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What to Do If You Are Waitlisted for College

April 07, 2021 · 6 minute read

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What to Do If You Are Waitlisted for College

Students want to see one word when they get letters from their prospective colleges: accepted. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to be the result every time. Some students will end up on the college waitlist, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be accepted eventually.

Being waitlisted is not the same as being rejected. There’s still a possibility of getting accepted and attending that dream school.

So what does it mean to be on a college waitlist? It means the student is still up for consideration based on how many spaces are left after decision day. Getting accepted from the waitlist depends on how many accepted students choose to attend the school.

Decision day is May 1, when incoming freshmen are required to notify schools whether they will be attending or not. If not enough students accept their invites for schools to meet enrollment numbers, then students on the waitlist will be reevaluated and potentially accepted.

There’s no guarantee that students who accept their spot on the waitlist will be admitted, but that doesn’t mean they should give up. There are still things they can do to boost their chances.

Waitlisted or Deferred?

Students may have received a letter saying they’re on the college waitlist, or maybe instead they’ve been deferred, so what’s the difference? A deferral usually involves students who applied for early action or early decision. These applications are generally turned in during November of the senior year.

If a student applies via early action or decision and they receive a deferral, that means their application has been changed to regular decision. The application will be reviewed again during the regular decision time frame.

A deferral is different from a waitlist, but this article recommends that students who have been deferred take the same actions as those waitlisted to better their chances of admission.

What to Do When You Get Waitlisted

Students who have been waitlisted but still want to attend the school must first do one thing: Accept their position on the waitlist!

If they neglect to contact the school and accept their position, they’ll be removed from the list and won’t be considered for admission if there are spots left after decision day.

Once they’ve accepted their spot on the waitlist, there are a few things students can do to better their chances of being accepted. The following are suggestions to improve chances but do not guarantee a place at the school.

Contact Admissions

When students receive their letter informing them that they’ve been waitlisted, there might be some instructions included. Students should follow these instructions first and foremost.

Next, it’s often recommended that students contact admissions with a letter to further stress their commitment to attending the school. The letter should detail why the student wants to attend that school and why they believe that school is the best fit for them. Students should ask that the letter be kept in their file along with their other application materials.

Request an Interview

Asking for an interview can be helpful in getting off the waitlist. Meeting with someone in person may make the student more memorable when it comes time to accept applicants from the waitlist.

If a student already did an interview, it’s okay to request another one after receiving a waitlist decision. A second interview provides the chance to reinforce commitment to the school and add any recent accomplishments to the conversation. Anything special the student has achieved during the spring semester would be great to bring up during their interview.

Reserve a Spot at Your Second Choice

Even though it can be a bit discouraging to do so, it’s highly recommended that students who’ve been waitlisted on their first-choice school put a deposit down for their second-place school.

Most schools will begin accepting students from the waitlist after May 1, but some won’t be able to give a definitive answer until as late as August. Students should have a few schools that they’re confident they’ll get into.

Putting a deposit down on another school isn’t giving up on the dream school; it’s just an important safety net to ensure students have somewhere to attend. Some may opt to take a “gap year” if they don’t make it into their school of choice. This choice is highly personal, though, and there isn’t a clear recommendation on how beneficial or harmful it is.

Some students may find a gap year useful and productive, while others may find that it deters them from going back to school on time. If taking a gap year is something students are considering, they can read more about the pros and cons .

Anyone committed to attending college in the fall will find it a smart move to put a deposit down on their second- or even third-place school, and then continue working on getting accepted off the waitlist for their first choice.

Retake Tests

Students who did not score well on the SAT or ACT may want to consider retaking those tests if they’ve been waitlisted. Contacting the college is advised to make sure it’s willing to accept additional application information. If the school will accept it and the student thinks he or she can get better scores, it could be helpful to go ahead and retake the tests.

Most colleges will accept scores from either test, but it’s best to check with each school to be sure. Both tests have a similar goal, testing for college readiness, but they vary slightly in timing and types of questions asked.

If students need to improve their test scores but have limited time or money, it may help to research the difference between the two tests and take the one they feel they can perform better on. Practice tests are also a great way to discover which test suits the individual better. Many students do take both tests, so that is an option as well.

Don’t Give Up

Make the end of senior year impressive. Don’t let that waitlist cause discouragement. If students truly want to make it off the waitlist, they should work even harder at the end of their senior year. Senior grades can still affect admissions, so keeping them high may help those who are on the waitlist.

If students still don’t get accepted to their dream school, it doesn’t mean they have to give up. Even if they’re not accepted from the waitlist, there are still a couple of options. They can accept admission from a different school and aim to transfer to their dream school after one to two years. This allows time to earn good grades, get the necessary credits, then transfer.

Students who decide they want to transfer schools must work closely with their counselor to make sure they’re taking the correct courses and should be sure about their choice of major. Not all credits will transfer to all schools, so talking to a counselor before choosing courses is a good idea.

Ready to Start. What’s Next?

Whether students make it off the waitlist and get into their dream school or choose to accept admission at their second choice, they’ll be faced with tuition. So how to cover the cost? Tuition, fees, books, food, plus all the other costs of living… it adds up quickly.

Luckily, there are a few sources available to help students finance their college education. The first step for most should be filling out the FAFSA®, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The application will determine eligibility to receive federal aid. The eligibility for undergraduates to receive aid is most often based on their parents’ income. This process will inform students of how much federal aid they can receive, and what kind.

Federal aid can come in the form of grants or loans. Grants don’t need to be repaid (unless you withdraw from school and owe a refund), but loans do. Federal loans come with some benefits that students won’t get with private student loans, including income-driven repayment plans and lower interest rates.

Another option for funding the college experience is scholarships. There’s usually a wide variety of scholarships available, with different eligibility requirements for each one. Some scholarships are need-based; some are merit-based.

Scholarships can be awarded from the school, corporations, or local organizations. Students can usually find information on available scholarships at financial aid offices. Searching online can also help students find scholarships based on their eligibility.

If students can’t finance college completely with federal aid and scholarships, private student loans are also available. It’s recommended that students exhaust all federal aid options before choosing to take out private student loans, as federal loans come with more protections for students.

The eligibility for private student loans is usually based on the student’s (or co-signer’s) income and credit history, but this may vary by establishment. The terms of the loan will also vary by establishment, so it’s important for students to research their options before making a choice.

If students aren’t eligible for federal aid, or it simply isn’t enough to cover all of their costs, then private student loans can help them finance college.

SoFi® offers private student loans with flexible repayment options and absolutely no fees.

Interested in a private student loan? Apply for one with SoFi today.



SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

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