The Secrets to Getting Off the Waitlist

Getting off the waitlist is a lot like falling in love. One has to be open to the idea to have a shot at it.

Granted, getting admitted from the waitlist doesn’t always happen if space is limited. But with the unprecedented application growth at many colleges, comes great uncertainty about which students and how many of them will ultimately enroll. Getting admitted off the waitlist is as likely as anything in this current landscape.

Just because a student gets waitlisted doesn’t mean they will be considered if space opens up in the freshman class. Why? Not every student who receives a waitlist decision chooses to accept the invitation.

Contact, Contact, and More Contact

Students who want to be considered on the waitlist need to reply to the offer. Usually, students can do this by accepting the invitation on the college’s admissions portal. This is the first step of the process, and without doing it a student’s chances of getting admitted end here.

Accepting the invitation to stay on the waitlist is the first point of contact. Contact is key. If a student is truly interested in getting admitted, they need to make more “contact” than this. Sometimes students can reach out to their admissions officer directly via email or by calling them on the phone. A senior level admissions officer at Wake Forest often tells me that he wants to hear from my students via email with updates, intentions, and anything else they want to share.


Need to know more? Read our previous blog post Get yourself off the “Waitlist” with these 10 Helpful Tips


A few carefully constructed, deliberate, and well-timed emails can show continued interest over time. If a student is waitlisted sometime in March of senior year, they should reach out immediately and then follow up a few weeks later leading up to May 1st when admitted students need to reply to the offer of admission. Colleges that end up using the waitlist, will most likely start reviewing waitlisted students sometime in May. If the waitlist continues into June, students can reach out one more time to continue to express interest.

Practice Love & Humility

George Washington University offers call-in days where waitlisted students can speak to an admissions staff member. Not only does the act of calling show interest and humility, but it’s a rare opportunity for a student to express how much they love GW.

When I worked in college admissions, I took every call from a student who was waitlisted. I knew that if there was room to admit students, I wanted to take the students who were humble and mature enough to reach out to me. There were always parents who made the call for the student, but that never moved me to action like hearing from the students themselves.

There was always something very genuine and human about hearing an earnest student on the other end of the line expressing both respect and passion for the institution that left them in limbo. Students need to be emotionally ready to make these calls, though. An admissions officer will never fight for a student who is angry or disrespectful about getting waitlisted.

"Remember 3 things when trying to #GetOffTheWaitlist : Contact, Love & Humility" TWEET THIS

The culmination of contact, humility, and deep love for the college comes in the form of a letter or formal email to the admissions office. It’s like the ultimate love letter. There’s an art to writing a love letter, though. It needs to show emotion and substance. A student who simply states how much they love a college isn’t doing enough. They need to tap into the raw emotion of how they are feeling about the prospects of their future there and what type of positive contribution they will make.

But just as any good love letter must have, there should be a declaration of intent. Similarly, the waitlisted student needs to make a very clear statement in the body of the email or letter that they will enroll if admitted (as long as they feel this strongly). Stating intentions clearly is crucial because colleges don’t want to admit a student off the waitlist unless they are sure they will enroll.


BONUS: Watch a clip of our video How to Get Off the Waitlist

And download the ENTIRE video PLUS 6 more videos—FOR FREE!

Access FREE Now


If a college is able to use the waitlist, they will respond to the students who have shown clear interest in them over time, deep love for the institution, and great humility in the process. Accepting the invitation to stay on the waitlist is not enough. Waitlisted students need to make their intentions clear right from the start and that can lead to the ultimate match with their dream college.