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  • Writer's pictureHollis Bischoff

What Students Should Do If They Are Waitlisted

Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the November 22, 2017 edition


Hello, seniors:

Congratulations on submitting your college applications. You may be receiving notice from your early-action and early-decision schools, so now is the time to begin your decision-making process.

Remember, you must make a deposit at one – and only one – college, by either the date required of the early-decision agreement or by May 1 for early-action or regular-decision schools.

What if your early choice defers you to regular decision? What if you have been waitlisted? Please check the options for each college – some, like Stanford University, have an official form for deferred students, while others will have instructions for actions to take.

If you are waitlisted, some colleges will require that you opt-in if you wish to stay on the waitlist; others will automatically put you on the waitlist. If you choose to opt-in, or remain, on the waitlist, follow the directions for completing any updates. It is extremely important that you follow all instructions, as noncompliance will harm your chances of admission.

Either deferred or waitlist updates should be substantial and new, and should include any new extracurricular activities, awards or classes. Check to see if the college will take any additional recommendation letters or supplements – many do not.

During the update period, you also may include any commentary about your fit for that college and your willingness to attend if admitted. Because most colleges receive your first-semester grades from senior year, updated grades are not an acceptable update. Neither is just saying, “I’m really interested.” The college knows you are interested; after all, you applied.


The waitlist is a way for colleges to ensure that they admit a full and balanced class. Some years, no one will be admitted off the list; other years, a few to a few hundred (in the case of some UCs) may be offered admission.

You will never learn your placement on the waitlist. Colleges will look in real time to see where they need to balance (state representation, male/female ratio, a particular major, sport or extracurricular), so there is no predicting whether you will come off the waitlist.

Do not depend on the waitlist for your college enrollment, as any given possibility is quite small. Once you’ve submitted your waitlist update, move on and decide among the terrific options you have already been admitted to. It is unlikely you will get a waitlist decision before May 1, so pay your deposit at your top admitted choice and then deal with the pleasant surprise (if the miracle happens) if you come off the waitlist.

With luck and a good, balanced list, you should have multiple choices awaiting your decision. Now is the time, as you are receiving admissions offers, to begin the process of evaluating which institution you will ultimately attend.

If you have already decided, be sure to place your deposit and housing selection before May 1 and email/update the portal for each college you are turning down (this will help your peers by letting the colleges know they can go to their waitlists). If there is not a place on the college’s portal to decline the decision, a quick email to your admissions rep, thanking him or her for admitting you and letting the rep know you have decided to attend another institution would be much appreciated.

You’ve done all the hard work and now you have all the power to choose your home for the next four years. In my next column, I’ll address “Choosing Your College Home.”

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