What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

Admissions Decisions

Our counselors answered:

What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

Tammy Smith

What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

A waitlist is an actual list and you might be towards the top or towards the bottom. You are well within your rights to call and ask what your status is and to politely withdraw yourself from consideration if you feel you are too far down to have a real chance of getting accepted. If you want to remain on the waitlist, contact the school to let them know you’re still interested.

But, whether you’ve been waitlisted or deferred, don’t bombard the admissions office with calls, emails, letters of recommendation, questions, or testimonials from family friends. There’s a fine line, as everyone who has been on a date knows, between being persistent and acting like a stalker. If you win a new accolade, ask your high school admissions officer to call the school on your behalf. The news will seem more significant coming from a third party.

In either case, keep your grades up as schools will continue to monitor your academic progress. If you are offered a second interview, take the opportunity. You may be able to communicate your enthusiasm better in person.

Wendy Smith

What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

If you’ve been waitlisted or deferred, remember two words. Don’t Panic. Think of this situation as finding yourself in deep water. If you flail around out of fear, you’re more likely to drown. Keep moving. Pick a direction and move forward. Apply to more or different schools, for example, or tour the schools at which you have been accepted and decide among them. Remember that sometimes unexpected things can turn out to be amazing. Most people can be happy most places, just as most unhappy people will be unhappy anywhere. 

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

This is a huge area in my region of the country where so many high caliber students are deferred and waitlisted. I try to prepare students and families for this possibility upfront. When a student really wants to attend a school, and this happens, he or she should carefully compose a letter to the director of admissions and rep expressing interest in the college and a very strong desire to attend if admitted. During the deferral or waitlist period, the student should continue to be diligent with studies and activities about which he or she is passionate, communicating significant developments with the admissions office. At the same time, the student has to be careful not to overwhelm the rep with submissions or information. Numbers will show that it can be very hard to be accepted once deferred or waitlisted, so the student should have a ready backup plan and not take any rejection personally.

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

Move On!

If you get waitlisted or deferred, try to move on with your life! Sure -- you can let the school know that you are still interested (if you are), but other than that -- try to look at your other options rather than dwelling on your waitlist or deferred status. For many schools, the number of waitlisted students often EXCEEDS the total number of freshmen spots! Isn't that incredible? In addition, despite the sometimes 1000s of students on a waitlist, a school will only end up admitting a few dozen (or sometimes ZERO) students! For your sanity (and your family's sanity), treat your waitlist status as a "soft" no from the school, and move on and examine the other options that you have. If you did a good job of selecting a variety of schools on your college list, you probably have more than a few great options for your college future!

Ellen erichards@ellened.com
Owner Ellen Richards Admissions Consulting

What if you were not accepted by your first choice college?

If you were not accepted to your first choice college, the best thing to do is realize that you are not alone. In fact, many successful people have endured disappointment during their lifetimes. The people who pick themselves up after falling ultimately realize success. Nevertheless, you must make an important decision during a time of emotional distress and need to overcome the negativity and focus on what best serves your future. Following are some options to consider if you must accept less than what you originally hoped for: 1) If one other school that stood out accepted you, then visit or look more into it. Perhaps that is the better place for you. 2) Enroll at a community college for 1 to 2 years and then transferring to your first choice college. First, you will save a lot of money for the same degree. Second, if can put your nose to the grindstone at a community college and present yourself to your current "first choice" as a total package - they'll wonder how they could have rejected you in the first place! 3) Take a gap year - so many options exist for ways to spend a year between high school and college that you should have no problem finding the perfect option that complements your passions and gives you real world experience. You can also use this year to increase your ACT scores, learn a new language or focus on a skill or academic area that colleges will find appealing. In the long run, if you use the time effectively it could make a difference not only in which college you attend, but also your life and the choices you make as a result of what you learn during the year off. 4) You can try to appeal an admission committee's decision, but this is not always advisable. This option works only if there is a legitimate reason for the committee to review your application. You must offer convincing new evidence that cannot be disputed. It would be a waste of time and energy to simply appeal because you "really want to attend college x". Believe it or not, lots of other students in your position feel the same way. Remember, you want to attend a college that also wants you to be there. This process is about finding the best fit and that goes both ways. Look at the silver lining: students nearly always end up at the college that best suits them (whether you realize that now or not.)

Helen Cella

What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

Continue to show interest( if you are) and focus on some schools that accepted you.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures


Let the admissions rep with whom you already have a nice cordial relationship with know that you are disappointed, but still hopeful. Ask them if they have any suggestions on how you can better your chances. Perhaps you have won an award, made an honor roll, performed in a play since you applied? Add those activities to your application by sending the information to your admission rep so they can add it to your file. Write another essay explaining how you would benefit the college by being accepted. Do what you can do, then just cross your fingers. And if you do not clear or get in, don't worry about it. Happily go to your next favorite college. They will be happy to have you.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Handle Disappointing News Proactively

When things don't go as planned, make a new plan. Use the set-back as a time to re-evaluate your goals and find alternate paths for achieving them. If you are prepared to attend the "bad news" school under any circumstances, take steps to express sincere interest in enrolling if space becomes available. Next, take action and apply to additional schools, revisit, or take whatever steps necessary to become comfortable with Plan B.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

While you are waiting for news, f you receive any substantial awards or there is a major improvement in your classwork or other interesting new circumstance, you can request that your guidance counselor contacts the admissions officer responsible for your geographic area. If you are wait listed, you should contact the admissions officer with a polite and enthusiastic note explaining why you believe that particular school is a good match for you and showing how you would positively impact the campus.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Wait Listed? Deferred? Let Them Know You Remain Interested

Waitlists and deferrals are very different. A deferral says the school needs more time before making a decision. It wants to what its whole applicant pool looks like and it may also want to see another round of grades from the applicant. The waitlist on the other hand may, in fact be a final decision, for if the school’s yield is strong, it may not need to go the waitlist and even when it does the choices it makes are usually based on the needs they must fill in the incoming class. However, in both cases applicants can continue to send updates about any new achievement, new scores, etc. It can never hurt so long as the updates are substantive and respectful. The commitment and desire will be noted and could pay off, but the ball is in the school’s court.