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What to Do If You’ve Been Wait-Listed

Being placed on the waiting list for a top-choice school can be agonizing. After spending months anticipating a decision, your status remains unresolved. Each school uses its wait list differently. Some admit freely from the list, while others treat it as a “break glass only in emergency” last resort.

There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of gaining admittance if your wait-list school is truly your top choice. Be honorable here; you should only be taking these steps if you truly will turn down all other schools in exchange for your wait-listed school.

1. Be sure to complete and return any forms the school provides confirming your wish to remain on the wait list. As the lottery ads remind us, you have to be in it to win it, and none of the rest of the items on this list will matter if you don’t complete the basic paperwork. Don’t delay.

2. Find the direct email for your admissions representative. Usually, this will be the person covering your region, and often (but not always) you can find their email on the college’s admissions website. If that is not available, use the general admissions email address.

3. Send an update email to your representative confirming your status. In this email, you should reaffirm that you have requested to remain on the wait list. You should also let the representative know that the school is your first choice and that you will enroll if you are admitted.

4. Bring the admissions representative up-to-date. Your resume has evolved since you submitted your application. Let the representative know about new grades, accomplishments, and activities, those that happened since you submitted your application. Be brief, but be specific, too. Organizing a food drive at a local shelter is far more evocative than just saying you’ve been doing “a lot of volunteering.” Your whole update should be no more than a paragraph; this isn’t a second application, it’s a supplement to the material you already submitted.

5. Speak in a natural tone in your email. Trying to sound professional usually results in sounding stiff.

6. Include your photograph. It never hurts to remind the representative you’re a real person.

Send your email, and then do your best to let things happen. Do not bombard the college with communications or requests to meet them. It may not be fun to remain in limbo, but don’t overdo it. Perhaps one follow-up phone call is appropriate after a week or so, but repeated begging will do you no good.

Remember: the waiting list is a longshot. These techniques have proven effective, but keep your sanity and plan your future as if the waiting list is a less-than-certain effort.

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