The Waiting List Game: Do's and Dont's for Changing that May

by Vault Education Editors | April 30, 2010

You worked hard on your applications. You studied hard for your tests and lost sleep perfecting your resume. By the time January rolled around, thinking of ways to improve your personal statement had become as natural as breathing. You were relieved to finally slip the completed application in the mailbox--it was out of your hands. You hoped for good things and you waited. Then you waited some more. And if you got waitlisted at one of your top schools, you now have to wait even more.

How to Play the Waiting List GameThe first thing to do is to decide if you want to stay on the waitlist at all. If you were accepted to a different school you want to go to more than your waitlisted school then you're home free. Politely email or call the admissions office to say that you'd like to be taken off the waitlist and they will do so, freeing up a place for someone who's dying to go there.

But what if you couldn't imagine going anywhere else? The most important thing is not to panic. Being waitlisted isn't the end of the world. You still have a chance of admission--as long as you don't blow it. To make sure you don't, we give you...

Waitlist DO's and DON'Ts

  • DO read the waitlist letter carefully. It's important to know exactly what the school's policy is for waitlisted applicants. If they say not to email, don't email--it's an easy way to lose your spot. Make sure to send in your deposit on time and follow any other instructions to a tee. If you're confused, call to clarify.
  • DON'T go on the waitlist if you don't absolutely love the school. You're costing yourself time, money and worry if you're just going to decide on somewhere else in the end. That said, if it's your top choice of the options available to you, don't hold back either.
  • DO secure your spot somewhere else. You shouldn't count on getting in off the waitlist, and it would be awful to go from a couple of options to zero. So figure out what your second choice school is and send in the deposit.
  • DON'T call too often. Once a month MAX. If they tell you not to call at all, don't call. It will not help your case.
  • DO send a letter to reiterate your interest in the school. Explain why it is your top choice and provide any relevant updates to your application. Send the letter right away after you accept the position on the waitlist, but keep it brief--definitely no more than a page including address, signature, etc.
  • DON'T send that letter on pink scented stationary. It may have worked for Elle Woods, but if you didn't send in an admission video featuring yourself in a bikini, now is not the time to start going down that road.
  • DON'T, under any circumstances, let your parents call the admissions office. Enough said.
  • DO update the school with information relevant to your application. If you got a huge promotion, won a national poetry contest or got a significantly better SAT/GRE/LSAT score, this is useful information for an admissions officer. Update them on any major changes: they may move your application from the maybe pile to the yes pile, which is what staying on the waitlist is all about.

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