Are College Wait Lists a Good Idea?

Applying to colleges and anticipating acceptance letters is an exciting time, but that excitement can sometimes turn to anxiety when you discover college wait lists. Schools are sometimes limited in how many students they can accept. Many colleges use wait lists because they want to be able to offer a spot to worthy students if such spots become available.

If you have been put on a wait list, it’s encouraging in that you have not been turned down, but discouraging because you don’t know if or when you might be accepted. The challenge becomes knowing how to proceed in your application process with that school and with other colleges you may have applied to as well.

Contacting the School That Has You On a List

Hardly anyone likes waiting, especially when it involves uncertainty about an important decision. If you find yourself on a wait list for a college, especially a first choice school, you may face the temptation of wanting to contact the college admissions office often for updates. Contacting them more than once or twice isn’t really all that helpful, but you can make those brief times of contact count.

Ask questions of the admissions officer that will help you determine what you should do next. Sometimes schools actually rank the students on their list, and they are willing to let you know where you come on the list. Others may not do that, but can give you an idea of how big the list is. It may also be important to speak with the admissions office about how a late decision might effect other aspects of your college choice. Even if there seems like a good possibility that you will ultimately be accepted, receiving that acceptance later might effect your financial aid package or your housing options. Some of those factors may be important enough for you to think twice about whether or not it’s worth it to stay on the school’s wait list.

If you decide to contact the school about their wait list, it might not be a bad idea to also keep them informed about anything that might help them to make a decision in your favor. For example, if you’ve been involved in an exciting extra-curricular activity during your senior year or awarded entrance into an honor society, briefly letting the school know about that might increase your chances of a favorable response.

Evaluate Your Other Schools

One bit of information that seems universally sound is not to pin all your hopes on one school. It may be frustrating, but there is no sure guarantee that you will be accepted just because you’re on a wait list. Even if the school that has wait listed you is your absolute first choice, while you are waiting, it can be a good time to take another look at a school that has accepted you already. You may discover good reasons to go on and accept their offer. They may have deadlines for deposits which you don’t want to miss while you’re hoping for admission elsewhere.

Deciding where to attend college is an important choice. Being on college wait lists isn’t easy, but you can put your time to productive use and be encouraged that you’ve already come this far.

See also: What College Entrance Exams are Most Accepted?