Acceptances are rolling in, but you still haven't heard from your first–choice school. Then it happens. You get waitlisted.

We know it seems unfair, after all your hard work, 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 on a long-shot? Commit to your #2 school? Here are some strategies that will help you chart your next move when you've been added to the college waitlist.

College Waitlist Strategies

College waitlist

1. Keep Communication Open

If you really want to attend a school that waitlisted you, communicate that message quickly and clearly.

  • Write a letter or email and ask that it be included in your file. You should 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 can make 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.

  • Most importantly: do not let your GPA slip even a bit. Work with a tutor if you need to get your senior year grades up.

2. Put Down a Deposit at Another School

If you are put on the waitlist, you're at the mercy of the college. You can't be sure if they will or will not call upon you, and you may not hear either way until after the deposit deadline at your second choice (most likely May 1, “Decision Day”). Hold out hope, but put down that deposit. You might wind up losing it if you’re later admitted to, and choose to attend the school that waitlisted you. But if you don’t put down a deposit and you don’t get off the waitlist, you’ll find it very hard to enroll anywhere, even at schools that initially accepted you.

3. Consider Re-Taking the SAT or ACT

Check with the admissions office to see if the college will accept additional application materials, including final grades or new test scores. If you submitted either SAT or ACT scores with your college application, you may want to give the other test a try. We're seeing increasing numbers of students submit scores on both tests.

4. Be Persistent

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.

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