Getting Off a College Wait List: 5 Things to Do Now

Last Updated Apr 9, 2010 5:12 PM EDT

College wait lists. It's the higher-ed equivalent of limbo.Georgetown University
If you're offered a spot on a wait list, the college hasn't rejected you, but it certainly hasn't embraced you either. You are stuck waiting to learn in the months ahead if a college is going to ultimately accept you.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of college applicants on wait lists has climbed this year. According to The New York Times, Stanford and Yale offered nearly 1,000 students a spot on their waiting lists. Duke extended its wait list offer to more than 3,000 students.

One reason for the wait list surge is because students who applied to elite colleges this year clogged the system with ever more college applications. Consequently, colleges aren't sure how many students they did accept will attend.

The odds are stacked against students, who hope to successfully get off a wait list. One survey suggests that less than 30% of students on waiting lists eventually are accepted. If you're on a waiting list, here are five things you can do:

Write a letter. Contact the school and find out where you should send a letter. In the letter, you should explain why you want to go to this college. Be specific. Colleges aren't going to be impressed if it looks like you want to attend because of its name brand. Mention specifically how you could contribute to the school. I'd send the letter priority or express mail.

Provide updates. If you've done anything worth bragging about since you sent your original application, update the school. The daughter of one of my best friends was wait listed at Georgetown. Since she applied, the ambitious young woman organized a Haiti relief walkathon at her school and raised $20,000. That's the sort of thing that would resonate with schools.

Send more recommendations. Ask a college if you could send more recommendations.

Evaluate the finances. Students who were originally wait listed often get stuck with financial-aid dregs. Colleges reserve their grants and scholarships to the students they really want. Can you afford this school if you don't receive any help?

Do some soul searching. Ask yourself if you really want to attend this school. It's usually better to focus on the schools that truly wanted you from the very beginning.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog. Follow her on Twitter.

Wait list image by RachaelVoorhees. CC 2.0.

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