How to Decide on a College: What to Do When You Get Wait-listed

college wait listBy Laura Snyder

Many high school students are waiting by the mailbox these days. Some will get happy news, others will be disappointed.  And a few will be asked to continue the wait.

“Kids who find themselves on wait lists are undeniably dealing with anxiety and are in the dark, with someone else in control of their future,” acknowledges Bill Vanderbilt, vice president for admissions at Hope College in Holland, Mich. “Everyone in admissions understands that, and yet everyone is at the mercy of kids who have already been admitted and made deposits. We’re playing a ‘wait and see’ to see if there’s any melt from that pool, which is when we would turn to the wait-list to fill out the class.”

Fortunately, there are a few things wait-listed students can do in the meantime.

Not all wait lists are created equal, so find out what your status really is. “Some schools have a really fair and equitable system, some are looking for underrepresented groups or regions,” says Daniel Green, associate vice president for enrollment at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. “Some schools are using ability to pay as a criterion for coming off the wait list once a seat opens up.”

“Ask the admissions office about your chances,” says Regina Schawaroch, director of undergraduate admissions at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “They should be able to say how many students are accepted from the waitlist and under what circumstances.”  You should also ask when the list will be reviewed and what you might do to increase your chances of receiving admission.

Stay in touch with the college. “If a student is wait-listed, it’s important for them to let the college know if they are highly interested,” says Brenda Poggendorf, vice president for enrollment at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. “Send updated grades, scores and other academic information. It is also helpful to the college to know that the student wants to be there and will come if they are accepted. Calling or visiting the campus is important.”

“We don’t like nags,” reminds Deborah Stieffel, vice president for enrollment management at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. “But when we know that someone really wants us, and we have the opportunity to take someone from the waitlist, if all else is equal, we’ll look at those who have conveyed their strong desire to attend.”

Show your enthusiasm for the college, she suggests, by knowing about its programs and extra-curricular activities and being able to explain why you’re a match for the school.

If you think your grades or scores are to blame for your status, try to repair or explain them. “We don’t want excuses,” says David Kogler, associate director of admissions at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. “But we want to know that the student has grown and will be able to do well when they confront the next big challenge. A wait-listed student can help themselves by acknowledging the mistakes or challenges in the past and how they have adapted.”

Of course, expressing too much interest will have the opposite effect. “Some mistakes are to call daily, speak with legislators, complete housing forms or ask parents to pull donations,” says Green.

But admissions officials agree that often the smartest thing to do is reconsider your second choices.

“Be realistic,” says Stieffel. “Make sure you send a deposit to another school at which you could be happy.”

“If your first-choice college wait listed you, that means unfortunately you were not their first choice,” says Green. “There are so many excellent colleges and universities that offer just suburb educational opportunities. Time to get a new first choice.”

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