What to Do If You Are Waitlisted for College

By Brandi Lucey · August 27, 2023 · 7 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 likely 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 you’re 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 accepting a spot on the waitlist will lead to being admitted, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. There are still things you can do to boost your chances.

Waitlisted or Deferred?

In some cases, a student may receive a letter saying they’ve been deferred rather than being put on the waitlist. 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 senior year.

If a student applies via early action or decision and they receive a deferral, that means they have not yet been accepted but 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 students who have been deferred generally want to take the same actions as those who have been waitlisted to better their chances of admission.

💡 Quick Tip: You’ll make no payments on some private student loans for six months after graduation.

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

Once you’ve accepted your spot on the waitlist, there are a few steps you can take that may better your chances of being accepted. Here’s a close look.

Contact Admissions

When you receive a letter informing you that you’ve been waitlisted, there might be some instructions included. First and foremost, it’s a good idea to follow them.

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 you want to attend that school and why you believe that school is the best fit for you. You might also want to ask that the letter be kept in your file along with your 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 you more memorable when it comes time to accept applicants from the waitlist.

If you already did an interview, it’s okay to request another one after receiving a waitlist decision. A second interview provides the chance to reinforce your commitment to the school and add any recent accomplishments to the conversation. This can be a great time to bring up anything special you have achieved during the spring semester.

Reserve a Spot at Your Second Choice

Even though it can be discouraging, it’s highly recommended that students who’ve been waitlisted for their first-choice school put a deposit down for their next-best option. Putting a deposit down on another school isn’t giving up on your dream school; it’s just an important safety net to ensure you have somewhere to attend.

Some students 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.

Anyone committed to attending college in the fall will likely 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. Before you do that, however, it’s a good idea to contact the college to make sure it’s willing to accept additional application information. If the school will accept it, and you think you 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 you need to improve your test scores but have limited time or money, it may help to research the difference between the two tests and take the one you feel you can perform better on. Taking practice tests can also help you determine which test suits you better. Many students do take both tests, so that is an option as well.

Recommended: Do Your SAT Scores Really Matter for College?

Don’t Give Up

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

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

If your plan is to transfer schools, however, you’ll want to work closely with your counselor to make sure you’re taking the correct courses and carefully consider your choice of major, since not all credits will transfer to all schools.

💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.

Ready to Start. What’s Next?

Whether you make it off the waitlist and get into your dream school or choose to accept admission at your second choice, you’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 resources available to help students finance their college education. The first step for most should be filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 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, loans, and work-study. 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 potentially lower interest rates.

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

If you can’t finance college completely with federal aid and scholarships, private student loans are also available. The eligibility for private student loans is usually based on the student’s (or cosigner’s) income and credit history. Rates and terms vary by lender, so it’s important for students to research their options before making a choice.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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