Being Waitlisted Doesn't Mean the End of Your College Dreams

Steps to Take When Your Number One Choice Asks You to Wait


March is a time of high drama, and not just for the final four in NCAA college basketball. High school seniors and their parents anxiously wait for the mail delivery or check their email every hour, looking for correspondence from potential colleges. If a letter arrives, the student may tear into it, only to find the apparently crushing news that he or she has been waitlisted by a top college choice.

While this might seem like terrible news, it doesn’t have to signal the end of your college dreams. It doesn’t even necessarily mean the end of that college either. They haven’t turned you down completely; they are holding off on a decision for now. While you are waiting for them to make their final choices for the upcoming freshman class, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Find Out if There is Anything Else You Can Do With this School: Read the information that was included with the waitlist notification to see if it allows you to supply any additional documentation. If you have taken the SAT again, received an award, or improved your grades since you applied, this might help push the scales in your favor. Talk to your parents to determine whether you might be able to arrange a visit during spring break for an in-person interview. Try to find out if there is anyone from your school, hometown, or work that went to the school who could put in a good word for you.
  • Have a Plan “B”: While it’s good to be hopeful, it’s also necessary to be realistic, too. You will need to have a Plan B in place in case the final answer is “no.” Take another look at the colleges which have accepted you, or apply to additional schools if this was your top choice. Compare the costs of attending each of these schools, and look at the academic requirements. If you get accepted and do well, you may just find out that you enjoy this school after all, or you might be able to apply for a transfer after a year or two. You could even consider attending a local community college for a few semesters to build up your grades, and reapply to your preferred choice.
  • Still Spend Time Learning About Financial Aid: If you do receive word in a few weeks that you have indeed been accepted, you don’t want to lose any more time learning about financial aid so you can figure out your final costs. Take time to learn about it now, so you’ll be ready to analyze their offer and say “yes” when the time comes.
  • Keep Searching for Scholarships: Perhaps you have written off a higher-cost institution, and were planning on the waitlisted school as your “safety net.” You might still be able to attend the higher-cost school if you can find enough scholarships to make up any cost differential.

Nobody likes to be waitlisted, but it doesn’t mean the end of the college world for you. Be proactive in letting the school know you are still interested, but also make sure that you take steps to have a back-up plan in place in case the answer is “no.” Money will always be an issue, no matter what college you ultimately decide to attend, so make sure you understand everything there is to know about grants, scholarships, and federal work-study programs, as well as federal and private student loans.