The dreaded waitlist – stay on or move on?

By Kelly Barnhardt, College Admissions Strategies – Owner

We said last year for our class of 2021 students that it was the “year of the waitlist”, but it looks like this application season for the class of 2022, we have a new winner for that accolade. One thing is clear, larger than normal waitlists are impacting everyone at every level of academic prowess.

Most students ask the familiar question of “what do I do now”? And my answer, while it may not be what they want to hear starts the same no matter the student. Do you like the college enough to stay on or move on from the waitlist? To stay on, it is a mental mind game, and you need to be prepared to wait it out. A month or two can feel like years and so much is happening during this window of your Senior year (prom, spring break, senior trips/field days, etc). The mental exhaustion of being on a waitlist is very real and it can be a huge distraction to the things you should be enjoying in life right now. But, if you really want something, I also encourage you to go for it. You don’t know if you don’t try. However, to use a Vegas betting analogy, there is a difference between letting the dice roll and betting the farm.

In letting the dice roll, you have decided to stay on the waitlist and therefore, you should let the college(s) know this. Another good idea is to write a brief letter letting them know your intent is to enroll if given the chance. Some words of advice: do not belittle them for putting you on a waitlist or tell them they are wrong in their initial decision. Play it classy and cool.

Another piece of advice is NOT to bet the farm on the waitlist school. In other words, if you have a backup school that has given you an acceptance, it may be in your best interest to accept that offer now or before May 1st, because yes, unfortunately, waitlist movement can still happen (or not) after this important deadline. You do not want to miss your chance at the school that does want you and let’s face it, waitlist movement at some colleges can be very minimal.

No matter how the dice shake out, here is one thing for certain I know: if you spend your time constantly looking backward, you will not enjoy what is right in front of you happening now or will be happening soon. While switching paths can always leave us with a sense of “well, I wonder what would have happened if I went in that other direction instead,” it doesn’t define you or your future. You are in control of that. Take the blessings you have and go forward with the confidence that your future is bright.


Barnhardt is an independent college consultant based in Charlotte. Send questions to: