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April 10, 2019

Getting off the College Waitlist

How does it Feel?

  • Being waitlisted is bitter sweet if it is at your top choice, “dream school.” The spectrum of feelings include:
  1. That’s good! They did not outright reject me.
  2. I don’t know how I feel. Is this good or bad news?
  3. I’m annoyed. I didn’t want to go there anyway.
  • The college did not say, “go away, we can’t be bothered with you.” They still like you. But, with limited space, they do not like you enough to offer you that nice, plump “fat envelope” that says, “we love you, come here.”
  • According to NACAC, 40% of colleges use the waitlist; 50% of students accept the waitlist spot; only 25% get off the waitlist; and only 14% get off at the most selective schools. According to Kick Start, Princeton takes only 2% off the waitlist, while UC Berkeley takes 40%. MIT takes zero. That’s right. Nobody comes off MIT’s waitlist. If you are fortunate enough to come off the waitlist, you will lose your non-refundable deposit. This is a small price to pay to get into your “best fit, dream school.”


The 2019 – 2020 College Decisions have basically ended. Students received their admission decisions to much fanfare and expectation. Ecstasy beyond belief and earth-shattering disappointment are just part of the aura of the college admissions process. Whether you consider yourself a winner or loser, the bottom line is that the fall season is a new beginning. College is what you make of it, not the name on your diploma. There will be amazing opportunities in college. You just need to take advantage of them. The college you attend doesn’t define you. Your vision, work ethic, resilience and common sense do. But, what if you are waitlisted at your top choice. What can you do? What should you do?

The most important things for you to do include:

    1. Try to decide as early as possible where college will take you after you graduate from college.

      1. For example, which job, with which company, which graduate program, what research, under whose mentorship, mastering which skills and solving which of the world’s pressing problems are you planning to tackle.
    2. Plan to focus and excel on your academics from the first day of your freshman year
    3. Plan to get help early if you need it
    4. Determine Your Priorities, and take care of business
    5. Obtain Career Advice early
    6. Remember: Things you do in the short-term must be consistent with things you want to achieve in the long-term

If you got on the Waitlist at your Top Choice, what can you do to earn that coveted acceptance letter?

  • Students begin to get off the waitlist only after May 1st ,when accepted students turn down their offers; and after colleges determine their institutional needs. Colleges have target demographics. Maybe they are short engineering students, or perhaps Asian females from the midwest, or perhaps International students from Europe.
  • Check your emails and voicemails daily for messages from your top choice program, especially starting from Mid-May.
  • The bottom line is, coming off the waitlist at a selective college is unlikely. At Morningside Heights America, we encourage you to focus on the offers already in your possession, rather than bank on a long shot. That being said, it is within your control to put yourself in the best position to get off the waitlist if you still wish to pursue your “longshot” top choice. But, it will require more work and requires you to prolong the already stressful and arduous process started the previous summer or fall. It most likely will not conclude until middle or late summer.

1. First and foremost, concentrate on being positive and enthusiastic, never annoying when corresponding with the admissions committee. The probability of coming off the waitlist varies. The more selective the school, the tougher it is and the lower the probability.

  1. Accept the waitlist invitation if it still is one of your top choices and you would definitely attend if offered a spot. However, decline it immediately if you are definite that you will not go if they send you an acceptance letter. Give that spot to someone else as soon as possible. It is the kind and generous thing to do.
  2. Next, accept your current best offer, and send a deposit by the May 1st deadline so that you secure your spot and enroll at your second-choice school.
  3. If you are still undecided, it’s time to do your due diligence by researching and visiting your current, best options.
  4. Write a strong and compelling cover letter to emphasize your strong interest in the waitlisted school and your unyielding desire to attend.
  5. Consider asking for one new letter of recommendation if it is from someone that knows you extremely well, and will be exceptionally strong and supportive.
  6. Again, visit the schools you still consider at the top of your final list, including the waitlisted institution(s) to make sure that the vibe is “good” and the campus “rocks.” It would not be ideal to accept an offer, then spend the next four years at a place you had never seen before, but have strong regrets from the moment you arrive on campus and move into your dorm.
  7. Visit the admissions office to prove your unwavering “demonstrated interest” in that college.
  8. This is no time to “take your foot off of the gas pedal.” You must continue to progress and excel in your courses and activities, earning awards and honors.
  9. Prepare a packet (i.e. pdf file) of information as an addendum to the email you send to the Admissions Committee It should be composed of relevant and compelling material not already known to the Committee.

    1. Results of all unreported grades since you applied
    2. New honors, awards and accomplishments
    3. Be upbeat, optimistic, never show disappointment
  10. After composing the cover letter, send the email with a single pdf attachment of all supporting documents to the Admissions Committee. Copy it to your admissions representative, your alumni interviewer and finally the dean of Admissions.
  11. Tell the colleges how much you love their school, how you still see yourself attending their school, the courses you’ll take, professors you’ll interact with, research you’ll conduct, and activities you’ll participate in. This is all to show your unyielding continuing interest.
  12. Go to the accepted students fair of the college you sent your deposit to.
  13. Ask your supervisor to contact the college on your behalf to support you.
  14. Ask your independent college consultant, like Morningside Heights America for advice.
  15. Finish strong academically since you will ultimately send your final semester grades to the admissions committee once the final term is completed.
  16. Be prepared to make a quick decision if you get off the waitlist. You will probably have only 48 – 72 hours to reply with your final decision. If you get a call from the admissions committee, graciously accept the offer and tell them you will speak to your parents and await the formal email.


Rebecca Joseph: Don’t Wait to Get off a College Waitlist; HuffPost

Jordan Friedman: How to Get Admitted off a College Waitlist: 6 Steps for Success; US News