March 30, 2023
Data Insights

Harvard Waitlist: Your Chances and How to Get Off It

Waitlisted by Harvard? We break down Harvard's historic waitlist data, what your chances are, and how you can get off the waitlist.

Harvard 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 Harvard’s waitlist?

Unfortunately, predicting your chances of getting off Harvard's waitlist is impossible. Harvard doesn’t disclose how many students it places on the waitlist. If we reference its peer institutions with very high yield (meaning a lot of its admitted students say yes to enroll) such as Stanford and MIT, we can assume that it places around 500 to 1,000 students on its waitlist. In 2021, Harvard admitted 36 students from its waitlist. 

What do all these numbers mean?  

If Harvard is your top choice, opt into the waitlist and submit a letter of continued interest to the admissions committee. Students (although probably not many) do get off from the waitlist, but it's important not to become overly fixated on this. Even Harvard cannot predict how the waitlist will ultimately play out before May 1st. 

To ensure that you have a viable option, pay the deposit to a college that you would be happy to attend. Love the college that loves you. If you seize all the opportunities available to you, you will have an amazing education wherever you choose to go. 

What should you do to get off Harvard’s waitlist?

1. Opt in to the waitlist before deadline

When your application becomes waitlisted, Harvard 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 Harvard 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 Harvard 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 Harvard Admissions Committee,

I recently applied to Harvard, and was waitlisted. I wanted to thank you for considering me as a candidate for your school. Harvard 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. Sending 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.

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