Admission outcomes are always discussed in terms of thick and thin envelopes, a binary spectrum of positive and negative. Yet this depiction leaves out a key element: the middle ground, the medium envelope if you will – the waitlist. Waitlist outcomes have become increasingly more common as application pools have become ever more competitive. Colleges find themselves less able to predict applicant behavior; in other words, they face a great deal of uncertainty about whether or not those students who were offered admission will eventually enroll. As a result, most colleges will offer some applicants a place on the waiting list.
What does a waitlist offer mean exactly? It’s on one hand an acknowledgement of the tremendous strength of your credentials. On the other hand, it recognizes the limited number of spaces a college has in its entering class. The waitlist offer should be viewed positively, rather than as admission purgatory, because your application was viewed favorably. Should an institution find itself with spaces still available in its incoming class after the May 1 national candidate reply date, it will be only those students who have been offered a place on the waitlist who will be considered for admission. How large a waitlist is, how frequently it’s used, whether or not students on that list are ranked and when offers from the waitlist are made will vary from one institution to the next. Most universities will supply additional context for their waitlist to those who have been placed on it.
Waitlist offers can feel both disappointing and hopeful. Give yourself some time to consider the offer. Do not feel compelled to make a decision in the immediate aftermath of receiving your decision. Most colleges will give you several days, if not even several weeks, to accept your spot on the waitlist. Consider whether or not you really want to attend this particular school. Think about how you would feel if an admission officer called you in May or June or July and offered you a spot in the incoming class. Know that when waitlist offers are made, you are usually given very little time to respond. So, carefully consider the possibility of this particular school along with the offers of admission you do have at other universities. DO NOT remain on a waitlist simply to rack up an additional offer of admission. That is a waste of everyone’s time (including yours) and may affect outcomes for peers who legitimately wish to attend that school.
If, after careful consideration, you wish to remain active on a school’s waitlist, there are a number of smart steps you can take to strengthen your candidacy should that institution be able to make use of its waitlist. Those steps are as follows:
- BE SURE TO ACCEPT YOUR PLACE ON THE WAITLIST BY THE STATED DEADLINE. Being offered a space on the waitlist is different than confirming said spot. A school does not assume you will remain on the waitlist unless you actively take whatever steps they set forth.
- Send an email to the admission officer who works with Norfolk Academy students at the university. This email should reaffirm your interest in that particular institution. Be specific. Don’t share general platitudes about the college like its location or population size. Discuss specific programs or classes in which you are interested, the positive reaction you had from visiting campus and how you see yourself making a contribution. If you are able to state with confidence, that you would attend if admitted from the waitlist, make that statement clear. Additionally, share with the admission officer any significant updates since you applied. How did your winter and spring athletic season(s) go? Were you named captain of a sport? Were you in the musical? Are you preparing for AP exams? Demonstrate continued engagement in the academic process. Don’t send a litany of accomplishments, but rather share the most meaningful contributions you’ve made to NA and to your community during your senior year.
- Send a follow up email in late April or early May reaffirming your strong interest in the institution. It’s at this time that admission officers are reviewing waitlist candidates if there are additional offers to be made.
- If you find yourself no longer interested in a school in whose waitlist offer you were initially interested, please communicate with that school in writing (email), a desire to be removed from the waitlist.
Then, the waiting begins. Most colleges that make use of their waitlist try to finalize their class by mid-June, but processes can play out into July and sometimes even August. Most of the factors that contribute to waitlist decisions are unfortunately beyond your control. From the waitlist, institutions seek to round out their class. If they are public, they will pay close attention to in-state and out-of-state ratios. They may hope to better balance the gender composition of their class or bolster their standardized testing profile. But by taking the steps outlined above, you can better your chances by personalizing yourself in this process and by putting yourself front and center in the minds of admission officers as they go about their waitlist work.
The College Counseling team is here for you during this waiting period. We are happy to share with you contact information for admission officers, detail for you a waitlist process from start to finish, provide council or simply be a listening ear. However this process ends, be it with a thick envelope, a thin one or something in between, be proud of all you’ve accomplished. We most certainly are.
Mrs. Wendy Livingston, Associate Director of College Counseling