As students sort out their admissions decisions far too many may be wondering “What should I do if I’m waitlisted?” Does a place on the waitlist mean you’re more likely to be admitted to a particular college? Truthfully, the answer is a resounding no. It’s not that students don’t get off waitlists—they do. But there is no guarantee so students need to hedge their bets.
Here’s a case in point. A friend’s daughter recently found out she was waitlisted at Harvey Mudd—a small liberal arts school with top programs in engineering and science (part of the Claremont College Consortium) and an undergraduate enrollment of nearly 900 students. According to the college’s most recent admissions statistics (for students entering in the fall of 2016), Harvey Mudd offered 528 students a place on its waitlist, 342 accepted, and only 12 eventually were offered a place in the incoming freshman class. While this number varies from year to year, it underscores why relying on the waitlist to get into your dream school is a gamble.
So what should you do if you find yourself on a college’s waitlist? My advice, if it’s a school that remains your first choice or the next most desirable college where you applied, take these steps:
- Contact your regional admissions representative and ask where you are on its waitlist—at the very top, in the middle, or the bottom third, for example. A college may not provide this information to you, but ask anyway. If you learn your name is high on the wait list, then go ahead and make your strongest case for why the college remains your first choice and what you can contribute to its community.
- Let your regional admissions representative know that if the college takes you’off its waitlist you’ll enroll and again communicate why the school remains your first choice. The key: make the commitment to enroll there.
- If you’ve communicated with schools where you’re waitlisted and haven’t heard by May 1 (the candidates reply date), send in your deposit to the school you’ve selected among those where you were admitted. A domino effect tends to occur as institutions hear from students who plan to enroll and those who plan to enroll elsewhere. Ultimately, this may result in institutions having additional space for students and going to the waitlist in late spring or summer. In enrollment circles this is known as the summer melt. For example, a student I knew sent her deposit to one institution on May 1 and received an email from Wake Forest in late June asking if she was still interested in attending Wake. She made the commitment to enroll at Wake Forest and got off its waitlist.
What’s the best waitlist strategy? Hedge your bets, make your best case for admission to the institution where you’re waitlisted, and then see what happens over time.