Maybe can sometimes be worse than no. It's much simpler to move forward when you have been definitively rejected, but perhaps you've received a recent letter which has left you in admissions limbo: the wait list.
It may be helpful to understand why universities use wait lists. Each year, admissions officers will conservatively estimate their yield - the percentage of accepted students who will actually enrol. This is important. If too many students decide to enrol, the university will suffer from housing shortages and a lack of class seats. If too few students enrol, the university will suffer a lack of revenue. The wait list serves as a hedge, ensuring a full incoming class in the event that the class yield is too low.
There are several reasons why your name may find its way onto the wait list. It could be that your application did not successfully convey a strong interest in the university. Or, perhaps your application was lacking in some way, painting you as a one-trick pony with no distinct qualities.
It’s also possible, particularly for international applicants, that financial aid was a factor. In rare cases, it could be due to an error, but this is the least likely scenario.
Being wait-listed can be stressful, particularly if the letter is from your top choice. While being wait listed may seem better than an outright “no”, it can often lead to false hope. According to about.com’s university admissions writer Allen Grove, your best option may be to do nothing and move forward as if you were rejected. He writes that your odds of being admitted off the wait list stand at about 10%, so you may decide that the added stress and effort may not be worth it. Instead, focus your attention on the schools which have accepted you, particularly your 2nd and 3rd choices. This same “do nothing” approach is also reiterated in articles posted on US News, Princeton Review and collegeboard.org.
If you still feel that you would definitely enrol if accepted off the wait list, then let the university know that you wish to remain on the list. You can then follow up by sending a short letter (1-2 paragraphs) which further expresses your commitment to attend. Be sure that your letter isn’t gimmicky. Don’t beg for an acceptance. Instead, focus on ways to strengthen your application, such as,
• additional reasons why the university is a good fit!
• how you would contribute to the campus community!
• new academic information - recent grades which continue to show your scholastic success, improved SAT or ACT scores!
• new special accomplishments - team captain, a new leadership position, a significant award
Another option is to request an additional interview with the university. If granted, use this opportunity to let the university know how committed you are to attending. Discuss how the university suits your academic interests and personal needs. Explain how the university provides the best environment for your future success. Be enthusiastic and show your interest.
Additionally, contact the university and ask about possible drawbacks of being accepted off the wait list. Wait list decisions are typically sent after the 1 May decision deadline, often as late as June or even days before the start of classes. This may translate into fewer on-campus housing options or smaller financial aid packages. Also, be sure to send in your enrolment deposit for another university, guaranteeing you a seat in the fall regardless of your wait list outcome. If you receive a last minute offer from your dream school, you can still accept, but you will forfeit your deposit to your second choice.
Getting off the wait list is a difficult task. The do nothing approach will alleviate stress and allow you to examine your other options more closely. You may be surprised at how relieved you feel by choosing this option, and if you don’t end up falling in love with your chosen destination, you can always transfer or take a gap year.
Have you been wait-listed and want to have your opinion heard? Give us your thoughts.