The relative ease of applying electronically and the increased use of the Common Application have contributed to a large increase in the number of applications to selective colleges. With this rise in qualified applicants, colleges are faced with a dilemma. Fearing that the same students have simply filed many more applications, colleges are reluctant to turn students away, yet still are unable to grant too many acceptances. Therefore, they’ve resorted to using the waitlist to assure themselves that they can fill all spots in their freshman class. This is good for the college, but what should the waitlisted student do?

As admissions letters arrive, you’ll need to begin making some decisions.   If you’ve been lucky enough to have been accepted at your #1 choice, congratulations! If you’ve acquired a number of acceptances, you’ll need to reconsider your options and rank the schools in terms of which fit you best. However, if one or more of those decisions have stranded you on the waitlist, you need to act right away.

If you prefer “Waitlist U” over any of the colleges that have granted you an acceptance, you can opt to stay on the waitlist. You’ll want to return the response card (or email) quickly, and follow up with a letter explaining your disappointment and your hopes of ultimate acceptance. If true, include a statement that you will attend that school if ultimately accepted. Include with your letter any additional supporting documents, such as your newest grade report, any awards or honors you’ve recently won, even an additional letter of recommendation from a teacher or employer, assuming the college welcomes these. If you are not sure, call admissions and ask. The goal is to provide the school with even more reasons to accept you. Follow your letter with a phone call to the admissions representative who handled your application.

In that call, ask if the waitlist is ranked in any way and how many students are on it. Inquire about the number of students they expect to take from the waitlist or have taken in prior years. Be sure to find out if there is a cutoff date for the waitlist. Nationally, only about 20% of waitlisted students are accepted each year, and at selective colleges the percentage may be much lower. Rather than counting on the waitlist, choose one of the colleges that offered you a place and send them an intent to enroll and deposit before the May 1st deadline. You can withdraw later if you are admitted from the waitlist.

Most colleges accept students from the waitlist who they know are most interested in attending, so if it’s your dream school, make sure that “Waitlist U” knows you will attend if admitted.