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What You Need To Know About Wait Lists

WSJ Wait listIf you’ve received a wait list offer from a college, you may be wondering how this will impact your decision-making process.  Here is a bit of information that may help you make some decisions!

If I get a wait list offer, should I take it?
Most colleges require you to opt-in to your wait list offer.  You should accept a space on the wait list IF you truly want to attend that college and would choose it over the other colleges to which you have been admitted.

If I accept a wait list offer (or more than one), should I still deposit at a college where I’ve been admitted?
  You must put a deposit down by May 1 to enroll at one of the colleges that has admitted you.  Colleges will not hold your space after May 1 – they may give your spot away to a student on their wait list!  So yes, you should put a deposit down and enroll at one college by or before May 1.  If you are admitted to another school off of the wait list, you may change your mind later…..and it’s likely you will lose that first deposit.

If I accept a wait list offer, when will I hear if I am going to get in?
Colleges offer admission to more students than they have room for, with the understanding that every admitted student will not enroll (remember – you applied to 12 colleges and got into 8 – you can’t go to all of them!).  Then they wait until after the May 1 deadline to see how many spaces they have.  THEN they start admitting from their wait lists.  It’s very unlikely that you will hear before May 1, although it’s possible.  And there’s no guarantee that you will hear SOON after May 1 – it may be July before you hear.

wait list stats (College Board)Given that each college’s “yield,” the percentage of admitted students who enroll, is mostly stable from year to year, each has a fairly accurate estimate of how many students to admit to hit their freshman class goal.  Many colleges report the number of students offered a wait list position, the number who accept and the number actually admitted – and you should take a look at this (best place to look is at the college’s profile on the College Board’s Big Future website – search for a college and click on the “Applying” tab on the left) and think about your odds as you decide whether or not to go down this road.

If the chances are so low, why do colleges have wait lists?
Wait lists are, in many cases, an enrollment tool.  Remember how when you visited colleges you were told that this school and that one had students from all 50 states, and 23 countries?  And that the male-female ratio was 45-55%?  Wait lists are one way they are able to hand-select students to fulfill these different diversity sub-goals.  So most colleges DO NOT rank their wait lists.  This may also help you understand why there is often not much you can do to increase your chances of being admitted off of the wait list.

You should certainly reach out to the admissions person responsible for your area, and remind them of your strong interest in their school.  If it’s your first choice, and you would DEFINITELY enroll if they admit you, TELL THEM THAT!

All in all, however, the best wait list advice we can give is to choose one of the colleges that chose you!  If you are wait listed, consider that there is a very small chance that you could have the opportunity to change your mind.  But unless and until that opportunity comes – now is the time to fall in love with one school and march proudly down that path!

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2 Responses to What You Need To Know About Wait Lists

  1. Grant Bernero June 6, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    This is really helpful…I didn’t understand the exact reason for a waitlist but the diversity part makes sense. I could see why it would be helpful to reach out to them to to let them know that you want to enroll. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


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