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In the midst of all the acceptance and rejection letters being mailed every spring, there are a handful of gray letters that end up in the mix. These are the waitlist letters.
Being waitlisted is a wishy-washy situation with the same emotional confusion of a half-assed breakup. Much like the we’re-not-broken-up-but-we’re-not-together-either dynamic, being waitlisted can actually be harder than receiving a flat out rejection. Rejection, at least, gives you closure.
So what the heck do you do now? What are your options and how can you guard your heart in the midst of it all? Don’t worry, love, I’m going to explain it all.
Step 1: Sleep on it.
Before you make any decisions, give yourself some breathing space. You’re going to be tempted to vent to your parents and friends, to weigh the pros and cons, but the next step is your decision. If you’ve got to cry it out in the shower, run until your legs are numb, or binge on pad thai and Netflix, you do you.
Once you’ve emotionally purged, it’s time to pull out a journal and write down your thoughts. I’m talking stream of consciousness, scribble all over the page kind of writing. I wanted to give you some guiding questions, but I don’t think I can do that without pushing you one way or another, so be honest with yourself, and then decide which path you’ll take next.
Step 2: Confirm your spot on the waitlist.
Some schools require you to opt-in to be on the waitlist. If that’s the case, you should confirm your interest within a few days of receiving the letter. There is likely to be some variation from school to school but it could be an online process, mail-in process, or require a phone call.
If it’s unclear what you should do next, or even if you are automatically added to the waitlist, I recommend at the very least giving the admissions office a call and confirming your continued interest in the university. If it’s your dream school, you might even submit a handwritten letter, thanking them for the consideration and explaining why you applied to this school and what an acceptance would mean for your academic future.
And if you are going to take the time to write a letter, make it count. Here’s the formula I recommend: Thank them for reviewing your initial application → point to specific programs that they offer that would affect your career trajectory → explain what your presence would contribute to classrooms and the campus → thank them again. You can mail in this letter and request that it be added to your file.
Step 3: Know the process.
Each school uses the waitlist system differently but you might not feel comfortable asking them about the process. Asking them might make it seem like you’re uncertain or you’re weighing your options and you want to appear like you are still 100% interested in gaining admission.
I’ll demystify the waitlist for you with a broad explanation of how it works in the University of California system. The waitlist is basically a safety net to ensure that each school meets its enrollment capacity each year. That means after deposits are put down, if and only if not enough accepted students have enrolled, then the school starts to accept students from the waitlist.
However, they’re not usually extending acceptances to the entire waitlist, they’re giving acceptances to subgroups of the waitlist. So they might need to fill a few more seats in the college of science for chemistry majors and a few more business school seats for accounting majors. If that’s the case, they’re only going to accept students who have expressed interest as chemistry or accounting majors, because that is where they have room for more students.
If a college has a particularly large pool of applicants and a high enrollment rate, they may not accept any students on their waitlist at all.
So to put it bluntly, being accepted from the waitlist is basically luck. And regardless of if you are eventually accepted, you need to make some decisions in the interim. That’s the next step.
Step 4: Fall in love with a school that accepted you.
You deserve an acceptance. And you probably have a handful of letters affirming that.
There are schools out there screaming, “You’re amazing! Pick us! Pick us!” Maybe you were even offered scholarships at some universities because they are literally willing to pay for your presence on campus. Don’t let the waitlist keep you down. It’s time to keep moving forward. You deserve a school that swiped-right to you, boo!
Time to pull out that journal again plus your collection of acceptance letters. Here are some questions I want you to answer about each school that accepted you:
Why did you decide to apply to this college?
What were your emotions when you opened this letter?
Five things that you love about this college?
Three things you love about the student body?
One organization that you would get involved in on campus?
How would you feel spending the next four years at this school?
Writing, drawing, or even just thinking about the answers to these questions should give you some clarity on which school you should accept…
If you’re still not sure of the outcome of your waitlist status, I’m going to encourage you to stop reading right here. The last part of this blog is for dealing with the decision once you find out whether or not you’ve been accepted from the waitlist.
I think it’s healthier to visualize your future without a college that waitlisted you because your life is not over. There isn’t a single college in the world that will make or break your career. Your future is in your hands and you have control over the outcome. I believe in you and I promise, I am not the only one.
If you still don’t know the outcome, don’t scroll past this next picture. Follow the first steps and come back to this blog post later. XOXO.
I was accepted from the waitlist, HOORAY! Now what?
If you were accepted from the waitlist, congratulations! You, my love, literally won the college lottery. And just like winning the actual lottery, you’ve got to get a few loose ends in order.
First, you need to accept their offer for admission, which will usually require an enrollment deposit. Give your admission counselor a call, tell them how excited you are, and sign the dotted line!
Second, if you put a deposit down and enrolled at another college, you need to let them know ASAP. They’re going to be sad to see you go, but happy for you at the same time, and they might be able to give your spot to a student on their waitlist. These are the hopefuls who were just in the same position as you but they can only be admitted if you give the school enough notice for them to enroll. It’s like a beautiful waitlist pay-it-forward.
Third, you need to get organized. Usually, students find out in the summer if they made it off the waitlist. That means you only have a few months to get enrolled in classes, organize financial aid, find housing, and purchase a food plan. There’s no time to waste. Go, go, go!
I was accepted from the waitlist but I’m already in love with another school. How do I choose?
I can’t answer this question for you and neither can your parents, nor your friends. You might not have a lot of time to decide but this is a big decision, so I recommend that you wait 48 hours for the initial acceptance excitement to wear off and then plan some time for serious introspection.
You only have two options, so you can definitely make a list of pros and cons of each one, but in order to compare sincerely, you have to do it by yourself. No one else’s opinion matters in this situation.
It might feel like a coin-toss, an even 50/50, but if you put your thoughts on paper you’ll start to see the scale tip one way or another. You’d probably be happy at either one but you’ll feel in your heart that one school is just a little more of a natural fit for you than the other.
Best of luck at whichever school you decide to attend!
I wasn’t accepted from the waitlist and I honestly can’t see myself at any other college. What do I do now?
Fall undergraduate admissions are certainly not the only opportunity to be admitted to your dream school. If you didn’t get in this time around, I’m happy to say you have at least three more very legitimate opportunities to be a student in their halls.
Your first option is to take a semester off and reapply for Spring admission. Some schools are more lenient with spring admissions because these stats don’t count toward college rankings. That means they can accept students with lower test scores, lower GPAs, and fewer extracurriculars. There’s also a smaller applicant pool.
If you want to turn around and reapply that quickly, I recommend that you spend your time off boosting your application, not vacationing. You can ask your admissions counselor why you were waitlisted rather than accepted and you can spend the time in between working to improve in that area. If they wanted to see more work experience, you can get a job. If you struggled in a subject, maybe you should hire a tutor and complete a project that shows your mastery of it. You have a real opportunity to take their constructive criticism and build on it and I guarantee they will be impressed if you do.
Your second option is to start at another school and apply as a transfer student in two years. I love this option because it shows that you’re taking charge of your education, you have an opportunity to save money by attending a community college, and if you still want to transfer two years in, your dream school can clearly see that you are passionate about being one of their students.
And finally, if you’re not satisfied with your Bachelor’s degree from another university, you can try applying to your dream school again as a graduate student. With three more application opportunities in the near future (even more if you are open to enrolling later in life) you should be able to find peace in the present.