When you apply to your top choice college, you hope to get accepted, but know that rejection is possible too. But there’s a third outcome—getting waitlisted—which, for some, can actually be the most emotionally difficult. Logically, you know that it's a better outcome than an outright rejection, but the uncertainty around getting waitlisted can ratchet up anxiety during an already stress-filled college admissions process.

It's not unheard of to be admitted after getting placed on a waitlist. In fact, in the spring of 2021, 20% of high school seniors planning to go to college reported being on at least one waiting list, found a survey from consulting firm Art & Science Group.

If you’re waitlisted, it can be hard to know what to do next. Here’s, a four-point plan to help.

1. Find out your odds of getting off the waitlist.

Most admissions offices can tell you what percentage of students their school usually admits from the waitlist, and The College Board provides school-by-school numbers. You should also find out when you’ll get a hard yes or no from them. It varies from one school to the next, but most schools will give you an answer by May or June, after the deposit deadline for admitted students to enroll. You will likely need to accept an offer elsewhere before you've heard back from your top choice school. If that's the case, you'll need to decide whether you still want to go to the school that waitlisted you, since there may be financial drawbacks such as a lost deposit or less financial aid.

2. Re-evaluate the schools that accepted you.

Don't wait until you get a “no” from the school that waitlisted you to figure out your plan B. Evaluate your options, including the financial aid packages from the schools that offered you a spot, and gather whatever other information you need to make a decision. Continue to keep your grades up, since the admissions department of the school that waitlisted you may want to see an updated transcript before making their ultimate decision.

3. Decide whether you want to keep waiting.

Once you re-evaluate the schools that offered you acceptances, you may be excited about one and decide to just move forward rather than deal with the uncertainty of remaining on the waitlist. Or, you might decide that you’ll wait. You can accept admission at another school and withdraw if you get off the waitlist at your first choice, although you may forfeit your deposit or not receive as much in financial aid from your waitlisted school.

4. If you still want to go to the school, let them know.

If you want to remain on the waitlist, formally notify the school that you're still interested in enrolling. You'll want to send a letter of intent that includes information about any recent achievements since you sent in your application.

Reach out to your contacts in the admissions office to request an interview (or a follow-up interview if you've already had one), so that you can personally show the school why you're a great candidate. Of course, while you want to express your enthusiasm, don’t let it cross into nagging territory. Repeated calls or emails to a busy admissions officer could hurt, rather than help, your chances.

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