How to Leverage College Waitlists

College Waitlists: The Waaaaaaitttting Is The Hardest Part.

This is not an easy spring to be on college waitlists. Seniors awaiting offers — and juniors awaiting test dates and school tours — are both on hold with their college journeys. Lean on me, as the late Bill Withers sang. I’m here.

About 50% of the students I’ve worked with got into their first or second choice college AFTER being waitlisted. It’s no fun, the Waitlist period, but in the competitive world of higher ed admissions, the Waitlist (WL) offer is in fact an offer. A particular college is inviting a specific student to engage with the admissions office — the college could’ve denied the student but didn’t.

Why was the student waitlisted? There are many reasons but some include:

  1. The college wonders if the student is truly committed or simply using them to pad their list.
  2. The college wants the student to show some lovin’.
  3. The college wants to see academic improvement since application.
  4. The college has too many wonderful applicants and needs reserves in case their admits don’t matriculate.

The good news is that a Waitlist status signals a power-shift from the application period. After hitting SUBMIT, students had to become passive, waiting to see if they made the cut while admissions officers evaluated and scrutinized their documents. With the waitlist offer, students can activate!

Now, if a student has decided to matriculate elsewhere, they should politely decline the WL offer ASAP to enable another student to receive the invite. If, however, a student elects to continue communication with a school, here are a few strategies for maximizing the time between now and May 1st (contract day) when most waitlists start moving:

First Choice Letter

“I’m thinking of writing first choice letters to all of my waitlist schools,” a student said to me last week. Penning multiple first choice emails is oxymoronic and, to me, unethical. If a student is remaining on only one WL and that school is in fact the student’s desired college for matriculation, by all means, get down on one knee and croon “I Only Have Eyes For You.” However, this particular student wanted acceptance to all three WL schools! He crafted a compelling letter of continued interest (LOCI) for each school with no first-choice pronouncement.

Do Your Research

Waitlist letters should provide specifics. College websites, publications and social media platforms are wonderful outlets to discover a school’s unique — and possibly updated — academic and extracurricular happenings that dovetail with WL students’ interests. One student checked out the Instagram feed of a school he wanted to get into and found a professor talking about quantum mechanics in a new and different way. In his LOCI, he mentioned how inspired he was by the faculty member. Did he get an offer? Yessiree!

Brag A Little (Or A Lot)

Definitely list recent achievements since you applied: intellectual, athletic, artistic, service-oriented, it all matters. Some schools provide an upload option for art or documents. If you have it, flaunt it. I advise against sending gifts or baking cookies for admissions deans. Bragging is appreciated; bribing is frowned upon.

For more information about College Counseling/Essay Coaching, please drop me a line at or give me a holler at 917-863-2424. Also, for “news you can use,” please check out my blog, videos, Facebook, and Instagram.