If you find yourself in that purgatory between accepted and rejected, you will want to know how to get off a college waitlist. You might be tempted to just move on and try another institution, but that might not be the best option available to you.

You have already compiled a dynamite application, using the best high school resume you’ve got, amassing the best extracurriculars for college that you can, and working hard on multiple secondary essays. Why throw all that effort away? Your road is harder now, the chances lower, but that’s no reason to count yourself out.

We’re going to take on the role of a college advisor for this article and go over what it means to be on a college waitlist – the reality of the situation – followed by several actions that you can take to optimize your situation. We will also discuss what to do outside of this one institution that you have applied to.

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Article Contents
8 min read

The Waitlist: Likelihood of Future Acceptance Why Were You Put on the Waitlist? What Can You Do? First: Accept the Spot Stay Busy and Plan Ahead: Actively Work on Your Grades and Add Extracurricular Activities Send a Letter of Interest Keep Your Options Open What to Do if You Are Accepted What to Do if You Aren’t Accepted from the Waitlist Conclusion FAQs

The Waitlist: Likelihood of Future Acceptance

If you have been put on the waitlist, how likely is it that you will ultimately be offered a place at the university?

Unfortunately, the statistics are extremely variable. Each school has a different probability which varies from year to year. Regardless of the exact numbers, the reality is that acceptance from a waitlist is low, but not impossible.

Why Were You Put On the Waitlist?

Institutions have certain class sizes that they need to fill to be financially viable as well as a maximum possible number of students. Most institutions send out offers above and beyond the maximum number, knowing that not all offers will be accepted by prospective students.

Because not all prospective students will accept a place, the institution will also put some number of students, which varies from year to year, on a waitlist. These are students who may have the grades to get in but whose applications were slightly less effective in the eyes of the admissions committee – which could be for several reasons. This waitlist will be pulled from in the event that the school either (a) receives too few confirmations of acceptance to begin with, or (b) has students accept and then drop out or have their offer rescinded for one reason or another. In the latter case, reasons might include a weaker academic showing than anticipated, a sudden disciplinary action, or the student dropping out for personal reasons.

So, why did the committee deem your application less than effective, at least compared to other applications? It could be a slightly lower GPA or CGPA compared to your peers. It could be that your personal statement did not resonate as much as others, or it might be that your high school extracurriculars for college were not as complete, well-rounded, or enticing.

In fact, there are many possible reasons for why you might have slipped below your peers because there are a multitude of factors that go into evaluations.

What Can You Do? First: Accept the Spot

You might not realize that you have to actually accept the spot on the waitlist, but you do. This is not an automatic “on,” and just because you have been offered a place on the waitlist doesn’t mean that your position is secure. You need to make sure you are actually on the list, so accept the offer to be on the waitlist.

Why? There is no reason not to. You only give yourself an advantage by accepting a place, even a speculative one.

Now, is there a time when you shouldn’t accept a place on the waitlist? Yes, but that’s if you have an acceptance letter in your hand from a different institution. If you have another place to go, you can take that spot; if you have offers from several institutions, you can take your pick and ignore the waitlist. However, if you have no other offers when the waitlist notice comes in, accept the place immediately.

Speaking of swift responses, take this advice: reply to any institution’s messages immediately. Never sit on any decisions regarding acceptance, and never fail to reply whether you are accepting or rejecting the offer. If you are accepted and you want to confirm, make sure you write in immediately. If you are offered a waitlist position, write in immediately. Even if you are rejected, while immediacy becomes less of a factor, you should thank the committee for engaging with your application. Start your academic career with courtesy, respect, and generosity of spirit.

Looking for more tips? Check out the infographic below:

Stay Busy and Plan Ahead: Actively Work On Your Grades and Add Extracurricular Activities

It can be easy to become demoralized when put on a waitlist. Who wants to worry about more exams, or picking up an extracurricular activity when they just got turfed from the rank of the great hopefuls? Well, the fact of the matter is that, while you are not accepted, per se, you have not been conclusively rejected, either.

Essentially, you are in a quantum superposition between accepted and rejected. What would a particle do?

If you’re looking to keep advancing, you should keep up your grades and maintain the same rigorous work ethic and upward acceleration you developed during your high school years. In that manner, you will be best prepared for any future applications, and of course, your final work might be some of your best.

No matter what the outcome is in your career, if you are working at something – like grades – give that activity everything you’ve got. Everything you do – whether in academics, your career, or life in general – do it to the best of your ability.

Send a Letter of Interest

About two or three weeks after being put on the waitlist, send a letter of interest. This can be a very short letter, but make sure that it is polite and professional. This will display your ongoing interest in being accepted to the program you have applied to. An admissions committee likes to see somebody keen to be part of the program, and you can demonstrate your sincerity and passion with a simple letter of interest.

One letter of interest after you have been put on the waitlist – and accepted the position – comes across as courteous and polite, and demonstrates an eagerness to be in the program. If you send more than one, you run the risk of alienating the people who are receiving your letters, instead of ingratiating yourself. While you will still come across as eager, you might also give the impression of desperation or simply become obnoxious.

Here is a quick example of a letter of interest:

Dear Mr. Hofstadter,

I am writing to you to say that I hope I am still under consideration for a spot in the Physics program at Penske University. When I last heard from you, it was to be put on the waitlist. I wanted to let you know that I am still very interested in a place at Penske, and if there are any spaces which open up in your incoming class, I am still eager to attend.

If you require anything further, please let me know.

Many thanks,

Jamie Halpert

You can see by this example that you need not be overly verbose. A short paragraph expressing interest will do.

However, if you wished to, you could mention a specific reason, such as an exciting class or a research opportunity, for why you are so interested in a particular program, but it is not required: brief, honest, and enthusiastic will be adequate.

Keep Your Options Open

The institution on whose waitlist you now reside is hardly the only iron in your fire, right? It shouldn’t be. Ideally, you will have applied to several other schools. The only reason you might not have applied to more than one school is if they offered early application, and, as one of the stipulations of that program, they required that you apply exclusively to their institution. Even if that’s the case, once you heard you were on a waitlist, you should have immediately applied to other institutions.

There is no real reason to apply to only one institution. You made it onto to the waitlist for one school, which means you might very well be invited to attend another. Don’t worry that applying to more than one school will make you appear to be “disloyal” or anything of that nature. Multiple applications will not reduce your chances at any one institution. Instead, they will increase your overall chances of acceptance.

If you are on a waitlist at one school and receive an offer from another, you should accept the offered position and send a notification to take yourself off the waitlist – which is courteous to other applicants and to the school.

However, if your dream school has waitlisted you while another institution has accepted you, you might hold off until closer to the deadline, giving yourself an extra chance of acceptance to your preferred program.

What to Do if You Are Accepted

It can take time to hear back from an institution. Offers have been made to a certain number of students to join the cohort, and the school is waiting – just as you are – to hear back from them. If they receive all the acceptance letters they need, the waitlist will go untouched. If, on the other hand, they receive fewer offers than they require, they will start to send out offers to those on the waitlist. This means that you won’t receive an offer letter – removing you from the waitlist – until after the institution has heard back from enough prospective students.

If you play every card you’ve got and receive an invitation to attend the institution, you should send an acceptance letter immediately – unless you have already accepted an invitation elsewhere. In such a circumstance, it is still possible to switch. So, let’s assume you’ve accepted one offer and then receive a notification that you are off the waitlist for another school – one which you prefer. If you want to switch, send a notification accepting the offer first, to secure your spot, but be sure to immediately send a notification to the previously accepted institution saying that you will not be joining their cohort. This will allow them to replace you, likely from their own waitlist.

If you do decide to swap one acceptance for another, you should also be aware of the reason for doing so, as well as any penalties you might incur. For instance, you might forfeit monetary deposits, if you have paid them out. A reason for switching might be that your waitlist school was your dream program and will be a better fit for you than another.

What to Do if You Aren’t Accepted from the Waitlist

Your two principal options, given a final letter of rejection, are to try again in the next round, or to give up and try different institutions. As discussed above, you should already have submitted applications to other institutions, and you can look forward to more positive news from those places shortly.

Unfortunately, much of what you do after submitting to various schools is passive. In other words, most of your possible options have been used up in your application itself. After your applications are sent out, you wait to hear back from them. If you are rejected, move on; if you are offered a place, create a letter of acceptance, and send it to the school. If you are put on a waitlist, follow the steps above and hope for a positive outcome.

Want to learn more about the college application process? Check out this video.


As you can see, there is a checklist of several items for a student on a waitlist. While you might not see your chances vastly improve by following these tips, they will help you maintain your position as a potential student, and they might give you a slight boost in getting your name off the waitlist and into the offer of acceptance pile.

Trust to your hard work, in both preparation and application, and hope for the best.


1. How long does it typically take to hear if I’m off a waitlist?

There is no set time that it will take to hear from your institution. Waitlist times vary. It all depends on whether they receive the necessary acceptance letters in time.

2. If their quota is filled, do I still have a chance?

Yes. You might still receive an offer letter because one of the accepted students might still drop the program for one reason or another.

A possible scenario:

The institution makes an offer to a prospective student, who sends a letter of acceptance. However, the offer letter is based on a stipulation that the prospective student’s final grades, which were pending at the time of the application, have a certain final GPA. If that student, who has sent a letter of acceptance, winds up with a poor showing on their report card, their application will fail to live up to the stipulated requirement, and the offer will be rescinded. In such a circumstance, the waitlist will be used.

Of course, because this is a potentially long scenario, it could take months to receive your own offer of a spot in the school’s class.

3. Should I send more than one letter of interest?

No. You don’t have to, and if you start to send too many letters of that nature, you might become bothersome. Note that some schools also post strict instructions discouraging follow-up letters to your application once it’s submitted.

4. If I’m accepted from the waitlist, what do I do?

The same thing you would do if you had been accepted from the get-go: send a notification that you are accepting the offered place if it remains relevant to you.

Remember, if you have already accepted a spot with another school, you should also send a notification that you will be declining that spot.

5. Say I accept a position with a different school, then hear I’m off the waitlist, can I switch to the waitlisted school?

There is no reason you cannot accept the new offer, provided you notify both schools – accepting one, declining the other – and keep in mind any penalties, such as deposits, that will be forfeited by switching schools.

6. Is there anything I can do that will actually get me off the waitlist?

Ultimately, not really. Like acceptance processes in general, any offers you receive that will remove you from the waitlist will come from the institution, and you don’t have the power to force that to happen; if you did, you wouldn’t be on the waitlist to begin with.

The actions detailed above will help. After that, it is simply a matter of patience, persistence, and good luck or bad.

7. If my status on the waitlist changes, how will I be informed?

Via the same means as you would have learned of your acceptance. This will likely be through whichever centralized application system you utilized – such as the Common Application or Coalition Application.

If it is not through these systems, the change in status will likely come through email or standard mail. Regardless, you will accept your place using the same channel: the Common or Coalition Application, or a reply to the email or letter.

8. If I’m accepted at another institution, should I remove myself from the waitlist?

If you are accepted elsewhere, it will be prudent to immediately accept the position. You are usually given a grace period in which to accept or decline the position. But yes, removing yourself from the waitlist is required and allows another student to take your place.

9. How many schools should I be applying to?

We at BeMo recommend that you apply to between six and eight institutions – enough to give yourself options and several chances to be accepted – or at least put on waitlists. At the same time, this is not so many applications to create that you will become bogged down and overwhelmed with the workload.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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