths and be polite and respectful throughout the process. For more advice, see the article What NOT To Do After Being Waitlisted.

Below are some tips that will help maximize your opportunities. You'll notice that none are particularly edgy, time-consuming, or difficult. The idea is to show yourself, not a gimmick, and to help the admissions office get updated information on your record respectfully.

1. Seek instructions from the school. The best way to make sure you don't do something that might backfire is to ask the school directly. Each program is different. First, try to find out what your general chances of admission could be. Some schools will publish this data, for others you might have to do some internet sleuthing on admissions forums. Did they accept 10 students or 100 students last year? Is the waiting list ranked? This can help set your expectations. Finally, check to see if they make any requests from waitlisted students. Do they ask for you to interview? Improve your test scores? Don’t be afraid to ASK if this isn't easily available on the website (but always do your research first).

2. Follow up with a detailed email about why you believe you’re a strong fit. For most programs, this will be the desired course of action. This is your chance to prove you’ve done your research. Do NOT mention “prestige” or “location,” but really focus on the specifics of what makes the program unique. Mention professors or former students who have inspired you, or any personal reasons why this program—more than any other to which you’ve applied—is where you want to learn!

3. Keep your grades/activities consistent. Waiting lists are no excuse to start slacking--in fact, your grades and activities matter more than ever. If you can show real improvement in relevant subjects or performance reviews these should be included in your follow up email.

4. Respond to at least one other school that has accepted you before the deadline passes. Don't jeopardize your chances to attend other institutions in an attempt to hold out for one. Most people don’t get into their top choice—and yet they go on to live compelling, successful lives. You will likely be required to pay a non-refundable deposit, but better to pay and lose the deposit somewhere else than sacrifice another acceptance by holding out for good news from a waiting list.

Finally, remember all the positives about the application process, and that no matter where you end up, your hard work will matter more than the program you attend! Good luck!