How to handle the wait-list

“Don’t just wait!!!”

That’s my best piece of advice for any student that finds themselves on the wait-list of a college that really interests them. Colleges rightfully assume that you’ve likely made other plans if you don’t communicate with them to let them know you are still eager to attend.

You don’t need to do a lot but if you do a little research you’ll see that most colleges put hundreds and sometimes thousands of students on their wait-lists each year. Past year’s wait-list-to-accepted percentages are not reliably predictive since colleges go to the wait-list only after they hear back from their accepted students. What this means is that when the number of accepted students who say “yes” (the yield) is very high, say 50+ percent, when their normal yield is only say 35 percent, then few, if any, students would be taken from the wait-list that year.

What should you do?

Follow instructions. Read the letter closely and do exactly as it requests by the stated deadline.

Accept another offer of admission. Since you can’t count on the wait-list turning into an acceptance you’ll need to say “yes” to someone else and make a deposit by May 1.

Contact the admissions office and ask them specifically what they want and more importantly, what they don’t want. Many students send in double-digit letters of recommendation from alumni in hopes that that will sway the decision in their favor and many colleges just want an academic update.

Don’t be too pushy. Manage this part of the process without your parents. Colleges wants to see students advocating for themselves.

Don’t bombard the admissions office with sweet treats or gimmicks, i.e., don’t send a package with one shoe saying “I’ve got one foot in the door – please accept me.”

Submit any new/improved test scores if you tested after you submitted your application.

Send in an updated transcript. This is one of the reasons parents, counselors and teachers have stressed the importance of avoiding “senioritis”.  If your grades have slipped, it will be more challenging, though not necessarily impossible to get off the wait-list and be accepted.

Write a letter to the admissions office. Inform them of any new extracurricular activities, leadership roles, accomplishments, honors, scholarships, awards, employment, internships, etc.. Do more research on majors and identify a specific course or professor that interests you; convey your enthusiasm. The most important part of the letter should address why you feel the college is a good fit for you and how you will contribute to the college community. If you can comfortably say that if this one college offered you a spot in their freshman class at any time between now and the fall and you would jump at the opportunity, make sure you let them know.

Don’t give up hope, but be realistic. Understand that if you are accepted there is not likely to be any scholarship aid available.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;