Editor’s note: This post was updated in March 2017
The college application process is a stressful time for both students and their parents: making the list, college visits, narrowing down the choices, SAT or ACT exams, applications, essays, recommendations, and then — finally — your child may find that they have been put on the wait list for their first choice college. They have officially entered the limbo in which more and more students (perhaps as high as 10% of applicants) find themselves. Your student is not in — but they haven’t exactly been rejected either. It is rather like trying to fly standby — you don’t have a seat on the plane yet, but there is a chance that you might get one.
It is discouraging, but all may not be lost. There are some things that your ”almost” college student should — and should not — do.
What is a wait list and how does it work?
First of all, understand the nature of a wait list. Being placed on a wait list is not a rejection. The college has said that your student is qualified for admission, but that the college does not currently have a space for them.
The wait list is a pool of qualified students from which the college will draw if accepted applicants choose to go somewhere else. Some students may actually be overqualified, and the school is waiting to see whether they are accepted and choose to attend a more selective school. The college doesn’t want to waste a spot in their accepted student pool on someone they assume will probably attend another college. Other students may be slightly underqualified and are given a ”courtesy” place on the waitlist as a softer form of rejection. This may be especially true of students who are related to alumni or wealthy donors.
But most students on the waitlist are fully qualified to attend the school. The waitlist becomes a safety net for the college if their ”yield” (number of accepted students who make a deposit) is low. As students today apply to more and more colleges, the yield may become more unpredictable.