Waitlisted at Your Top Choice? Don’t Despair.


limbo pl. lim-bos

  1. A condition of prolonged uncertainty or neglect:
  2. A West Indian dance in which the dancers repeatedly bend over backward and pass under a pole that is lowered slightly with each pass.

[Middle English, from Medieval Latin (in) limbō, (conventionally thought to exist on the outer border of Hell)].So you’ve been placed on the waitlist. A high school senior’s proverbial limbo. It’s not an acceptance letter, but there is still hope. You recall an old fantasy of your first day on THAT campus, your name connected to THAT school. The question is how far are you willing to go without any guarantees?

Something important to keep in mind is that the chances of being removed from a school’s waitlist vary greatly among universities and even from year to year at the same institution. For the Fall 2015 admission cycle, Georgetown notified 2,184 students of their waitlisted status – 149 of those students were admitted. Babson College placed 599 students on the waitlist. Of those 599 students, 0 were enrolled. However, Babson offered deferred enrollment for the following semester. Dartmouth, however, accepted 93 students from their waitlist last year, up from 0 the year before, while Brown accepted 196 students from their waitlist last year, up from 42 the previous year.

All in all, the waitlist is a tough game; Hale Education Group recommends some deep self reflection before starting to play.


The first step after being waitlisted is to have an honest conversation with yourself. How attached are you to the idea of attending University A? Review your other acceptances and remember that you applied to these schools for a reason. Do you still feel excited about the prospect of enrolling at University B or C? Consider your other options in detail, including their location, facilities, the programs you want to study, the class sizes, student population, post-graduation employment, and if applicable, your financial aid offer. Know that in the off chance you are removed from the waitlist, your financial aid options will be next to none. Remember that other schools want you! If you can see yourself as a first year student next autumn at University B, then decline your waitlist offer (don’t take another student’s spot if you are unsure about whether you will accept a position). Finally, send in your acceptance to University B and move on with your life. Congratulations! You’re going to college in the US!


Understandably, you can’t let go of your dream. You decide to take any means necessary to increase your chances. The first thing you should do is to accept the offer and send in your deposit to your second-choice school. Please do not invest so much in the idea of being removed from the waitlist that you have nowhere to go come autumn. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst (the worst being that you stay on the waitlist and end up at another excellent school where you are happy, engaged, challenged and loving life).

Now it’s time to strategize. Hale Education Group wants you to increase your chances of securing an offer letter as much as possible. Follow these steps to put your best foot forward.

    1. Accept your place on the waitlist with 100% certainty that you will attend. Integrity and sincerity pay off.
    2. Check the university’s website to read about their waitlist policy. Strictly adhere to their policy.
  • Call the admissions office to gather some information. Ask how many students were offered a place on the waitlist in the previous three years, how many students elected to stay on the waitlist, and how many were ultimately admitted. Ask if the school ranks students on their waitlist and where you are ranked.
  1. If you had an interview with an alumnus/alumna, send an email to thank him or her (again) for their time, and ask if they have any advice. Do not ask them to contact the university.
  2. Keep a regular line of communication open with the University Admissions office, continuing to express your interest in enrolling, about once every two weeks.
  3. Write one very polite letter of continued interest to your admissions officer, explaining this is your first choice above your other acceptances. Include any new information that was not a part of your initial application, such as:
    1. New high school grades
    2. New projects from your senior year, with an emphasis on unique, “non-teenage” activities, like starting a recycling program (see more examples here)
    3. A letter of recommendation from a senior-year teacher (make it specific to the university, explaining why you would be a good fit) to emphasize your continued growth
    4. A non-academic letter of recommendation from a coach or employer (specific to the university)
    5. An explanation of your financial status, but only if you will not require financial aid (students who can pay upfront have a better chance of acceptance)
    6. An explanation of extenuating circumstances that may have taken away from your focus on the initial application (for example, a death in the family, or other emergencies. Please discuss this with your Hale counselor first.)

Things not to do:

  • Don’t have alumni contact the university on your behalf.
  • Don’t pester the admissions office.
  • Don’t have relatives call.
  • Don’t disregard university waitlist policies. “Do not contact” means do not contact.

There are cases when students have taken a gamble and pulled out all the stops in their pleas for acceptance. There is a fine line between creativity and desperation. What may be a winning attempt for one admissions officer may be in bad taste for another.

A student waitlisted at John Hopkins filmed a rap music video, and was accepted into the university. Another student had her entire town, including the mayor, sign a petition for her acceptance to Smith. She remained on the waitlist. When it comes to traveling to the university, you risk being seen as having an unfair advantage over other students without the means to travel. However, one student waitlisted at Harvard made an appointment while he was in Boston for his orientation week at MIT. He was accepted to Harvard, possibly because he was already in the area. Use your own discretion, and always consult your Hale Counselor first. Admissions officers recount some outlandish attempts for admission here.

Hale Education Group recommends that you let the university set the tone for your follow-up materials. A sincere approach that is tailored to the university is your best bet.

Alexandra Newlon is an Educational Consultant at Hale Education Group and a graduate of McGill University and Washington University in St.Louis.

April 9th, 2016: Barely a week after admission decisions were released, one of our students has been taken off the Wait List and accepted to George Washington University. Congratulations!

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