On The Wait List – Now What?

Ah, the dreaded “wait list.”  What does it actually mean?

It’s like showing up to a party and your best friend – well, the person you THOUGHT was your best friend – spends the whole time talking to someone else.

Hopefully, you’ve got some other “friends” – other colleges admitted you, and you didn’t hang all of your hopes on this particular one.

What does being on a college’s wait list mean?

It means they like you!  You meet their criteria, but they just don’t have enough room in their class.  So they need to see who accepts their admission offers to see how much space they have.  For most colleges, the deposit deadline is May 1.  After each college knows how many students have accepted their offer, they will determine how many students they can admit from the wait list.  That means you are very unlikely to find out if you’re in before May 1, so you need to accept a spot at a college that has admitted you.

You may accept spots on multiple college wait lists.

Are wait lists ranked?

No.  No matter what anyone tells you, there’s no such thing as being #1 or #3 on the wait list.  If the college needs more male students, they’re going to dip into that list and find one.  If they need someone from Idaho, that’s who they’ll select.  You get the point.  They’re basically putting you on hold, and hand-selecting exactly the students they need to fill their class exactly the way they want.

Just like in the regular admission round, this part is not about who has the highest grades or test scores.  It’s about who the college needs to fulfill their institutional priorities.  We know that is frustrating.

Why do colleges wait list so many students?

Wait lists are enrollment tools for colleges; they use them to control their numbers.  It’s their way of not going OVER the number of students for whom they have capacity in their dorms and in their classrooms.  Too few students is a problem for the budget; too many students is a problem for the dorms, the classrooms and the professors!

So when will I hear?

You probably won’t hear if you are admitted off the wait list until the second week of May, or later.  Some colleges may reach out to you after May 1 and ask if you still want to remain on their wait list.  Some colleges will tell you some time over the summer (possibly June/July but possibly later) that they have closed their wait list, which means they’ve filled their class.

A reminder:  YOU SHOULD accept an offer from a college that has admitted you, by their enrollment deadline.  You should not wait to see if you are admitted off of any wait lists.

Our friends at Georgia Tech always have informational posts, and this one about the wait list is no exception.  Hamilton College posted a similar explanation, in which we hope you will notice they reinforce our comment about their using the wait list to fulfill their own institutional priorities.  For additional information about what to do when you’re wait listed, check out this previous post!


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