It's Time to Make the Final College Decision... but What About the Waitlist?

Posted by Stephanie Brady on 4/1/2019

April marks the end of the college process. The last nine months have been filled with creating college lists, traveling to schools, hundreds of essay edits, applications, and long weeks and months of waiting. Seniors have been asked more times than they can count about where they applied, what their top choice might be and the dreaded " Have you heard from any colleges, yet?" question. All of that has brought them to this moment. It's decision time.
For some this could be the hardest part of the whole process. Students might worry about disappointing their parents or missing home. Parents may be thinking about the expense of college and saying goodbye to the child they raised over the last 18 years. It's easy to get lost in the idea that there is only ONE choice. The reality is there are likely multiple great options and looking at them through the lens of an accepted student is often different than that of an applicant. When sorting through options there are things to consider before making a final decision and putting down a deposit including:
  • Revisit your notes. Hopefully you kept a notebook of your thoughts after visiting or researching the college. Look through those notes again and see what still resonates.
  • Make a pros and cons list. Looking at the pros and cons through the eyes of an admitted student may be different than that of an applicant. Consider what is important now.
  • Review financial aid packages. Compare the total cost for each school. Detail out scholarships, grants and loans. Remember loans need to paid back upon graduation where scholarships and grants do not.
  • Attend an admitted student day. This is particularly for those schools that are on the top of the list. Typically there will be an opportunity to see aspects of the campus you likely didn't see before including: residence halls, dining facilities, and classes in session. This is also a perfect time to meet fellow Class of 2023 students.
  • Look beyond the name of the school. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the name of the college and overlook what really matters. Will you be happy there?
Being waitlisted is like the limbo of college admissions. You’re not in, but you’re not out. You are qualified, but they don’t have room in the class for you. But they might... eventually.
As students deposit on May 1, colleges will begin filling seats, but they may or may not fill their entire freshman class. They will also be looking to shape their class in specific ways (e.g. create a gender balance, enroll more of a specific major, increase geographic diversity, bring in students who don't need financial aid, etc.).That’s when the waitlist comes into play. If you were waitlisted from your top school, here are some tips on what to do next:
  • Get excited about your other options and enroll. Historically, the likelihood of being admitted from the waitlist is small but this estimate changes year to year so it's tough to predict. Hopefully your college list has some other strong options for you, so get pumped about your second choice and be sure to enroll in another school by May 1 to secure a seat. If you get the call that you are off the waitlist some point after that, then you will have a choice to make.
  • Read your waitlist letter carefully! Colleges provide instructions on how to indicate interest in remaining on the waitlist, usually through clicking a link in your student portal, filling out a form or survey online, or returning a postcard. Discuss the options with your parents/guardians.
  • Financial aid becomes a factor. If you need financial aid, be aware that the waitlist college may have given out most of its aid already.
  • Do some research. Your letter may also indicate the historical waitlist data for that college – this will help you understand how likely (or unlikely) it is that you may be taken off the waitlist. Be sure to know about how coming off the waitlist will affect your housing options and financial aid. You may want to call the school to find out.
  • Keep doing well in school! Colleges may request that waitlist applicants send updated 3rd quarter grades and final transcripts. Strong grades could make a difference in helping a school make a decision on you should they need to go to their waitlist.
  • In mid-April, reconsider your waitlist option. Is it still your top choice? Have you fallen in love with another school? If you decide you are no longer interested in the school, please remove yourself from the waitlist and free up that spot for another student.
  • Don’t be passive! If you are still interested in your waitlist school, you should send a thoughtful email to admissions to further express why the school is your top choice and the best fit for you. Be sure to inform them of any updates to your application profile such as improved grades, new awards, and other signs of significant academic or extracurricular progress. If you are not seeking financial aid, you can let them know that too.
  • Be sure to follow directions set forth by the college. Resist the urge to bombard them with phone calls, letters, or unwanted supplemental materials, like another letter of recommendation. They know who you are – they need to see how their class shapes up before they go to the waitlist.
  • Relax and enjoy the rest of senior year. Attend Admitted Student Days for schools you were accepted to and fall in love with them! You have other great options.