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What You Need to Know About College Admissions: The Wait List­­--Are the Odds in Your Favor?

by Joanne Apesos
May 16, 2015

" If an offer comes, it comes quickly – If you are offered a spot it, will come quickly."

Were you offered a place on the wait list for your top choice college or university? With the advent of the common application, meeting enrollment goals is becoming harder for colleges to predict. That’s where wait lists come into the picture. Wait lists were around in the past but weren’t used as commonly as they are now. 

Keep in mind that the wait list is not something that’s been created for the benefit of the student. It’s purely designed to help schools meet their enrollment goals—they want every bed filled! So as deposits come in (or don’t come in), they may find themselves falling short for their freshmen class and begin to pull students from their wait list. If your name appears on one of those lists, here are some suggestions to help you with the process:

  1. Confirm Your Spot – Reply that you are interested in taking a spot on the wait list.  Schools will offer a spot but you must, in turn, confirm you are interested. Don’t place yourself on the list if there is any doubt about whether you would enroll.
  2. Send a Deposit Somewhere by May 1 – To insure that you will go somewhere in the fall, send a deposit to another school. If you are taken off the wait list you will, most likely, lose the deposit but that is the price you may have to pay.
  3. Send Updates – Send your latest grades, additional information on awards, letters of recommendation and new accomplishments but be selective. Report any news that you think may be worthy. The best person to send it to is the admissions rep for your geographic area. 
  4. Self-Market – As much as I hate the word, you must communicate that you are still interested and why your wait list school is a good match for you. You don’t need to send admissions offices flowers or candy or pictures of you covered with college logo wear, but you need to communicate that attending the school is important to you and why.
  5. Remember -- Highly selective schools rarely work off their wait list. You need to be realistic in your expectations.  Here are some past stats from a few selective colleges and universities.

               School                                       Student On Wait List                Students Admitted from WL

College of the Holy Cross



Wellesley College



Bates College



Bucknell University



Carnegie Mellon University



6. If an Offer comes, it comes quickly – If you are offered a spot it will come quickly.  Usually mid-May/June is the time that offers materialize.  You may get a call from admissions and they may tell you that you have 24 hours to reply and send in your deposit.  Make sure they have accurate contact information to reach you!

To take a quote from the Hunger Games series, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”  And if you do get an offer of admission after being on the wait list, stand proud – you are just as valuable as the applicant who was admitted through early action, early decision or regular decision.  This is a numbers game and don’t think of yourself as someone who is less than any other accepted student.

Joanne Clary Apesos is the owner of College Pursuits, a college counseling business in Holliston.  She has advised high school students and their families in planning their college experience for many years and has presented HEF workshops for students and parents about the college selection process. Prior to assisting high school students she worked in higher education for 20+ years as an admissions counselor, adjunct faculty member and director of student activities at both public and private colleges and universities in the Northeast. She holds a master’s degree in Higher Education from Columbia University and earned a Certificate from UCLA’s College Counseling Program. She can be reached at


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Comments (1)

Thank you for the article. If you are not offered a spot off the wait list, when can you assume that opportunity no longer exists? Do colleges tell wait listed students when the wait list is closed?

- Amanda | 5/26/15 3:21 PM



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