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Tips for working the wait list

By Lee Bierer

What’s the one thing you don’t want to do if you’re on the wait list? Wait.

Lots of students get put on the wait list, and just like you tried to set yourself apart in the initial application process, if you’re interested in getting off the wait list and getting into a college, you need to be proactive.

Let’s assume you’ve decided to accept a spot on your dream school’s wait list. That’s fine, but you MUST accept and send in a deposit at a college that has accepted you by May 1.

Once you’ve done that, you can begin to determine just how much energy you want to invest in working the wait list. Stats are fairly meaningless when it comes to calculating your odds of getting off a wait list. Colleges accept students and then students decide where they want to go. Spaces may open up or a college may have a banner year and take no one from the list.

What you should or shouldn’t do

Follow instructions. Pay close attention to what your notification letter says and do exactly as it requests.

Update the admissions office. Send in your strong grades from the most recent grading period that the college hasn’t yet seen. This is one of the reasons parents, counselors and teachers have stressed the importance of avoiding “senioritis.”

If your grades have taken a dip, it will be more challenging, though not necessarily impossible, to get off the list and be accepted.

Write a letter. If you have made contact with an admissions representative, write and explain why the college is a good fit for you. If you don’t have a contact person, send it to the dean of admissions. Share any new information about activities, awards, leadership roles, employment, internships, etc. that might help your candidacy.

If you can comfortably say that if this one college offered you a spot in their freshman class at any time between now and the fall and you would jump at the opportunity, let them know.

Be realistic about finances. If you are admitted from the wait list, chances are there won’t be much institutional money left over. This means that although another college gave you grants, you may need to take out loans for the difference.

Don’t be too pushy. Don’t bombard the admissions office with letters of recommendation or sweet treats or gimmicks. For example, don’t send a package with one shoe saying “I’ve got one foot in the door – please accept me.” Very old, very tired and it won’t work.

Here are some wait-list admit rates from last year: University of Pennsylvania: 4.3 percent; University of Michigan: less than one percent; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: 6.5 percent, Stanford and Princeton: 0.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com
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