college waitlist

College Waitlist: Planning Your Next Move

After going through the tedious college admissions process of researching, preparing, and applying, learning that you have landed on the waitlist can feel like a huge letdown. College waitlists can be confusing, and you may have many questions about the next steps in your college journey. However, ending up on the waitlist isn’t the end of the world–or your higher education venture. Understanding what it means to be on a waitlist is key in planning how to proceed. 

In this article, we’ll help demystify the college waitlist process. First, we’ll go over the basics of college waitlists. We’ll discuss what it means to get waitlisted, the waitlist process, and some college waitlist statistics. Next, we’ll discuss the steps you should take if you find yourself on a college waitlist. Finally, we’ll look at some of the options you might take to continue your college journey in the event you don’t get off the college waitlist. 

If you find yourself on the waitlist, or if you just want to better understand the college waitlist process, keep reading.  

Understanding the College Waitlist Process

college waitlist

Most colleges get far more applications than students they can admit. Likewise, they receive more qualified applicants than slots available. To account for the high number of stellar applicants but low number of open seats, schools create college waitlists. If you’re wondering about the college waitlist meaning, then think of it like this. Waitlists are where colleges put students who they would love to offer admission, but just don’t have enough space for at the moment. 

If you’re placed on a college waitlist, it means that a school might admit you if a spot becomes available. However, there’s no guarantee this will happen. Staying on the waitlist means that you’re signing up for a few more months of uncertainty. However, it also means there’s still a chance of being accepted to your dream school. 

If you’re looking for the college waitlist meaning, then it’s likely you have been waitlisted. It’s important to understand that not all waitlisted students will gain acceptance. It will directly depend on how many admitted students decline their offers of admission. Therefore, it’s up to you whether you want to stay on a college waitlist. 

So how many students actually get off the college waitlist?

It depends. Some schools will rank their college waitlist. If you find yourself on a waitlist, you can try contacting the admissions office to find out your position on the waitlist. This could help you decide whether to claim your spot on the college waitlist or not. 

If you’re a practical thinker, you’re probably asking, what are my college waitlist chances? You can use databases like the Common Data Set to see acceptance rates at different schools. However, it’s hard to predict real college waitlist chances for any individual. Some schools have very low waitlist admission rates. For example, Ivy League schools like Yale tend to have very low waitlist admission rates. Plus, schools may be prioritizing different factors when rounding out their class. So even if you’re a strong applicant you may not be what the college is looking for. However, students do get off the college waitlist every year, so it’s certainly not impossible! 

What Does Being Waitlisted Mean?

college waitlist

The college waitlist meaning, and getting waitlisted, mean the same thing. Let’s say you get an email from a school stating that they would like to put you on their college waitlist. That means that you have been waitlisted at that school. 

Getting waitlisted or put on a college waitlist, is a description of a college decision. Instead of being accepted, deferred, or rejected, you’ve been waitlisted. Let’s discuss how the college waitlist meaning is distinct from these other decisions.

If you’re accepted to a college, that means that they have offered you admission. If you apply early to a school, you may get deferred. A deferral means that the college wants to review your application alongside other Regular Decision applicants. It’s not a rejection, but it does mean you have to wait a little longer for your admissions decision.

Hypothetically, you could be deferred from Early Admission, and then be waitlisted after Regular Decision. This means that you applied early, and when spring rolls around, you’re still waiting. This can be exhausting, and many students in this situation will choose to consider their other acceptances. 

It’s important to note that the college waitlist meaning for international students may have different implications than getting placed on a college waitlist as a domestic applicant. Let’s look at what it means to land on the waitlist as an international student. 

What does “Waitlist” mean for International Students?

International students have more factors to consider when applying for college. Visas, financial aid, and housing can be harder to navigate. So what’s the college waitlist meaning for an international student?

First, being an international student shouldn’t affect your college waitlist chances. Just as colleges assess applications holistically during the first round of applications, admissions officers fairly evaluate students in relation to others on the waitlist as well.

Second, getting put on a college waitlist likely won’t affect your ability to get a visa in time. According to U.S. News, embassies can generally issue visas up to 120 days before your program starts. And, most schools will admit students from the waitlist before that deadline. However, if you do get off the college waitlist, you’ll need to make a decision quickly whether to accept the offer so that you can start the visa process. 

Third, many schools still offer financial aid to their waitlisted students—but not all. Some schools are “need-aware,” meaning that they look to admit students off the waitlist who do not need financial aid. This is because the schools have already used their financial budget by this time. Some schools, like Notre Dame, are need-blind for domestic students, but need-aware for international students. 

When Do Waitlist Decisions Come Out?

college waitlist

Applicants receive college waitlist decisions at the same time as Regular Decision notifications. Typically, colleges send out their acceptances and rejections in March or April. This is also when they send out their waitlist decisions. 

Before pulling students off the waitlist, a school needs to know how many of its admitted students will be attending. Most colleges tell students that they must decide whether to enroll by May 1. So, if you’re put on a college waitlist, you likely won’t hear if you have made it off the waitlist until after this deadline.

This also means that if you plan to attend college in the fall, you’ll need to commit to another college by May 1. However, if your first choice school takes you off the waitlist, you’ll then have a decision to make. Either attending the college you’ve committed to—and paid the deposit to—or cutting your losses and attending your dream school. 

Is Being Waitlisted Bad?

Waitlisted students are in a tricky position. Understandably, it certainly doesn’t feel as good as gaining acceptance right off the bat. However, the college waitlist meaning isn’t the same as a rejection. In fact, landing on a college waitlist indicates that the college considers you a strong applicant. They wouldn’t waitlist you if they didn’t think you’d be an incredible addition to the community! Regardless, college waitlists can come with a lot of extra stress and uncertainty. Some students may have preferred to receive a rejection rather than continue waiting. 

Whether or not you end up getting off of the college waitlist, making the waitlist is confirmation that you did something right in your application. You caught the eye of the admissions committee, and they didn’t want to reject your application. It can be disappointing to not get an acceptance from a school you were really excited about attending. However, try to take the waitlist as a win and focus on the many incredible possibilities that lay ahead. 

College Waitlist Statistics

college waitlist

You might want to understand the numbers when considering your options. Basically, what are your college waitlist chances? You can better understand whether you’re likely to get off the waitlist by looking at some college waitlist statistics from previous admissions cycles. 

The college waitlist chances will vary at different schools. Let’s look at three different case studies for college waitlist statistics: the UCLA waitlist, the Boston College waitlist, and the UT waitlist. 

UCLA waitlist

This year, at UCLA, the college waitlist chances of getting off the UCLA waitlist were nearly 12%. However, keep in mind that the college waitlist chances and college waitlist statistics change from year to year. In 2019 the chances of getting off the UCLA waitlist were 13%, and in 2020 they were 19%. 

Boston College waitlist

The college waitlist statistics are different for the Boston College waitlist than they are for the UCLA waitlist. The UCLA waitlist is far larger than the Boston College waitlist, and their student body is also much larger. However, the college waitlist statistics for the Boston College waitlist are much lower. Only around 3% of students are admitted off the Boston College waitlist, compared to the 12% college waitlist statistics for students admitted from the UCLA waitlist. 

UT Austin waitlist

Some schools don’t waitlist. According to the UT Austin website, there is no UT waitlist—there’s also no UT waitlist option listed in their decision types section. However, there may be a UT waitlist for specific majors. This just demonstrates that college waitlist policies are always in flux—especially in recent years, with COVID-19 changing the way a lot of schools admit students. For example, Baylor just introduced a waitlist this year. While there’s no UT waitlist this year, there could be a UT waitlist next year, or a UT waitlist for a specific academic program within the school. 

Now that we’ve gone over some college waitlist statistics to help you understand your college waitlist chances, and you have a solid understanding of the college waitlist meaning, let’s talk about next steps. If a school waitlists you, where do you go from there?

Initial Steps After Being Waitlisted

college waitlist

So you are on the waitlist. What do you do next?

First, if you would like to remain on the waitlist, you have to communicate that to the admissions office. You can’t just do nothing if placed on a college waitlist—make sure to email to claim your spot. 

However, maybe you don’t feel confident about your college waitlist chances. Or, even better, another great school has already accepted you! If you don’t want to stay on a college waitlist for any reason, you should communicate that. This way there’s no confusion when it comes time for them to admit or reject the waitlisted students. 

Now, if you like your college waitlist chances, accept your spot on the waitlist. But make sure you fully understand the college waitlist meaning for this school. Gather more information about the school’s waitlist process. Do they have a ranking for their waitlist, and can you see where you fall? Does the college waitlist email ask you for any information? Make sure you know as much as you can about the college waitlist meaning for your specific school and aren’t just making assumptions about the process.

Next, make sure to stay organized with any deadlines or requirements. If you want to submit more materials—which we’ll talk about later in the article—start setting deadlines for those as soon as possible. If the college requires any more information, write down what they’re asking for and mark on your calendar when you need to submit that information by. 

Waitlisted at multiple schools?

Maybe multiple schools put you on their waitlists. This happens! Again, make sure you understand that the college waitlist meaning can be different for each school. As such, what one school expects from you won’t necessarily be what the other expects. If you want to keep your options open, you can claim a place on both schools’ waitlists, and you don’t need to decide yet which school you would rather attend. 

If you are a parent of a waitlisted student looking for next steps—don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Watch this webinar for how to support your child through their college decisions, and know that you’re not alone in this stressful moment. 

Now, students will want to consider all of your college admissions options if waitlisted. 

Assessing Your College Admissions Options

When placed on a college waitlist, you may have the impulse to focus on that waitlist. You might be wondering about your college waitlist chances, college waitlist statistics, and what getting waitlisted means about your application. But hopefully, you will also have acceptances to consider! Even if these weren’t your top choices, it’s important to focus on these acceptances too. Every acceptance is a huge accomplishment—make sure to celebrate your wins! 

Also, just because a school wasn’t your first choice when you applied doesn’t mean that it won’t be a great fit. To learn more about schools that accepted you, you can visit, talk to current students, and go to admitted students days. 

Considering financial aid

One reason you may want to choose a school that accepted you is for their financial aid package.
If you receive a scholarship offer or if the school fully meets your financial need, you might opt to accept their offer rather than risking it with a waitlisted school. Remember, some schools offer students accepted off the college waitlist the same financial aid as other admitted students–but some don’t. Always reach out to the admissions office with any questions that you have about whether they have need-blind or need-aware waitlist admissions. 

If you’re not happy with your acceptances and don’t want to commit to a school by May 1, consider a third option: taking a gap year. Gap years can be incredibly valuable and fruitful for students. They also give you another chance to gain admission to your favorite schools in the next application cycle. Committing to a gap year lets you go all in on your college waitlist chances. You’ll either get off of the waitlist, or you’ll take a gap year and reapply. 

Tips on Communicating with Colleges

college waitlist

Contacting the admissions office can feel daunting. You don’t want to do something wrong and affect your chances of admission. But, the admissions officers are there to help. As long as you are polite, ask appropriate questions, and don’t spam the admissions committee with information they didn’t ask for, the committee is a resource for you.

Usually, the email informing you of your waitlist status will outline whether the committee wants any further information from you. If they do not specify, you can reach out to them and ask whether they would like any more information. Generally, this would include your most recent grades, any awards or accomplishments you’ve won since applying, additional letters of recommendation, or a letter of continued interest. You can also ask the admissions office whether or not they have a ranking of their waitlisted students, and if so, whether they would permit you to know your place on the list.

If the college does not want any more information from you, do not submit anything else. You will not impress them by not following directions. However, many waitlisted students send letters of continued interest to improve their college waitlist chances. 

Writing a Letter of Continued Interest

college waitlist

In the face of daunting college waitlist statistics, students understandably want to do anything they can to improve their college waitlist chances. One thing that you can do (as long as the admissions office permits it) is write a letter of continued interest. 

A letter of continued interest is exactly that: a letter that shows your ongoing interest in attending the school. The letter should also include any accomplishments or progress you’ve made since applying. However, it should not include any negative feelings or anger about the decision. It’s hard to receive a waitlist decision—but don’t tell that to the admissions committee. Rather, communicate that you’re grateful that they are still considering your application and remind them how great of a candidate you are.

Ideally, your letter of continued interest will tell the admissions committee new things about you. Have you made any progress on a project you’ve been working on, or has your school recognized you for any accomplishments? Maybe you just led your cross country team to victory or got second place at a robotics competition. If there’s anything you can brag about that has happened since you applied, include it!

Take the “Why school” essay approach

If you haven’t accomplished anything in the meantime (though I doubt that’s true—dig deep, think about all of your extracurriculars and classes), think of the letter of continued interest as an extended “why school” essay. Explain why you are a perfect fit for this school, including specifics about the school’s programs and an outline of your plans if admitted. And again, make sure to say new things that you have not already said in your application!

The letter of continued interest is also a place to show your personality (if and when it’s appropriate). You can tell a story about yourself, or include a funny anecdote. If you’re unsure what would be appropriate to include, you can look at an example of a letter. You can find a good example of a letter here and another example of a letter on our website. We don’t have an example of a letter of continued interest, but we do have an example of a letter for a college application to walk you through the formatting.

Generally, the formatting should be standard to any example of a letter: this includes cover letters and college application letters. If you know the name of your recruiter or admissions officer, be sure to formally address them in your letter. Submit your letter over email as a PDF or Word document attached to your email. 

Should I submit additional letters of recommendation?

Schools may ask waitlisted students for an additional letter of recommendation. If the school asks for it, then definitely submit another letter. However, if the school does not ask, you should email them and inquire about whether they will accept an additional letter of recommendation—don’t just send one out of the blue.

If you can submit another letter, think about who to ask. You’ve likely already sent letters of recommendation, so try to fill a new niche. If you’ve only asked teachers, do you have a mentor, employer, or coach who could speak to another aspect of who you are? 

Once you’ve chosen a recommender, guide them on what to highlight in your letter. You can send them your resume or CV as well as your first application and Common App essay so they know what you value and what you love about this school. Also, let them know what you will say in a letter of continued interest so that they can highlight your new accomplishments.

The most important thing about submitting an additional letter of recommendation is that the letter adds a new perspective to your application. For example, maybe you included in your extracurricular list that you volunteer for a few hours each week at an animal shelter but didn’t say anything more on the topic. In that case, maybe your boss at the animal shelter could write you a letter expanding on your values and why you would be a good addition to the school’s community.

Continue to Excel in High School

college waitlist

When waitlisted, you should use the next few months to push yourself to excel. The college admissions committee wants to see that you’re someone who doesn’t give up and continues to thrive even when faced with adversity. So whether in your academics, extracurriculars, or other projects, don’t let the waitlist stop your progress. 

One of the most annoying things about the college waitlist meaning is that while your classmates who have finished the college admissions process can relax slightly in their schoolwork, you may have to remain focused. This is a false dichotomy (your fellow students should also continue to work hard at school), but it can be frustrating. However, you want the school that waitlisted you to view you as a hardworking and diligent student, regardless of the circumstance. That means continuing to excel in your academics. 

Continue your extracurriculars

You should also keep participating in your extracurriculars, especially if you’re in a leadership position. You want to be able to brag about your accomplishments and extracurricular activities are a big part of that! If you’re captain of a team or president of a club, keep pushing yourself and your classmates to succeed. 

Additionally, this can be a good time to undertake a new project or hobby. Start volunteering, begin a new online course, or try a new creative project. If you’re unsure what to do, think about your intended major or a story you told in your application. Let’s go back to the animal shelter example: maybe you talked about volunteering briefly in your application but didn’t expand on it. Take your volunteering to the next level by participating in a project to repaint the shelter or taking an online marketing class to advertise the shelter’s services online. 

By continuing to excel inside and outside the classroom, you demonstrate you are smart, passionate, and hardworking. In doing so, you are giving admissions substantial reasons to reconsider admitting you. They’ll see how you engage with your community and how much you will contribute to theirs if admitted. 

Exploring Gap Year Opportunities

college waitlist

If you are deeply unhappy with your college prospects after receiving your decisions, you can always decide not to enroll this year and instead take a gap year. Taking a gap year has its pros and cons.  

A gap year can be an incredible experience that allows you to grow in ways you never thought possible. You could travel to different parts of the world or gain valuable work experience in your hometown. It also gives you another shot at the college admissions process, which can be both a pro and a con. 

Doing the college admissions process over again can feel scary, but no one’s college journey is the same. For many students, taking the extra time to learn more about themselves and what they want is incredibly beneficial.

Many students take gap years, and there are numerous programs you can explore. Find a program that aligns with your interests. Some programs emphasize careers, while others are a way to explore new cultures and destinations. You also don’t need to do a formal program to have a fruitful gap year. However, if you plan on reapplying to college in the fall, you will need to be intentional about the time you take off so that you can explain your choices in your application. 

A gap year can enrich your college application in many ways: you won’t have to juggle school work or feel pressure from your classmates while you apply, and you will have new experiences to talk about. You may even learn more about what you want from your college experience and the college admission process. Plus, you will have the experience that comes from having already gone through the college application process! 

Consider College Transfer Options

Another option when faced with a waitlist is to consider transferring. Maybe you don’t like your college waitlist chances or the college waitlist statistics seem unlikely. If you still have your heart set on your dream school, consider transferring.

It might seem counterintuitive to go to a school and already plan to transfer, but thinking about this early on can help you in the transfer process. You can plan what classes you want to take so that your next school will accept your credits, and you can talk with the transfer counselors at your school. Some schools even have easier programs to facilitate transfer—for example, the UCs have a special relationship with many community colleges in California that make it easier to transfer. 

However, even if you plan to transfer, make sure to take advantage of what your current school has to offer. This is important for two reasons. First, your intended school will want to see that you worked hard at your current school in your transfer application. They’ll need to see that you have academically sound reasons for looking elsewhere. And second, you might find that you genuinely like it at your first institution if you give it a real chance!  

That leads us to our next section: preparing for the possibilities. 

Prepare for the Possibilities

college waitlist

Waitlists leave you with a lot of uncertainty. You can reduce some of the stress by preparing for the possibilities that can come with being waitlisted. 

First, embrace the possibility of attending another college. If you don’t get into your dream school, that does not mean that you aren’t going to do amazing things or love your college experience. There are many incredible schools, each with unique and exciting opportunities. Don’t dismiss the schools that accepted you just because they weren’t your first choice. 

If you’re considering repeating the college admissions process and reapplying next year, consider how that will affect your life. Are you in a financial and emotional position to take a gap year? What will you do if you face the same admission decisions next year? If Ivy Day comes and goes again with no acceptance, will you be prepared to accept those results? 

Lastly, just remember that everyone’s college journey is different. There is no one set path for how to go to college. Students who think that they’ve found their dream school often end up transferring. And students who end up going to their second or third-choice school can have the time of their lives. Whatever you choose, focus on picking the right path for you. 

College Waitlist: Final Thoughts

Getting waitlisted can feel like a failure. But think about how much you’ve learned: about yourself, what you’re looking for in a college, and how to tell your story in an application. You should be incredibly proud of yourself for the work you’ve done during the college process, regardless of whether you get into the school you were most hoping to attend. 

Even though it’s hard, try not to let college waitlist chances and college waitlist statistics get you down. You can’t perfectly predict the outcome of the waitlist. So focus on thriving in the present. Being adaptable and resilient will serve you well for the rest of your life, and it’s never too early to work on cultivating those values. 

Whether you choose to go to a different school, take a gap year, or wait out the waitlist, with a positive outlook you’re sure to succeed. And remember, if you need personalized guidance throughout your college admissions process, the expert advisors at CollegeAdvisor can help. We believe in you!

college waitlist

Advisor Rachel Kahn wrote this article. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how can support you in the college application process.