In making admissions decisions, colleges generally have three options. They can accept a student, deny the student or put the student on a wait list. If a student is placed on a wait list the college is telling the student that they are not admitted but if not enough students who have been accepted decide to attend, then the student on the wait list may be accepted. In the past, the wait list was generally very limited and used for strong students who the college felt were strong students but not quite as strong as those students who were admitted. Recently, however, colleges have been putting more and more students on a wait list thus in effect putting the students in limbo. The colleges have been doing this in large part because the increase in applications has made it more difficult for the colleges to know which of the students they admit will actually attend the college. By having a large wait list, the college has more options available if too many of the students they admit decide not to attend. So what do you do if you are one of the students placed on the wait list for a college you wish to attend?
First, before deciding what to do with the wait list, review the colleges that have accepted you and decide which would be the best choice for you. Even if you decide to have your name put on the wait list there are no guarantees and you need to make sure you have confirmed attendance at one of the colleges that have accepted you.
Second, review your options before deciding on whether to put you name on a wait list. It may be that your best choice is one of the colleges that accepted you. In that case, don’t worry about getting on a wait list. If you decide that you would like to consider the option of attending the college that put you on the wait list, then go ahead and notify the college that you wish to be on the wait list.
Third, if you put your name on the wait list, how do you improve your chances of acceptance? If there have been any improvements in your grades or any new honors be sure to inform the wait list college of this new information. If the wait list college is your first choice college if accepted, let the college know that fact. If a college accepts students off the wait list, they prefer to accept students who are likely to accept their offers. Students will sometimes want to visit the college again to show their interest in attending the college. Usually, this is a waste of time unless the college requests to interview you or has some other reason to come to campus.
What do you do if placed on multiple wait lists? You certainly can put your name on multiple wait lists. The problem with accepting multiple wait lists is the issue of telling a college that they are your first choice if accepted off the wait list. While many students will tell multiple colleges that they are the first choice if accepted, this really is not ethical. It is better to decide what your first choice college is and accept the wait list for that college. If you want to accept another college’s wait list, do so but don’t tell them they are also your first choice if accepted.
The bottom line to wait lists is to accept the reality that most colleges have many more students offered a wait list position than they would ever have the opportunity to accept. For example, last year Amherst College offered wait list spots to 1261 students of which 565 accepted a spot on the wait list. Only 2 of those students were admitted off the wait list. Some colleges have more students accepted off the wait list and some colleges don’t accept any off the wait list. If you want to know about the college you are considering, ask the college how many people were offered a position on the wait list and how many were accepted off last year’s wait list. That should give you some estimate of how competitive the wait list is at that college.