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Acceptances are rolling in but you still haven't heard from your first–choice school. Then it happens. You get waitlisted.
It seems unkind for a college to say, "No, but if something opens up, we'll let you know." It's an emotionally rocky time, and this type of uncertainty doesn't help. Should you rest your hopes in a long–shot or commit to your #2?
Here are some answers to help you chart your next move.
If You Want The Fairy Tale
If you really want to attend a school that waitlisted you, you must communicate that message quickly and clearly.
Write a letter or email and ask that it be included in your file. State in no uncertain terms (assuming you mean it) that if you are accepted, you will without question attend. It's important to mention specific reasons why you continue to believe the school is the best fit for you.
Request an interview, even if you interviewed with the school already. Face time makes a difference. Use this opportunity to showcase your most recent accomplishments (awards or quarterly grades) and to reiterate your commitment to attend the school if chosen.
Lastly, do not let your grades slip even a bit.
If you are put on the waiting list, you're at the mercy of the college. You can't be sure if they will or will not call upon you. Your best bet is to commit to your second choice (assuming the deposit deadline hits before your first–choice has rendered a final verdict–and it almost always will). You can still attend your preferred school if they admit you, though you will lose your deposit.
Start Over Next Year?
You might feel tempted to take a year off from academics altogether and apply to your first–choice school again next year. We caution against this route! It is easier to transfer to the school of your choice from a less prestigious school than to start again from scratch (even if you spend your year off doing something productive and character–building).
Your best option is to attend your second–choice school for a year or two and work diligently. Earn good grades in challenging courses.