What To Do When Waitlisted

You open up the latest email from your top choice college, which says there’s an update to your application. You go to the application portal, with the moment of truth just one button click away: here is where you find out whether you’re going to your top choice in the fall. Taking a deep breath, you open up the update. You’ve been…Waitlisted?

Well, at least it’s not a rejection. You weren’t the admissions officers’ number one pick, but you still have a shot! To get where you want to be, though, you’ll have to really put in the work. Don’t just sit around waiting to hear whether they’ll let you through. Now is your final chance to convince the school that you belong.

So, What Should I Tell Them?

Your next step is to draft a waitlist update letter. This letter also called a waitlist appeal, would be an email or short “essay” letting them know once again how much you want to attend their school, and what you have achieved since sending in your application. Some schools such as Stanford and UMich will give you a preset limit for your waitlist appeals, usually around 250 words or less. For others, though, an email sent directly to the admissions office not exceeding 1 page single-spaced in length is necessary. 

If the college asks you to include any specific information in your update, focus on that. However, a general good outline of the waitlist letter is as follows:

  1. Start by saying you have a continued interest in attending the college, and that you would be extremely happy if you were offered a spot.
  2. Name some unique things you like about the college. Is it the school spirit/culture? The unique internship or research opportunities? A rare major that you hope to take there that’s hardly offered anywhere else? Think deep and hard, and especially think about any reasons you might not have mentioned in your app. Spend about a paragraph on this.
  3. Now, transition into talking about your successes in your classes. Discuss the difficulty of your classes in the fall semester. Also mention the grades you’ve finished with if you had a good semester—particularly if you had an even better semester than your previous record. If you have an update to your test scores, this is also the place to put them in.
  4. Afterward, it’s time to show you’re still active and involved in your extracurriculars, and that you’ve achieved even more with them. Write about what you’ve achieved in the most outstanding extracurriculars on your resume, devoting a paragraph for each if space allows. You will also want to add insights that you gained from them—whether they’ve helped you grow, or opened your eyes to a social issue, or how you’ve improved in that specific line of work. Above all else, demonstrate leadership.
  5. Close with another example of what you really love about the college, and restate how much you want to attend.

After you send this update letter to the admissions office, that’s the point where indeed all you can do is wait. It may be tempting to try and impress them further or to try and settle your anxieties with a further email. However, do not attempt any more communication with the college. Your polished piece should be the only follow-up you do with them. Any further prodding will be seen as an annoyance or even a sign of immaturity, and this will actively hurt your chances. 

A final note: For those of you reading this before your college app cycle begins, keep these things in mind if/when you are waitlisted from any college on your list. Even after submitting all of your college apps, you’ll have to keep working hard both in and outside of school to convince colleges that waitlisted you to accept you. 

Now that you know the tips and tricks to help get you off that waitlist, put them into action. You may see your efforts rewarded with the acceptance letter you’ve spent all year dreaming about!