Now that the dust has settled on an ultra-competitive college admissions season, many families have questions about how the college wait list works. If you are considering accepting a spot, here are some things that you should know about the college wait list process.


  • The Odds Aren’t Good.

Most of the time, even the strongest students aren’t getting off the wait list. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try, but to manage expectations it’s best to assume that you won’t get in. This is especially true at the most selective schools, which have very high yield rates.


  • Heroic Gestures Won’t help.

In fact, showing up at the admissions office and singing an original rap song about why you want to go there will hurt your chances. Trust me.  Do follow the directions, and definitely tell them that you will go if you get in. (Assuming that’s the case.) Succinct updates about significant events are also ok, but be super judicious about submitting additional material, like new references.


  • Be Prepared to Wait.

Although some schools release their wait list fairly soon, within a month or so of the deposit deadline, others maintain their list throughout the summer. The college wait list can be a long process, so decide when your personal cut-off date will be.


  • Understand the Financial Implications.

Even schools that are “need-blind” (meaning that they don’t initially consider whether or not you have asked for financial aid when considering your candidacy) often consider this factor when evaluating wait list candidates. If you have applied for aid at these schools your odds of being admitted off the wait list obviously go down even more – and even if you do get in, there is often less scholarship money allocated for wait list admits. You are also going to forfeit a deposit at another school, along with any housing deposits that you might have paid.


  • Don’t Expect to Defer.

Finally, don’t stay on a college wait list assuming that you will be able to defer if you are offered a spot. Wait list offers are almost invariably for the incoming class, and many schools even state this explicitly when you opt-in.


As long as you understand the process, there isn’t much to lose by staying on a college wait list. However, it’s important to manage expectations, follow the rules and decide how long you are willing to wait.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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