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Accepted Off the Wait List: What Now?

Welcome to the era of record low college acceptance rates and record long wait lists. Part of the new dynamic is the dramatic overlap of the same students being accepted by multiple colleges.

As a result, many students are finding themselves wait-listed, and then back in decision mode, after May 1st, when they learn they have been admitted off of a waitlist.

The dance begins! As students jump schools, openings are created at the colleges where they had previously decided to enroll. Then there’s the “melt”, which describes students who commit to an institution but do not enroll. The melt number used to be fairly small, but has grown in recent years.  The game of musical chairs continues throughout the summer.

With ultimate enrollment yields impossible to predict, some admissions officers find themselves busy admitting students from the waitlist all the way through fall registration day.

Dealing with sequential offers of admission is a new decision-making paradigm for most high school seniors, and raises a lot of questions for students admitted from the waitlist such as:

  • Do I really want to go to this college?
  • Can I afford to attend?
  • Should I spend money to visit?
  • What if I get into another school where I am also on the waitlist?
  • When do I need to make a decision?

When you are accepted from the waitlist, the ball is back in your court. Students and parents should take the time to make a thoughtful decision. If the school presses you for a quick decision, explain that you need a reasonable amount of time.

Making a thoughtful and objective decision requires putting your ego aside.

Some students are turned off by a waitlist acceptance because they equate it with being a second choice candidate. Rest assured that selective colleges have far more qualified applicants than there are places in the freshman class. Just because you didn’t make the first cut, doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be there.

Other students are so excited that they were admitted from the wait list that they equate the new admission with being admitted to a “better” college than the one they had previously decide to attend. Keep in mind that each college has its own reasons for admissions decisions, and the schools that wait list you are not necessarily superior, or a better choice for you.

After checking your ego at the door, focus on making a thoughtful, well-reasoned decision based on your own “right fit” criteria.

If you haven’t been to the campus, or could benefit from some fresh input, visit the school online. Check out Unigo ( which provides “insider” reviews, videos and photos by actual students attending the college. You’ll also find institution-specific stats and rankings as well as forums that focus on specific topics. You can also tour many colleges at YouniversityTV (

Before you invest in an in-person visit, consider speaking with current students and/or recent alumni. Your guidance counselor, friends, relatives, and the college admissions office may be able to connect you.

Money is an important factor in most college decisions. Some colleges have limited financial aid available for students admitted from the waitlist. If you are considering a new option, think about affordability – full cost, including travel and winter clothing, if that’s part of the budget.

Students who choose to remain on more than one college waitlist may find themselves in the situation of being offered admission from one college wait list while at the same time hoping for good news from another college that they would prefer to attend. This can be a good time to place a call to an admissions officer at the preferred college and ask about the likelihood of your admission from that waitlist. Sometimes explaining your situation, and conveying interest, can propel you closer to the top of the wait list.

While it’s flattering to be admitted from the waitlist, base your enrollment decision on what’s right for you – an affordable college or university where you will be successful and happy.

Written by: Lynn Radlauer Lubell, Publisher of and Founder of Admission By Design (, an Educational Consultancy based in Boca Raton, Florida.

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