You just found out you’re on the Wait List at your school of choice. But what, exactly, does that mean?
First off–it does not mean that you have already been denied. If you had, you’d know–that’s what deny letters are for.
While the wait list process is different from school to school, there are some common things you need to know:
1) Second chance: Rather than feeling defeated, you should look on the wait list as your second chance. Someone saw enough potential in your application to extend the review process, usually side by side with negating factors such as low GPA’s, test scores or downward trends. Admissions counselors, often different from those who originally reviewed your application, will be rereading everything in your application. If there was anything you did not say before in your application, this is your chance to do so. Unless the school has specifically told you not to, don’t be afraid to send in additional information. Had a bad Junior year but aced your fall term Senior year? Turn in an updated transcript. Wrote your essay about a great activity you participated in but neglected to mention how you worked hard to improve your grades by staying after school every day and working with a tutor? Send in an additional personal statement or a new letter of recommendation.
2) Don’t be passive: While the term is “wait list” that doesn’t mean that you should sit around and wait for your decision. Signalling active interest can sometimes be a factor when your application is considered. Contact your admission counselor and ask them what factors in your application kept you from being admitted during the first review. Not only will this help you decide what additional documentation you should submit, but you will also be up-to-date on the review timeline.
3) Finish strong: There is little that can help a student who has not performed up to their potential more than an upward trend, including senior year grades. When your transcript improves semester to semester this demonstrates your commitment and hard work.
Sometimes being on the wait list can feel like being in purgatory to students (I can use that reference–I work at a Catholic university), but by taking that time to talk with your counselor and actively improve your application you can take control of your situation and stay informed. No matter the outcome of your review, finding out why you’re on the wait list in the first place can help you out with future applications.
Hopefully your targeted application updates will allow you to be admitted later on in the process. If, however, you are not ultimately admitted but you are still very interested in attending that university, don’t give up. Attend a community college or other school for a year at least and then apply as a transfer student with a clean slate.