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This week's question from Lauren B. from Houston, TX asks:

I was rejected from my top choice school and waitlisted at my second choice. What do I do? How do I choose amongst my backup schools? I don’t know anything about them!

Accept the Wait List, and Forget the One that Got Away

Bill Yarwood | Director of Guidance
Given your choices, it is time to move on and take action. Regardless of your feelings about being waitlisted, contact admissions and tell them “Yes,” you love their school and that you want to remain on the wait list. You probably know more about your back-ups than you think. If you have not visited, go to see them now! They must be great schools, or you would not have considered them. Selecting a college is a lot like choosing a mate, except it is only for a few years. Forget the one that got away. Fall in love with the college or university that loves you.

Accept the Waitlist Invite, But Secure Your Spot at Another School!

Sarah Hernandez | Director of the Office of Diversity Programs in Engineering
Waitlist decisions can sometimes be harder on applicants than outright rejections. They provide the disappointment of a rejection but not the closure. If waitlisted, accept the invitation to be placed on the waitlist. Because this will not result in a guaranteed positive outcome, submit a deposit at another institution. However, before submitting a deposit, reflect on your priorities for your best-fit institutions and determine which among your “admit” schools most closely match these priorities. If possible, visit these schools. However, if you can’t visit, take advantage of the opportunity to interact with current students via the phone, web chats,, etc. so you have the opportunity to gain some peer insight before making a final decision.

Allow yourself to fall in love all over again

Mark Montgomery | Founder
Infatuation is not a great way to choose a spouse. Or a college. Better to have some fundamental criteria of compatibility. Assuming that you began the college selection process in a relatively rational way, you can now return to those criteria as you research the colleges that have indicated you are a great fit for them.  Those criteria will also help you ask better questions when you correspond with members of that college community. It also helps to get on the Facebook page created for new admits:  you'll find plenty of people over the moon about being accepted to that college. The enthusiasm can be infectious, and you may find yourself falling in love. For real.

Be proactive, be patient and be at peace

Carol Jacobs | Director of College Guidance
Although you may be disappointed, there is time to regroup. Let your waitlist college know about your continued interest, recent grades, and accomplishments. Demonstrate why you would be an asset to the school!  Then it takes patience while colleges try to balance the numbers for their incoming class – and to see if they will be using a waitlist. This process can take place throughout the spring and summer.  In the meantime, think back to why you applied to the colleges on your list and what your priorities are; then accept an offer of admission by May 1st.  Be at peace and celebrate your decision.  After all, there are lots of great colleges for everyone.

Being wait listed is not the end

Maura Kastberg | Vice President of Client Services
Indicate to the college that if you are chosen you will attend. No response causes them to drop you from their list. If there has been significant improvement in any part of your record since you applied, ask a teacher or counselor to confirm this in writing, then let the college know. Do not pressure the college with calls or letters. To cover your bases, make a deposit at a college that has offered to accept you. You may have to forfeit the deposit if you are accepted later at your preferred school. If this was your reach school you may not want to be in academic competition at this college. You may ultimately be happier somewhere else.

By exploring new options you may find something even better

Enid Arbelo | Editor in Chief
First of all, don’t panic. There are plenty of other options out there. And although it may be hard to believe this right now (while you deal with the sting of rejection) this change in plans could be a good thing for you. This can force you to explore other options close to home or far away and even reconsider programs like a 2+2, where you attend a community college and transfer to a four-year school. Taking the time to investigate new academic program options can save you money and time in the long run. And remember, it's their loss!

Community college could be a great upfront investment!

Barb Fisher | Recruiter, Marketing Director & Foundation Liason
Consider attending a community college!  There are many benefits to attending a community college, including: Cost – it’s usually less expensive. Smaller class sizes – instructors usually know your name. An easier application process. Credits usually transfer easily. You can still apply to your “dream school” and graduate from that school  - and think of how much money you’ll save during those first 2 years!

Compare offers from back up schools before you reject them

Kimberly Arias | Director of Programs
One of the scariest parts of the college application process is being faced with the possibility of having to attend one of your back up schools. Since they want you, they will offer you incentives to attend their schools. Compare financial aid packages, internship programs and job placement opportunities to see what they offer you in paid school and summer work experience. Remember, many colleges will prepare you for your future. It's humbling to be rejected but there are many excellent schools that can help you achieve your goals and many of them view you as their top choice.

Congratulations! You’ve still got options. Here’s how to maximize them

James Maroney | Director
First, send a letter accepting your place on the waitlist and updating the college with new activities or awards since you initially applied.  Ask if you can interview, if you haven’t yet.  Also, ask them if you can submit additional letters of recommendation or other supplemental materials.  Next, evaluate your backup schools. Visit them and ask yourself, “Can I see myself walking across this campus to go to class? Can I see myself being friends with these students?”  Talk to as many current and former students as possible.  Then make a list of the pros and cons for each school.    

Consider appealing the decision or writing to your second choice

Rachel Winston | President
It’s never over until it’s over. Colleges want the best fit and mix for their diverse tapestry. An amazingly talented, diverse student pool may have been selected, but students must also have right attitude and integrity, which is not tested on an SAT/ACT. Sometimes a candidate is rejected/waitlisted, but is reconsidered and admitted on appeal. You must have new information not on your original application and you must be on the top end of the college’s candidate pool, but some rejected/waitlisted students are accepted. So, what salient reasons make you their top pick? Meanwhile, visit and compare the choices you have.

Crossing a name off your list is a good thing

Amy Greenwald Foley | Sr Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions
Since finding the right college is about finding the right fit, you’ll need to “try on” many.  Schools you liked online or in your guidance office may not feel the same in person.   Do your homework, selecting schools with majors that interest you most.  Then, get out there and visit.  We all have classrooms, libraries, residence halls, dining halls, gyms, and more.  What is most important is how you feel about the place.  Do you like the size? location? vibe?  If not, cross that school off your list and move on.

Don’t panic if you must select from “other options”

Susan Sykes | President
First, sit down and compose a letter to your second-choice school. Tell them you remain interested in their college and hope they will admit you from the wait list. Include new information you might have such as third quarter grades (which you haven’t allowed to slip!) and recent accomplishments or awards that may have come your way. Then revisit the remaining options. Consider your initial ‘wish list’ and research each school in that context. Rank order these schools. Finally, visit as many schools as possible to help you decide. 

Focus on School Acceptances While You Waitlist

Mitch Clark | Executive Director
Relieve your waitlist anxiety and make plans to attend one of the backup schools where you have been accepted.  Go to the school websites and determine which ones fit your preferences and have the right academic programs for you.  Plan campus visits before you make the final commitment to insure your choice is the right fit.  Since you don’t know anything about the schools, talk to students who go there and be sure to ask a lot of questions.  If you’ll be far from home, consider an overnight stay in the dorms.  You may find a new top choice!

Focus, research and carefully compare based on what matters most

Jennifer DesMaisons | Director of College Counseling
Send any updated information about grades, activities or leadership to your waitlist school. Make a list of the things that matter most to you (city, small classes, strong athletics, access to art classes, options for research as an undergrad, like-minded people, focus on community). Comb through college websites for answers. Sign up for any revisit days. Compare financial aid packages as part of the equation. Reach out to students who attend these schools and ask questions. Notice the places and people that you are drawn to most. Those “backup” schools were on your original list for a reason.

From “Back Up” to Terrific Choice

Hannah Serota | College Counselor
First, alter the way you label the colleges that have offered you admission.  If you think of them as “back-up” schools you may prevent yourself from getting excited about colleges that are terrific for you.  Next, spend some time becoming familiar with these colleges.  Remind yourself of the criteria you used for selecting colleges and then put these schools to the test.  In what ways do they meet (or not meet) some of the essential characteristics of a good fit for you?  Compare financial aid packages to determine actual cost of attendance at each college.  I bet you discover that you have some wonderful options before you. 

From disappointment comes opportunity 

Joan Bress | Director & Certified Educational Planner
Rejection feels awful, especially when it’s from a college you really, really want to attend. Remember, though, that you won’t be enrolling in Most Favorite University, there are other wonderful colleges that will be happy to have you as a student. Reread your applications, especially the “Why do I want to go to this school” essays. Think about how you’ve grown and matured in the past few months. You might find that what looked like second best in December looks much better in May. Be open to new opportunities and you will find the things you loved about MFU at a school that is eager to welcome you to their community.

Get excited and demonstrate that energy to the school!

Elinor Adler | Founder
Time to "relearn" about the school. Go to an accepted student open house to learn more about the school. Read about the school, talk with others you know at the school, review your initial criteria for choosing the school. Meet with your counselor to create a letter to the school which should include  any new information  they may not have had when making the decision, new grades, recent accomplishments, etc. Remember: There are thousands of schools in the US. That tells us there is more than one you'll be happy at!

Improve those waitlist chances while deciding on a backup college 

Dale Ford | Counseling Department Chair
While you should let your waitlisted school know that it is your first choice and you will go if admitted, the waitlist odds are never good. Since you have until May 1 to send a deposit to one of your other schools, spend some time making a list of what’s important to you in a college. Either on your own or during one of the programs for admitted students, visit the campuses and use your list to make comparisons. You’ll soon realize that even if you don’t come off the waitlist, you have several great college options.

It pays to be proactive as colleges often recognize initiative

Gail Lewis | Educational Consultant
Waitlisted students can maximize their chances of acceptance by taking the initiative to update their waitlist college with news of genuine achievements in the period since submitting the application. You may have done well at a science fair, in a poetry or photography contest, or even developed your own distinctive news item such as a display of your art at a local restaurant, organizing a car wash for Hospice, or having an article published in the local newspaper. Fax in updates that emphasize the college is your first choice school and affirm strongly that you will attend if admitted.

Know the bottom line when comparing packages!

Patricia Tamborello | College Counselor
All financial aid packages are not created equal. It is important to separate the types of aid given to you. Make a comparison sheet by listing gift aid (grants and scholarships) from self-help monies (loans and work-study) to first see if one college has awarded you more “free” aid. Then, subtract the total aid awarded by the actual cost of attending the college. If your financial aid letter does not list the total cost, you might have to go the college’s website to find that number. The difference between your total aid and the cost of attendance is an important dollar figure to know when deciding between schools.

Maximizing Your Odds of Getting In Off of the Waitlist

Rene Bickley | Director of College Counseling
This is your signal to spring into action.  Decide if you would attend the college if offered.  If so, communicate your intention immediately and in writing.  Next touch base with the person/s you have spoken with during the admission process and reiterate your STRONG interest.  If you can manage it, visit the campus and talk with the admissions staff personally.  This will take effort, but there's no better way to demonstrate interest than face-to-face. Confidently articulate why the school remains your #1 choice. Don't forget:  You are your own best advocate.  Relax, smile, engage. 

Now that you know - you’re back in the driver’s seat!

Candy Cushing | Associate Director of College Counseling
It’s ok to grieve over a rejection. Then take a deep breath and get to business. Realize that your waitlist school has become your first choice. Contact admissions directly to let them know you will attend if admitted off the waitlist; also advise of any positive changes in your profile: accomplishments, awards, recognition. Easy information access allows you to quickly learn about your other options. Check out Unigo as well as specific college student blogs. Review what you want and what they offer.  Being in the driver’s seat – make every effort to revisit each school.

Rejected, Waitlisted, Anxious, Rethinking? Get Your Swagger Back!

Farron Peatross | Educational Consultant
First, consult with your independent or school counselor or the college to determine if there is more information that you could submit to help your waitlist position. Perhaps, new grades, activities, situations that have changed, or letters of recommendation that were not included in your initial application? Then reconsider your remaining choices with a campus visit, if time permits, or by communicating with students on campus for their opinions/reviews. Rate the colleges based on your impressions of academic and student compatibility, major/career preparedness, geography, financial commitment, extracurricular activities, and other categories important to you. Trust your instincts!

Remember why backup schools seemed like good choices months earlier

Andrea van Niekerk | Educational Consultant
Everyone has a dream school, but in reality that school may say no, or at best, maybe.  Stay on the waitlist then, sending a letter of continued commitment, but also focus on alternatives.  Hopefully you researched diligently and applied only to schools you could imagine attending.  Remind yourself now why a school was on your list - explore the course catalog, Facebook with current students, attend admitted student events to take the measure of prospective classmates.  College will be whatever you make of it, wherever you attend, and after a few months, you will hardly recall having had another dream!

The Dreaded Thin Envelope – Now What?

Samia Ferraro | Independent College Counselor
You have spent months researching schools and telling your story on numerous applications only to be denied your dream choice.  What is an 18 year old to do? Take a deep breath and remember that there are schools on your list who do want you; who feel as though you are a good fit for them. Review your criteria of what you are looking for in a school: geography, size, programs, etc. and apply these to the schools to which you have been accepted. It will be a win – win for you and the college you decide to attend.

Transferring: Not always where you start, but where you finish! 

Mabel Freeman | Asst. VP for Undergraduate Admissions
Your college options may include transferring a year from now to that favorite school.  Many institutions limit the number of freshmen but take transfer students with a year of college credits.  You could still earn your degree from that first or second choice college.  Go to their websites to check out their transfer criteria; talk with an admissions staff member about the number of transfer students they typically accept.  You could enroll for a year at a local college or one of your “back-up” schools and then transfer.  But don’t be surprised if you find yourself happy where you start!

Use the next few weeks to make a thoughtful decision

Peggy Hock | Educational Consultant
Revisit the criteria you used to develop your college list and see how each of your choices compares. Visit the Unigo website and watch some student videos. Ask the admissions office at each college to put you in touch with current students from your area so you can ask them what the college is really like. If possible, arrange to visit the two or three colleges that seem to be the best fit.  Spend a full day imagining your self as a student at each college. Which “college experience” left you feeling the most energized?  

Visiting is usually the best way to learn about a school

Julie Manhan | Founder
How great that several other schools really want you to be a student there! I would compare your backup schools side-by-side to see which ones best meet your criteria for things you are looking for in a college, then go visit those schools.  If possible, attend the events offered specifically for admitted students.  Talking with faculty and potential classmates can give you valuable insights you just can’t get anywhere else.  If you can picture yourself living and learning with these people for the next four years, you’ve likely found the best school for you.

When a “back up’ is not really an option

Robert Mansueto | Director of University Counselling
Your question raises a very important point; how did you get in the position of applying to schools that you know nothing about? With approximately 3600 colleges and universities in the U.S., any student should be able to find more than one or two that you would be happy to attend. All schools on your final application list deserve the same scrutiny as any other, if for no other reason than you may be going to any one of them. A ‘back up’ should never be a school that you simply feel that you can get into; rather one that is perhaps less selective than some others, but meets your academic, social and extracurricular needs as well as your top choice.

Work with what you have

Dave Hamilton | Director of College Advising
Even though the waitlist may seem like a possibility, students should pursue all other options at this time. If this means they need to get up to speed on their other choices, they need to do so ASAP. Be sure to visit those colleges, ask insightful questions, chat with a faculty member in your intended field of study, pick up a campus newspaper, and talk to current students. In the end, it is not where you go but what you do where you go.

You will end up loving the school you choose to attend!

Linda Turner | President
First, understand that there is never just one right school for you, or even two. You have two tasks: 1) decide if you want to remain on the waitlist and if so, reaffirm your interest with the school and update them periodically with any accomplishments you have achieved since you first applied.  2) You must choose to accept admission at one of your other schools.  Review the academic and social factors that drove your college search and attend Admitted Student Weekends prepared to validate those factors.  Ask yourself, Can I see myself feeling at home here?  Your answer will come.

You’ve got a two-pronged mission

Shelley Krause | Co-Director of College Counseling
First, congratulations! You’re going to college! Now, think about whether or not the possible “upside” of an offer of admission to your “waitlist” school outweighs the “downside” of prolonging your admissions process. If you decide to go for it, send back that card pronto and then reach out to your admission counselor. Meanwhile, research – with a passion – the schools where you’ve been accepted; you’ll need to deposit by May 1. Have you checked out the NCES’ Navigator site? The colleges’ faculty webpages? Their career centers? Can you attend that special event for admitted students? All questions are fair game now!


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