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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Silbernagel

What You Need To Know About Wait Lists

A long list

If you’ve received a college wait list offer, you may be wondering how this will impact your decision-making process. Here is a bit of information that may help you make some decisions!

If I get a college wait list offer, should I take it?

Most colleges require you to opt-in to accept a place on their wait list. You should accept a space on the wait list IF you truly want to attend that college and would choose it over the other colleges to which you have been admitted.

If I accept a college wait list offer (or more than one), should I still deposit somewhere else?

YES! You must put a deposit down by May 1 to enroll at one of the colleges that has admitted you. Colleges will not hold your space after May 1 – they may give your spot away to a student on their wait list! So yes, you should put a deposit down and enroll at one college by or before May 1. If you are admitted to another school off of the wait list, you may change your mind later…..and it’s likely you will lose that first deposit.

Some colleges may extend the May 1 deposit deadline -- typically to June 1. We saw this last year.

If I accept a college wait list offer, when will I hear if I am going to get in?

Colleges offer admission to more students than they have room for, with the understanding that every admitted student will not enroll (remember – you applied to 12 colleges and got into 8 – you can’t go to all of them!). Then they wait until after the May 1 deadline to see how many spaces they have. THEN they start admitting from their wait lists. It’s very unlikely that you will hear before May 1, although it’s possible. And there’s no guarantee that you will hear SOON after May 1 – it may be July before you hear.

Given that each college’s “yield,” the percentage of admitted students who enroll, is mostly stable from year to year, each has a fairly accurate estimate of how many students to admit to hit their freshman class goal. Many colleges report the number of students offered a wait list position, the number who accept and the number actually admitted – and you should take a look at this.

Dartmouth college waitlist statistics

The best place to look is at the college’s profile on the College Board’s Big Future website – search for a college and click on the “Applying” tab on the left) and think about your odds as you decide whether or not to go down this road.

Are college wait lists ranked? How can I move up on the wait list?

College wait lists are generally not ranked. Most colleges use their wait list to accomplish certain institutional goals. Remember how when you visited colleges you were told that this school and that one had students from all 50 states, and 23 countries? And that the male-female ratio was 45-55%? Wait lists are one way they are able to hand-select students to fulfill these different diversity sub-goals. This may also help you understand why there is often not much you can do to increase your chances of being admitted off of the wait list.

That said, you should certainly reach out to the admissions person responsible for your area, and remind them of your strong interest in their school. If it’s your first choice, and you would DEFINITELY enroll if you are admitted, TELL THEM THAT!

All in all, however, the best advice we can give to students on a college wait list is to choose one of the colleges that chose you! There is a very small chance you could have the opportunity to change your mind. But unless and until that opportunity comes – probably after May 1 – now is the time to fall in love with one school and march proudly down that path!


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