March 26, 2023
US Admissions Tips

A Comprehensive Guide to Getting Off the College Waitlist

Waitlisted by your dream college? Learn what it is, what your chances are and what to do next.

US College Waitlist

What is the waitlist?

Each year, colleges admit a certain number of applicants to fill their incoming class. The number of admitted students who decide to enroll in a particular college fluctuates from year to year. In anticipation of this fluctuation, colleges have a waitlist in case the number of admitted students who say yes to the college falls short of the expected incoming class size.

It’s more a “waitpool” than a “waitlist”

The word waitlist is a bit misleading. It’s not really a list with ranking. It’s more like a waitpool. Admission from the waitpool will depend on what the incoming class is missing. For example, if the admissions committee wanted to admit two violinists to play in its orchestra but only one decided to matriculate, the admissions committee would go back to the waitpool and find another violinist to fill that spot.

What are the chances of getting off the waitlist?

Unfortunately, your chance of getting off the waitlist of a particular college is impossible to predict. Some colleges have waitlists as long as their incoming freshman class. For example, Princeton enrolled 1,290 students for the Class of 2025  while offering  1,265 students a spot on the waitlist. In the same year, Cornell offered  7,746  students a spot on its waitlist, double the size of its incoming freshmen class of 3,718 students.  

The number of students being admitted from the waitlist also fluctuates greatly from year to year. For example, in 2021, Princeton admitted 150 students from its waitlist. However, it only admitted 26 students in 2020 and 1 student in 2019.

What should you do to get off the waitlist?

1. Opt in to the waitlist before deadline

When your application becomes waitlisted, the college will ask if you want to opt into the waitlist. If you’re interested in the waitlist, remember to opt in before the deadline.

2. Write a letter of continued interest

Write to the college and express your continued interest and intention. The email doesn’t have to be long. In fact, it’s best to keep it short and to the point — admissions officers are busy. If that college is your first choice and you would attend for sure if admitted, confirm that. If you have any updates about your coursework or achievements, include them. This will reemphasize your interest in and dedication to the school.

Example: Letter of continued interest

Dear [college name] Admissions Committee,

I recently applied to [college name], and was waitlisted. I wanted to thank you for considering me as a candidate for your school. [College name] continues to be my first choice. If admitted, I would accept the offer.

I wanted to update you on some academic information that wasn’t available at the time of application. I was recently nominated to receive the Lang Scholarship, which recognizes graduating seniors for their academic achievement and service to my high school. I am continuing to work hard in all of my classes. I am getting an A in all of my current classes. I will take my AP Biology and AP Comparative Government and Politics exams this month. I am also finishing a 40-page research paper on the genesis of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Please let me know if I can provide any additional information. Again, I thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,
[Your Name]

3. Send further updates when available

If any substantial updates come up, such as winning a prize or receiving an award, email the admissions office again. Remember, only email them with substantial updates. You don’t want to come across as annoying or desperate.

You should definitely pursue the waitlist at your college of choice. Students do get off from the waitlist. But due to the unpredictable nature of getting off a waitlist, you should also love the college that loves you. You will have an amazing education if you seize all the opportunities available to you.

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