The college application process is a stressful time for both students and their parents: college visits, narrowing down the choices, SAT or ACT exams, applications, essays, recommendations, and then – finally – your student finds that they have been put on the waiting list for their first choice college.  Yes, it may be discouraging, but all may not be lost.  There are some things that your “almost” college student should – and should not – do.

What is a Wait List and How Does it Work?

First of all, you need to understand the nature of a waiting list.  Being placed on a waiting list is not a rejection.  The college has said that your student is qualified for admission, but that they do not currently have a space for them. The wait list is a pool of qualified students from which the college will draw if accepted applicants choose to go somewhere else. There is a trend in higher education today for more and longer wait lists.  However, some statistics indicate that as many as 30% of students who are placed on a waiting list will actually be accepted to the college.  Did your student apply to more than one college? (Many students today are applying to seven or more schools.)  Were they accepted at more than one college?  Probably.  So were many other students.  Many who were accepted to a college will choose another institution.  That may open up a space for your student.  Many students who have been placed on the wait list will choose to go somewhere else.  That may also open up a space for your student.

A wait list is usually a non-prioritized list of qualified students.  That means that when an opening occurs the admissions staff will relook at the entire pool.  This is because they need to balance the incoming class.  They may need to balance gender, location, majors, activities (do they need a basketball player or a French horn player?). This may be one of the reasons why your student may not be told, or may not be able to determine, where on the wait list they fall.

So yes, the stress of the application process may be extended if your student is placed on a waiting list for his favorite college.  But what, if anything, should they do? This is, after all, a waiting list.  Should they just sit and wait?  Possibly, but probably not.  Then what should they do?

Ask Some Important Questions.

 The questions that your student needs to ask first are not of the college, but rather of themselves.  They should reevaluate their interest in the school for which they have been waitlisted.  Why is that college their first choice?  Is it really better than a school to which they have been accepted?  Being waitlisted may give your student time to think carefully about why they were drawn to a particular school.  With more time to consider, they may decide that they are very happy with a school to which they were accepted and will choose to withdraw their name from the wait list.

Move Ahead With The Process At A School To Which They were Accepted.

Even if your student decides to remain on the wait list for one (or more) college, they should proceed with the acceptance process at another school.  Go ahead and make the deposit.  Although it is non-refundable, it will guarantee your student a spot in the incoming class.  Your student should complete all required forms, and begin to visualize themselves at the school.  Complete registration and/or orientation.  Once they have begun to identify with the school to which they have been accepted, that may also affect their decision about remaining on the waitlist.  More importantly, if they are not accepted from the waitlist, they will have a spot somewhere ready for them in the fall.

Let The School Know That They Are Still Interested.

When the school needs to move to its wait list to begin accepting students, the admissions staff will be looking for students who have demonstrated an interest in attending.  Your student should let them know that they are still interested in the institution and will attend if accepted. Your student might mention again why this is their first choice of college.  Being specific about their reasons is often helpful. A phone call or letter at this point is appropriate.  It may be the factor that moves their application to the top of the stack or helps the admissions counselor remember their name when their application does come up.

Send Any New Information That May Be Helpful.

If there is new information available now that was not available at the time of application, your student should send it.  Are senior year final grades available?  Has your student received awards or scholarships or special recognition?  Have they participated in a special event or program?  The more information that the admissions counselors have, the more informed their decision may be.

Maintain Balance And Patience.

Waiting is not an easy thing to do, but sometimes, once you have expressed interest and provided new information, it is the only thing to do.  It will not help your student’s cause to pursue an admissions counselor, send gifts, make daily phone calls, or ask for multiple additional interviews. In fact, these tactics may actually hurt their chances of being considered.

Remember that the school has already told your student that they are qualified.  Your student has expressed continued interest and possibly provided additional information.  Now is the time for them to move on.  They may receive the phone call or letter to let them know that they have been removed from the waitlist and been admitted, or they may not. They need to be prepared to move ahead.  Once the stressful decision time is over, chances are that your student will settle in and thrive wherever they find themselves.