Your student’s path to college gets confused because they’re not rejected, but they’re not accepted either.


The main reason colleges put so many kids on their wait lists these days is because they’re receiving a record number of applications. Your student might have been one of many perfect applicants, but there’s more competition everywhere.

If you’re senior is wait-listed at one of their top choice colleges, here’s what you need to know and what they have to do:

The Facts:
Decisions about who comes off the wait list are made in mid-May, at the earliest Since May 1 is the deadline for admitted students to accept an offer, colleges can’t do anything with the wait list until then. That means an answer might not come until June or July. 

Colleges use the wait list to fill in the missing pieces of their freshman class People often joke about a college needing an oboe player, but it’s not far from the truth. Once the acceptances are all in, admissions officers closely examine the makeup of the incoming freshman class.

If it’s heavy on engineering majors or East Coast kids, they’ll be looking at applicants who don’t fit those categories. Are they short on thespians, softball players, drummers, student journalists, community service-minded kids? Unfortunately, you don’t know.

The reality About 30 percent of students, on average, are taken from the wait lists of colleges across the country. Some schools have a few hundred students to look at, and others have a couple thousand.

What to Do:
Fill out the required form to stay on the wait list Colleges usually include a form with the wait list letter for students to confirm they’re still interested in attending the school. Make sure your teen sends it in immediately if they receive one.

Of course, if this is not a top-choice school for your senior, don’t let them say it is because there’s another kid who really wants that spot.

Your senior should contact the admissions office Depending upon the college, your anxious applicant might be able to find out where they stand on the wait list, why they’re on the list in the first place and any advice on what to do next.

Don’t allow your student to call more than once or twice, otherwise they’ll only annoy the already busy admissions officer and possibly hurt their chances of getting in.

Guidance counselors or school administrators will sometimes contact a college on behalf of a student. Your senior should ask if anyone in their school will do this for them.

As the parent, you should not call. Colleges don’t want to hear from you. They’re interested in your proactive student.

Your teen must write a one-page letter to admissions Here’s their chance to explain why this college is their number one choice and say that they will attend if accepted (this must be true). The letter should be well-written and also discuss what they can bring to the campus, like any special talents, skills or interests that might not have jumped off the application, any awards they’ve won post-application, information on their third quarter grades if they show significant improvement, and any other factors that could make them stand out.

Admissions officers will be receiving many of these letters, so make sure your senior sticks to the one-page limit.

Put a deposit on a college where your senior has been accepted There are just no guarantees that your student will make it off the wait list. Now’s the time to go to Plan B. Help your teen review their college acceptances and decide which school they’d like to attend and can afford. Sure, you might lose the deposit if their top-choice school ultimately accepts them, but if that doesn’t happen, they’re still going to college.

If your senior has only been wait-listed and has no acceptances to fall back on, sit down with your student and their guidance counselor to learn what options are available. The counselor might know which schools take the most students from their wait lists and can share the names of the colleges still accepting applications. Be encouraging because your teen is probably already feeling pretty down about the situation. Your job is to help your child through this.

There is no magic formula for getting off of a college wait list, but the steps above should give your student the best chance.

Share your thoughts and experiences with college wait lists in the comments section below.