A thin envelope that isn’t a rejection letter – welcome to the stressful world of US college waitlists.

Being wait-listed means you met the college’s requirements, but it already has all of its accepted candidates.

So you’re not quite rejected, but you’re not accepted either.

Colleges are aware of how frustrating being wait-listed is for applicants, but they must ensure that if accepted applicants reject them, there are other applicants lined up to take their place.

This is where college waitlists come in. According to US News & World Report, 10 percent of all college applicants are where you may be now: on a college waitlist. Only 30 percent of that original 10 percent will get in.

Bleak, I know – especially if the college you’re wait-listed for is one of your favorites. But if you’re not willing to let it go, there are steps that could (could!) get you off the college waitlist and into the college:

1. Call the admissions office.

DO NOT ask them why you weren’t accepted. Just ask them if you can find out where you are on the college waitlist. If you’re not close to the top, your chances of being admitted are pretty low. Think about if you want to go through the work of trying to get in.

2. Act fast!

The college may have requested confirmation that you want to stay on the waitlist. Before you take care of this, make sure you understand any stipulations or consequences of being accepted later than other students in terms of financial aid, housing, etc. If you do decide to stay on the waitlist, inform the college right away.

3. Write a letter.

Fashion a winning letter or email to the college admissions office, preferably to someone specific. Tell them in your enthusiastic and well-written way:

  • How this college is still your top choice, and if you are ultimately accepted, you promise to enroll (if this is true – though if it isn’t, why are you doing this at all?).
  • How this college is a great match for you. (Be sure to list specific reasons why, like majors, professors or programs you’re particularly interested in.)
  • Any of your new achievements, awards, internships or jobs since you sent in the application. (Have your grades skyrocketed? Did you get a poetry award?) If you haven’t got any updates for the college, work on getting them!

4. Request an interview.

See if the college will let you come in for an admissions interview so you can wow them with your enthusiasm and any new information face-to-face.

5. Go easy on the college admissions office.

This may seem contradictory to steps 1-4, but make sure you don’t bother the admissions office too much. There’s a fine line between being enthusiastic and being a pain, so don’t abuse the above-mentioned tactics.

Constantly calling or emailing them about how great you are or checking up on your status won’t look good. You’ll hear back when you hear back.

6. Have a backup plan.

Choose your favorite college that accepted you and enroll so you have something lined up. You can withdraw your enrollment if you are admitted to the college that wait-listed you.

7. Be prepared to accept the inevitable.

Some things are just out of your hands, and you’ve got to be able to let the pieces fall where they will. Consider dealing with US college waitlists to be an exercise in maturity.

If you’re currently wait-listed, you’re definitely not alone. Share your stories in our comments section! How are you handling being wait-listed? What do you plan to do?

Undergrads, please share your stories about college waitlists, too! Were your efforts successful? Unsuccessful? Looking back, how did being on a college waitlist change your goals?

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