You craved to hear the resounding “Yes!” from your dream school but instead got an uncertain “maybe…”. You’ve been waitlisted. It’s not a great feeling, but being waitlisted doesn’t mean you should wait. In fact, do the opposite. It’s important to understand why you might be on the waitlist, and understand what steps you can take to improve your chances of full acceptance. Don’t wait!
First things first – why you’re on it:
College admissions committees will tell you that the waitlist decision means you’re a competitive applicant who meets the acceptance criteria but didn’t quite make the cut due to either class size constraints or a slight application shortcoming. The lists of common shortcomings are endless, from not exemplifying good fit or highlighting what makes you unique, to a lack of extracurricular involvement. You’ve heard it all.
But what admissions committees don’t talk about, is their yield rate which is the percentage of admitted students who enroll. Colleges are concerned with keeping their yield rate high. This rate fluctuates for every college and even big players like Harvard have concerns. What this means for you is that you could be on the waitlist because you’re actually overqualified. Yes, you read that right. Colleges know that with platforms like The Common Application (CommonApp), students are applying to a large number of colleges to keep their options open. Because of this, colleges want to be sure, or at least have confidence that the students they offer admittance to will in fact accept. In other words, they want to know they weren’t just your back up school, hence the waitlist.
"What this means for you is that you could be on the waitlist because you’re actually overqualified."
To clarify, this isn’t always the case, but whatever the reason for you being on the waitlist, don’t be discouraged, because there are steps you can take to improve your chances.
So here’s what to do:
Evaluate your chances? Not quite.
Your instinct will be to research the likelihood of getting off the waitlist. College Board provides such information. All you need to do is go to the college’s page and hit the “Applying” tab on the left which brings you to the waitlist statistics. Or you could Google college waitlists. If this research gives you peace of mind, great. But know that those statistics don’t tell an accurate story. Colleges’ waitlist admittance rates greatly fluctuate. Data from Dartmouth proves this point: In 2015, Dartmouth admitted 129 from a wait list of 963, making up about 10% of the entire class. But just the year before in 2014, out of the 1133 names on the waitlist, zero made it into the entering class. The takeaway here is to not let these stats guide your decision.
Accept the waitlist invitation, immediately
Colleges don’t make the assumption that you’ll stick around for the waitlist decision just because you applied in the first place. Show them that you’re eager, that you didn’t just apply on a whim or as merely another option to have. Do so by immediately accepting your spot on the waitlist. This signals to the college that they’re your top choice.
Reiterate interest in the college
Before you send that email with a statement of interest right away, fight your millennial instinct. Pick up the phone and contact the admissions office. Think about how many emails an admissions office must receive on a daily basis. A phone call is more personal in a matter like this and more likely to be effective. Confidently introduce yourself and reiterate interest in the college. If he/she is willing to talk directly about your application, then pay careful attention. If not, then ask if there are acceptable materials to send instead of bombarding them with unwanted items – different colleges operate differently. And if you’re lucky or play it well, this could be an opportunity for you to build a relationship with an admissions officer to get a good word put in for you.
After your phone call, you’re now good to send a follow up email with your statement of interest. Thank them for taking your call, restate interest and include updates in your application. Your updates should include highly relevant activities, experiences or, achievements that highlight why you’re a strong fit. When committees revisit your application, they will be concentrating on any NEW information that has been submitted.
In all communication with the college, you want to make sure you remain professional. It’s one thing showing interest, it’s another to come off desperate. Showcase your maturity in dealing with this less-than-ideal situation.
Don’t channel your inner Mother Teresa
Don’t feel the need to suddenly go crazy with volunteer expeditions or anything along those lines. Colleges will pick up on the fact that you’re faking it and it will backfire. Instead, focus on continuously building on your application in other ways. Continue to keep those grades up (this is not the time for senioritis), keep with your extracurricular activities, and look out for ongoing opportunities for personal growth.
Submit an enrollment deposit to another school
This is not something any student on the waitlist wants to hear, but there’s only so much you can do. Give it all you’ve got in this final push, but accept the reality that there is a chance you might not get an admittance offer despite the best of efforts. Keep in mind that a rejection does not indicate a lack of competence. It simply means you were not the right fit for that particular school. Play it smart and have a contingency in place. Cheesy as it may sound, your contingency school might just end up being a better fit for you to learn and grow.