So You’re on the Wait List …. Now What?

A growing trend that parallels the steady growth in the number of college applications nationwide is the growth in the use of wait lists by schools, and the number of students who receive this “soft” rejection from places where they aspire to attend. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, last year only 28% of students on a wait list received a late-breaking bid from a college of interest, with a far, far lower percent of offers coming from the most highly selective schools.

Why Wait Lists?

Admissions professionals, high school counselors and educational consultants know that wait lists were established by colleges for their convenience, not out of concern for students, and for the simple reason that colleges don’t wish to have any empty beds reserved for freshmen come next fall as classes are about to start. Unfortunately, some students get false hope from a wait list outcome, and fail to move on and get excited by opportunities at a great school that really wants them.

So what should you do if you were unlucky enough to be waitlisted by the college (or colleges) of your dreams? First, acknowledge that being waitlisted is tantamount to being rejected. Look seriously at your acceptances; generate more enthusiasm by considering these schools more thoroughly (make a second visit, initiate contact with professors and enrolled students, spend a night on campus), and begin to imagine that you might get a great education and actually have fun at one of these places.

What can be done about being waitlisted?

In the meantime, especially if you really had serious reason to fall in love with the college that spurned you beyond “It’s Ivy League, and the campus is so beautiful!” you can make an effort to appeal to the admission representative at the school for your area. Affirm your continued strong interest and reasons why the school is a great match for you, and update your application with any recent developments that reflect well on you. Be polite and courteous and make sure that you don’t act in a way that might result in you being perceived as a whiner or a pest (share what you are saying in letters and emails with someone with knowledge of college admissions, like your counselor or consultant). Should it come time to move on, do so gracefully, and remember that your attitude helps to create your reality no matter where you are headed.

College Preparation, Year By Month

Dr. Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant and college counselor who helps students and their families stay on top of college planning. Lisa’s practice is grounded in 28 years of college teaching and 20 years in higher education administration. She constantly tours, reads, and does professional development in order to give clients the most up-to-date info.

Bodleian Library, Oxford

I have blogged about this important topic before, but just came upon a great series of guidelines for high school students on how to best plan for college: year by year and month by month. The guidelines are published by NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  Here is a nugget for each year of high school from the piece:

Freshmen: Investigate what high school courses are required by colleges and plan your enrollment accordingly.

Sophomores: Prepare for and take the PSAT in October. This test prepares you for the SAT next year, and can be repeated next fall to try for National Merit Scholarships, a significant source of scholarship money.

Juniors: Begin a preliminary list of colleges of interest, and make contact with them, either by visiting or by requesting literature.

Seniors: Keep grades strong and attend to college application deadlines. Don’t take rolling admission policies for granted at colleges that don’t specify a specific date. These schools will close down admissions once their incoming class is full.

For the full set of suggestions for each year and month, see NACAC site:

I also see they have a Preparing for College newsletter for high school students and families, which is also likely a good source of info.