After a grueling college application process, being waitlisted can feel like a lethal sort of limbo. After all, no one wants to be their dream school's sloppy seconds.
But being waitlisted isn't the end of the world — or, less dramatically, your college prospects. Jay Bacrania, the CEO and founder of college prep company Signet Education, gave us pointers on what to do.
Know the reasoning behind the waitlist
The common understanding of the waitlist is that it's for applicants who were close to acceptance, but didn't quite make the cut. That's certainly one factor, says Bacrania, but also consider that "a waitlist can be a yield management tool. [Colleges] can put a bunch of people on the list, then accept those who show further interest." That's because colleges are really focused on managing their yields, or the number of people who accept their acceptances, Bacrania explains.
Other reasons? A college might think it's your safety school, or want to give you a "soft letdown," which is basically the college saying, 'We liked you, but we can’t admit you.'
Reach out — but be humble and sincere
You — not your parents, and generally not your college counselor — should reach out to the school directly to affirm your interest. However, proceed with caution.
“Any time you’re communicating with a college admissions office, you have to keep in mind that whatever you do, everybody’s doing that, and then think about the poor person on the other end who has to deal with it,” says Bacrania. "You have to use a light touch."
You certainly want to update colleges on any compelling information, like stellar second semester grades or a new activity. But whatever you say should be limited to a page.
Bacrania suggests writing a letter to the admissions officer in charge of your geographic territory, and reiterating why you want to attend and are a good fit. "You want to do it only for your top school, because you want to be as honest as possible, and you’re basically committed if offered a chance to attend,” he explains.
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Timing is everything
Emailing or calling an admissions office the day after you get the waitlist letter is a definite no-no. Avoid their busiest times, and it’s not a bad idea to wait until late April or early May. Patience, grasshopper.
Think of getting off the waitlist as hitting the jackpot
The problem with offering blanket advice about navigating the waitlist is this: “There’s a really small chance that students get off the list. It’s [always] different, and it’s different at every school and every year....I would say the most prudent strategy is to move on the moment you put that letter in the mail,” says Bacrania. “What we would recommend is treat it like playing the lottery."
If you're thinking you need to do more, just don’t
As much as you might want to ensure that the odds are forever in your favor, less is more. Bacrania advises against cutesy moves like sending cookies — it won’t increase your chances, and at worst, brownnosing stunts may rub admissions counselors the wrong way. Don’t send extra materials either, as this isn’t the admissions process 2.0.
Meanwhile, get excited about your other options
College applicants who’ve set their sights on their dream school often suffer from I-only-have-eyes-for-you syndrome. Other options — good options — do exist. Evaluate them in terms of various factors, not just prestige.
“You might apply to one school for a particular academic program or a social element, or a location. You can make that list varied," says Bracrania. "Think carefully about that college list. That’s where you can have am impact on the whole process."