College Waitlists: What Can/Should You Do Next?

Instead of panicking...

UPDATE #2. THE MORNING AFTER April 1: This website compiled stats for the class of 2026, and the percentages of acceptances are … well, shocking. If you’ve been turned down or waitlisted, you’ve got a lot of company. This has been a time of crisis and adaption for all of us. If you’ve been waitlisted, please read my blog post and try to keep your spirits up …. 

It’s most important to keep in mind: WAITLISTS ARE EXTREMELY UNPREDICTABLE, AND THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS ADMITTED OFF WAITLISTS CAN BE ZERO. Make other plans, even if you put energy into writing LOICs.

UPDATE:   9PM MARCH 31.  Harvard admits record low 3.19% of applicants. Yale admits record-low 4.5%. Columbia: 3.75%.

These percentages mean there is a lot of disappointment for those who were turned down and uncertainty for those who have been wait-listed.

These numbers are indicators of how difficult it is this year to gain admission to the most selective colleges and universities. With SAT/ACT tests optional, thousands more students are applying to the most selective institutions and universities may be looking at less quantifiable qualities than those tests contain.

Getting off the waitlists at Harvard and Yale is usually unlikely, but thousands of others have been waitlisted elsewhere across the country, where waitlists have much more movement. Please read some of the possibilities you have if you’re on a waitlist or two or three. And hang in there…. 


If you’re reading this blog post, it’s most likely that you’ve been waitlisted at a college you really want to attend.  You are NOT alone!

With tens of thousands of highly qualified students applying to a dozen and more colleges each, colleges are awash in great applicants AND unpredictable enrollments.

They admit students based on predictions of who will actually enroll based on yields from previous years. But the COVID admissions landscape brought surprises.

For instance, in 2019, Stanford’s yield rate was 82 percent but it dipped in the fall of 2020 to 68 percent. Yale’s yield rate dipped from 69 percent in 2019 to 55 percent in 2020. Colleges use waitlists to ensure that they can fill the incoming class with highly qualified students even if the yield rate changes.

With the spike in applications last year and this year — with some colleges seeing a 15% to 25% percent increase in just two years — colleges have to do a lot of hedging their bets in their predictions of who will enroll. If we say YES to this student, will she say YES to us? If she’s applied to 15 colleges, she can only say YES to one of them… You see the problem. Students are not the only ones who want to be chosen.

With the huge numbers of applicants and the significant number of people on waitlists, there will be a lot of shuffling going on in the next weeks and months.

Keep in mind: College waitlists are NOT numerical. They don’t take the first person who replied and go down the list. The admissions officers see who has said NO to the offer and find someone to (more or less) replace them. It is as unpredictable as the admissions process itself. AND it is not about merit. If you’re on the waitlist, they know you can do the work. 

What should you do now?

  1.  Choose whether you want to stay on the waitlist or not. This means evaluating your options, but you are not committing yourself to anything. You CAN accept positions on the waitlist of more than one college.
  2. Put down the deposit at another college, knowing that this may be the college you go to.
  3. Update the waitlisted college(s) on your continuing interest and if you have done anything significant since applying in November or January: academic projects, extracurricular accomplishments, personal bests. If X College is your first-choice and you are committed to going there if admitted, SAY SO!
  4. As disappointed as you may be, carry on as though you will not get off the waitlist — because the chances are so unpredictable.

If you’re muddling through this and want an extra pair of eyes on whatever you write or whatever you do next, please give me a call or send me an email.

If you’re at an earlier stage in your college application process and need help with your Common App essay or are considering hiring a coach, please take a look at my strategies for writing the essay here.  For information about working with me and my values, please click here.

If you’re interested, I can help with college selection.