How to Get Off a College Wait List

In Dante’s Inferno, those souls neither graced by fortune nor completely damned by fate are consigned to Limbo.

Limbo is neither here nor there; not heaven but also not hell. It’s kind of a squashy place characterized above all else by indeterminacy.

If he had thought about it for a minute, maybe Dante should have called Limbo The College Waiting List.

If you’ve found yourself wait listed, as with those poor souls who inhabit Limbo, you’ve neither been graced with favor, nor completely rejected. Instead, you’re just, well, kind of stuck in an in between.

Being in Limbo sucks.

Finding yourself on the wait list can feel like landing in Purgatory      

Possibly.  But before explaining your options, let me explain how wait lists work and why they exist.

Why colleges have wait lists

The financial well-being of a college is dependent on the college’s ability to meet admission targets. In other words, to pay the bills, every college needs to have a full incoming class. Because a number of admitted students do not chose to accept offers of admission, the college needs to have on hand a list of students who can fill out the incoming class. These are the students on the wait list. College wait lists help students manage uncertainty.

What to do if you are wait listed

If, after receiving notice that you’ve been wait listed, you refuse your position on the list, there’s nothing more to be done. However, if you accept your position on the wait list, you’ve then reserved your room in Limbo and you sit down and wait.

Can you improve your chances of admission?

Very few souls escape the college wait list. Generally, across the country, about 10% of wait listed students are ultimately admitted. To make my point, here are some figures from last year:

Cornell University

  • Number wait listed: 3,213
  • Number who accepted a place on wait list: 1,976
  • Number admitted from wait list: 279
  • Percentage admitted from wait list: 14%

Haverford College

  • Number wait listed: 732
  • Number who accepted a place on wait list: 305
  • Number admitted from wait list: 10
  • Percentage admitted from wait list: 3%

Middlebury College

  • Number wait listed: 1,231
  • Number who accepted a place on wait list: 603
  • Number admitted from waitlist: 0
  • Percentage admitted from waitlist: 0%

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

  • Number wait listed: 8,385
  • Number who accepted a place on wait list: 2,776
  • Number admitted from wait list: 525
  • Percentage admitted from wait list: 19%

Yale University

  • Number wait listed: 728
  • Number who accepted a place on wait list: 204
  • Number admitted from wait list: 56
  • Percentage admitted from wait list: 27%

However, if you decide to accept your position on the wait list, I strongly encourage you to contact the college and ask for the contact information of the admissions officer who considered you so favorably. Email that admissions officer and assure her/him that you remain committed to pursuing admission at the college, and briefly remind the admissions officer why you are an ideal candidate for that college. Also, note any accomplishments or successes you’ve accrued since submitting your application. You might also request that your guidance counselor and/or principal put in a phone call or write an email in support of your admission. Keep in mind though that if in the end you escape Limbo, and if you have already paid a deposit to secure your place at another college, you will most likely have to forfeit that deposit.

Want help strategizing your way to college? Call me. I’m always ready to help you!

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, phone, and Google docs to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized curriculum for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and college aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and win admission to the Ivy League and other competitive colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.