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Blog #18: COLLEGE ADMISSIONS - Understanding College Waitlists

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

College admissions letters are coming out! In this flurry of activity, many students will find themselves waitlisted. Let’s talk about what that is and factors that affect your student’s chance of getting into the college of their choice.

What is the waitlist?

Colleges create a waitlist of applicants who are qualified for admission and would have been admitted had there been space available in the class. If your student is offered a spot on a college waitlist, they can accept the invitation and allow their name to be added to the waitlist or decline it if they do not want to wait for an admission decision or have already been admitted into the college they want to attend.

Colleges will begin to choose students off the waitlist starting after May 1, which is the date when admitted students must indicate their decision to attend the college and pay a non-refundable deposit. Colleges admit off the waitlist when they need to fill more spaces in the class. Waitlist offers usually roll out throughout May and June, and colleges have been known to make offers to waitlisted applicants into July and August, right before the start of the fall semester. That said, not everyone on the waitlist is likely to be admitted, since the number of offers depend on the number of admitted students that decline the initial regular decision (or early action) offers.

For example, here is some data on waitlists for a sampling of colleges that were in effect for admission in the Fall of 2019 (prior to the pandemic). This chart shows the College, the number of students who accepted the college's invitation to be put on the waitlist, and the number and percentage that the college accepted off the waitlist that year.




Bates College


42 (6.5%)

Boston University


339 (11.3%)

Carnegie Mellon University


140 (3.9%)

Haverford College


15 (1.6%)

Princeton University


1 (0.1%)

Stanford University


8 (1.3%)

Syracuse University


611 (19%)

Virginia Tech


25 (16.6%)

Williams College


24 (3.6%)

The pandemic has made waitlist admissions very challenging!

Let's be frank, the pandemic has not helped students hoping to get admitted off a college waitlist. In the last two years, many newly admitted students deferred their admission to avoid starting off their freshman year in remote learning. This means that a more than usual number of students in the freshman classes for Fall 2020 and 2021 pushed back their start of freshman year to the Fall of 2021 or 2022. This domino-effect naturally adversely impacts the number of freshman slots available in each of these classes, and the number of applicants that would be admitted off the waitlist. While we don't want your student to be frustrated by these facts, these are unusual circumstances driven by the pandemic that has affected colleges nationwide, and may help alleviate any frustration if your student does not get the results they are hoping for in terms of waitlist admissions.

What are your student's chances of getting admitted off the waitlist?

In addition to the circumstances of the pandemic, your student's chances of getting admitted off the waitlist depends on a number of other factors specific to the college. Some of the factors include:

  • Spots available to fill the freshman class. Naturally, the more spots available, the greater likelihood there is of your student getting admitted off the waitlist.

  • Institutional preferences. Each college has its own institutional preferences that may drive waitlist admission decisions. For instance, if a college needs more students who will major in classics or studio art, or wants to pull students from a geographical area, it can use the waitlist to achieve those objectives.

  • Demonstrated interest. The college may evaluate waitlisted applicants to determine the likelihood of their attending the college. This may be shown in essays, college virtual/life visits, or other elements of the application.

  • Strength of the application. If your student has top grades and strong test-scores, they may be a top candidate to be offered admission off the waitlist.

Check out our next blog for tips on strategies to get admitted off the waitlist!



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