The Waiting Game: No one wants to play it, but you should know the rules.

What to do while you wait....

What to do while you wait....

The Waitlist-What it is and the Strategies to Successfully get chosen off of it:


First: you must be realistic, it may not happen. Psychologically, you may want to start thinking strongly about the second choice and really start planning to be there. Logistically, you NEED to make a final choice for ONE school by MAY 1st and pay the deposit and complete any “Intent to Register” formalities.


Regardless of whether you stay on the waitlist at one or more schools, YOU MUST DECIDE ON ONE COLLEGE BY MAY 1ST AND PAY DEPOSIT TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT SOMEWHERE. If you end up getting off of the wait list, then you can choose to go to the “wait list” school by informing the other school that you deposited at that you are not coming. You will only loose the deposit.

What is a waitlist? The waitlist is a device used by schools to hedge their admissions results. Every program starts the admissions cycle with two critical projected numbers: applications and enrollments. These two "start and finish" numbers inform all of the key pieces of data for that program: acceptance rate, yield rate, financial aid metrics, and so on.

Even when those key numbers become solid (when the enrollment management committee sets an enrollment number and the application pool is finalized), there are still moving parts, because the admissions committee must project what the yield rate (the number of admitted students who ultimately enroll) will look like in order to ascertain how many students to accept. If the yield projection is too low, the school will over-enroll in the fall. On the other hand, if the yield projection is too high, the admissions office will be scrambling to fill the class.

This is where the waitlist comes into play. Obviously, if a program needs to add students at the late stages of the admissions process, they need to have "hot" leads. So when the committee makes decisions on students, they are always sure to keep a number of students in the mix, just in case they need to go and recruit from that pool anew. Therefore, the waitlist is - in its simplest form - a hedge against a bad yield projection.

The waitlist can also be a "soft deny" (a way to let people down easy), a built-in part of the process (winnowing down hundreds of second tier candidates to determine which fifty really want to get in), or even just the fulfillment of the status quo (after all, everyone has a waitlist), but the purest use is as a mechanism for the admissions office to course correct. It's as simple as that.

What is the timing like? Once you know how a waitlist works, the next step is understanding when it will work. At some schools, there may be internal, telltale signs early in the process that they aren't going to hit their enrollment numbers and an aggressive waitlist admissions campaign might begin early. Other programs will think they are golden until the last minute, when the big wave of enrollments never comes. Those are the schools that have to really scramble. Either way, you want to get on the record early and often, expressing your continued interest in the program. If and when the school starts to reach out to waitlisted students, you want to be at the top of the queue.

How can you tell if a school will be going to its waitlist? Sometimes you don't know right way (at least not until waitlisted candidates start chattering on message boards), but there are other times when you can forecast a school going deep into its waitlist. For starters, you can look at recent trends and see how schools have done yielding a class. In particular, look to the previous year and then make an educated guess based on the inverse of that prior year. Schools are very reactionary, so if they yielded tremendously well for the incoming fall 2008 class, you can bet that they were aggressive in building their yield projection for this current cycle. Could be a good waitlist bet. On the contrary, a school that hit the waitlist hard last year is not very likely to admit a lot of students off the waitlist this year, because their reaction is the complete opposite - to get conservative and shrink the projected rate.

What is the one thing the school wants to know most about me as a waitlist candidate? Pure and simple, they want to know if you will enroll should they accept you. It sounds a bit crude, but the time for high-level matchmaking is largely over - at this stage, the admissions committee simply wants to figure out whether you will be a "one-for-one" conversion. A "one-for-one" refers to the idea that each admitted student off the waitlist will enroll in the program. This is extremely important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the impact it has on the admissions numbers that the school must report at the end of the process. Each additional acceptance letter raises the ever-important acceptance rate and each admitted student that does not enroll further drops the yield rate. Once a program goes to the waitlist (especially if it is unplanned), they are already fully engaged in damage mitigation. Therefore, their primary concern is identifying qualified students (again, this is the value of the waitlist - you can stock a pool of candidates who are all qualified) who will enroll if given the chance.



As mentioned, the most important thing is that the College wants to pick students who will actually come. Many students stay on the wait-list because they are “keeping score” (just want to see where all they get in). Some because they do it as a “knee-jerk” reaction, but then get into a school that they prefer and never take the effort to inform the school they want to go off of the wait-list. And then there is YOU, the kid who actually wants to GET IN! So we want to communicate to the school that you are in this third bucket!

Steps to follow:

While this is a delicate process of walking the razors edge of showing persistence without annoying them, you do want to show them through your efforts and things that you send in that you are willing to work to get in. The kids in the first two buckets above will not bother to do this. So, below are steps that you can send lots of things that will not be gimmicky or annoying.

Send in the response that you want to stay on the waitlist as soon as possible.

Compose a longer letter to remind the school of your strengths and inform them of any recent accomplishments, awards, honors and work that you have done since you applied. If you will have any grades for Finals completed you can have your high school fax those to the school. Or if you have good grades from any Mock Exams, have those sent.

Let the admissions office know—again—why you make a great fit with this school in particular. It can’t hurt to visit the school if possible, call occasionally, or offer to interview.

Get another recommendation or reference letter if you can. This is especially helpful if the person writing the letter can provide reasons why you make a good candidate for this particular school. This is particularly effective now because it is connecting to just one school as opposed to all of your schools as it was initially

Ask the college what you can do to bolster your chances for acceptance. You may not get any useful information out of this, but it can’t hurt to ask. This approach works successfully for many applicants each year and is another reason to reach out to the college, hence showing them how much you want them.

I have had students in the past who have created short videos of why they should get in, compose songs or small video games. Anything creative will show how much you want it!

Send in something separate that again highlights the GREATEST achievement in your personal brand, just to remind them of this super KEY achievement.

Review the Common Data Sets for the colleges that you are waitlisted at. This will give you and idea of how possible it is for you to get in. You can google: particular college + common data set + waitlist and get it. For instance, here is the common data set for Stanford:

Not a very promising example in that Stanford accepted 0 people from Wait List, but helpful in that it shows that this would not likely be a college to hold your breath for:

Total first-time, first-year (freshman) men who applied: 20,464
Total first-time, first-year (freshman) women who applied: 18,364
Total first-time, first-year (freshman) men who were admitted: 1,147
Total first-time, first-year (freshman) women who were admitted: 1,061

Total full-time, first-time, first-year (freshman) men who enrolled: 904
Total part-time, first-time, first-year (freshman) men who enrolled:
Total full-time, first-time, first-year (freshman) women who enrolled: 773
Total part-time, first-time, first-year (freshman) women who enrolled:

C2. Freshman wait-listed students (students who met admission requirements but whose final admission was contingent on space availability)
Do you have a policy of placing students on a waiting list? Yes

Number of qualified applicants offered a place on waiting list: 814

Number of wait-listed students who accepted a place on the list: 576

Number of wait-listed students admitted: 0

Is your waiting list ranked? No


But most importantly, start thinking about your “birds in hand”, colleges that you got into. There is no point in holding out hopes for a Wait List school. Work hard to convince them and then move on with your life until that decision is available.