Commentary: Help, I’ve been wait listed! |

Commentary: Help, I’ve been wait listed!

Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

March is the time when students find out if their college applications have been accepted or rejected. Many students will be notified of a third option — that they have been put on the dreaded wait list. According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, roughly one-third of colleges and universities use wait lists. On average, 10 percent of students who apply to institutions that have a wait list are placed on the list.

If you are put on a college wait list, it means that you have the desired qualifications for the college, but they did not have enough room to admit you. Colleges use wait lists as insurance. After admitted students decide if they will be attending, if there are any spots, they will take wait-listed students. Wait lists are frustrating because they put students and their families in a state of limbo. There are no uniform rules for college wait lists, and each college has its own policies regarding their list.

How many students are taken off the wait list varies from year to year, and the most elite colleges take few students off the list. Stanford University’s website states, “In recent years, as many as 125 students have been admitted from the wait list. In other years, that number was zero.” These discrepancies from year to year make predicting the chance of getting in nearly impossible. Most colleges do not rank their lists, so students cannot find out “what place they are on the list.”

Students will typically not be notified whether they have been accepted off the list until after mid-May. This is usually well after the required deadline to accept admittance at another college. Therefore, it is especially important to look at the colleges that did accept you and make a deposit on a second-choice college to ensure a place in the incoming freshman class.

Can you improve your odds of getting off the wait list? It is important to let them know it is still your first choice and that you will attend if accepted. Some colleges will accept additional letters of recommendation or any new information that has become available since the application deadline. Making an additional visit to the college and talking to the admissions office is welcome at some colleges and not at others. I did have a student who was accepted off the wait list on the spot when he visited last May. But students should look at each school’s policies regarding visits or additional information.

Warning: Parents should not be part of this process. The college wants to see students advocating for themselves. Waiting to hear if you have been accepted off the wait list is frustrating, but bugging the admissions office won’t help, and it could hurt your chances.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who worked for the Nevada Joint Union High School District for 20 years. She currently operates a college admissions consulting business and can be reached at or at

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