You’ve had your eye on the dream school for as long as you can remember. You spent months working on your application and essay, only to receive a letter back from the school notifying you that you’ve been placed on the oh-so-dreaded waitlist.

You are crushed. What are you supposed to do now? What is the waitlist all about? What are your options? Is there anything you can say back to the college to improve your chances of getting in? Do you have to commit elsewhere, and what happens if you commit and the other school ultimately lets you in?

The waitlist can be a terribly daunting, confusing, frustrating thing. It’s perfectly normal to feel deflated after receiving such news, having to wait even longer for a decision while having a school dangle this carrot in your face, essentially communicating to you that they like what they see in you but aren’t 100% ready to commit.

So what is the waitlist, really? Why do schools have one, and when, if ever, do they pull from it? The waitlist is primarily a resource schools can tap into if the amount of admitted students who accept their offer of admission is lower than what they need to meet their target.

It’s important to keep in mind that of the schools that do turn to their waitlists in May or June, not many have hundreds of spots to offer eager students waiting with bated breath. It’s generally only a select few, as admissions offices are carefully calculating their expected yield when they send out acceptances in the first place.

With that information in mind, I always tell my students who find themselves in this position that yes, you do have options. Fortunately, those of my seniors who followed my guidance and applied to a handful of other great schools have multiple offers on the table and haven’t placed all of their apples in this one basket.

At this point in the game, you do need to commit elsewhere. While there’s always that chance that school A has a spot open up for you in May or June, there’s also the chance that they don’t. Think about which other offers you would like to consider and dive fully in with school B.

Of course, there are things you can do to convey your continued interest in school A, and for those of my students in this boat, we tackle those action items together. But I will say this: you must be respectful of your admissions counselor during this time, not inundating him or her with email upon email asking what your chances are. A well crafted letter of intent can help, but get yourself set up with a back-up plan just in case you’re not one of the lucky few to snag a spot that another student didn’t want.

Enroll elsewhere, and press onward! I’ve seen my fair share of students who commit to their school B and earn a spot off of school A’s waitlist, only to turn it down because they’ve gotten themselves so excited about school B.

Commit and don’t look back. Should school A ultimately admit you, cross that bridge if you come to it.

Until next time!

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