I’m on the Waitlist, now what?

It is finally March, and the independent schools are releasing their decisions.  If you find yourself with a letter of acceptance to your top choice, congratulations – this part of your process is at an end.  If you weren’t offered a spot, know that the pool of candidates for schools was larger than ever and that many qualified students at all levels find themselves in your position.  Your counselor can guide you about schools that may still be accepting applications after March 10.  

Some candidates find themselves in the middle – receiving news that they have been placed on a waitlist.  This can be confusing, so here are a few insights that may be helpful:

  • Schools frequently receive too many qualified applicants for the number of spaces, and they have determined that, while you are an acceptable candidate, they have put your candidacy on hold while they wait for others to make their choices.  They would not do this if you were not qualified.
  • Most schools accept more applicants than they can enroll because they understand that not every accepted student will enroll.  Thus, they have to wait this process out before turning to the waitlist.
  • Typically, schools do not rank the waitlist.  If an opening occurs, they look at the list as a whole to determine who might fill a perceived gap in the profile of the incoming class – do they need a flute player or a debate captain or a backstroker?  This is why some schools refer to wait pools, as they want it to be clear that everyone is in the same position.
  • Waitlists often do not move until April 10th or after because accepted students may revisit in early April before making their final choice.  While movement may happen at the last minute, wait lists often extend well beyond the deadline.

What should I do if I’m waitlisted at my dream school?

  • First, let them know you are interested.  If you will definitely attend if accepted, you should tell them now.  You can also share any updates since the application deadline – new grade reports, awards, etc., remembering not to overwhelm them – pick the best stuff.
  • Don’t call.  This can be hard, because you really want to tell them you are interested!  They know because you told them in writing.  The admissions team is busy with revisit planning, enrollment, and taking a deep breath after a very busy season.  In certain circumstances, it may be ok to call closer to April 10th, but be sure to connect with your counselor to strategize when or if this is a good idea.

What should I do if I was accepted elsewhere but really want to stay on the waitlist?

  • This is a tough one.  The school or schools to which you were accepted need an answer, and it is worth mentioning that they, too, have a waitlist of students who are in a similar position.  The sooner you release a spot you are not going to use, the quicker others may hear.  In order to keep your spot at a school, you will need to deposit by April 10th.  After that, they assume you are not coming.  
  • Some schools keep their waitlists until the end of the academic year or further.  If you do not have another acceptance, there is no risk to staying on the list.  If you have deposited elsewhere, you will be on the hook for the full tuition if you withdraw after their commitment date, so be sure to read the agreement very carefully.  

Remember, admissions is an imperfect science, and decisions that do not go your way are not a reflection of your abilities or character.  They have more to do with the composition of the applicant pool and the needs of the institution than they do with a particular element of your application.  The McMillan team is always available to discuss this in more detail, so feel free to reach out with any questions.

About The Author

Bill Southwick, C.A.G.S.