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The college waitlist can be emotional torture for families hoping to know once and for all where their children will be going to college in just a few short months, placing a glimmer of uncertainty between the students and the final answer.
"This is probably the toughest decision to get from a school," acknowledged Dean Jeannine C. Lalonde, aka "Dean J," last week in the University of Virginia's admissions blog that she authors, Notes from the Peabody.
So if your child finds themselves in this particular kind of college decision limbo, what do you do?
1. Process the news. The waitlist is not a rejection, but it's a long way from an acceptance, too. Give your child the time to be disappointed, both by the lack of an acceptance and by the uncertainty of the situation. It's not a fun place to be. Then, your child must decide if they really want to stay on the waitlist, or if they would prefer to let the option go in favor of committing completely to another college where they have been accepted already.
2. Give it one last (concise, respectful, and thoughtful) shot. If your child does decide to stay on the waitlist, they need to make sure to follow the college's directions to claim the spot. Then, they can reach out to the college with an email reiterating their interest in attending and including any new information that was not previously on their application, such as recent academic achievements or awards or other accolades. Two notes of caution: first, make sure to check if the college asks students on the waitlist NOT to email before sending anything. Also, there is no need to repeat information that was on the original application.
Do not go overboard, warns the MIT admissions office in their waitlist FAQs. "Here are some things you should not do: Fly to campus to make the case in person. Send us ridiculous items or bribes. Submit a whole new application. Bombard our office with way too much stuff. Be pushy. Be sketchy," they advise.
3. Don't fall prey to Senioritis. One sure way not to make it off the waitlist is to let grades drop between Spring Break and graduation. "We may call your school to check on your academic progress," warns MIT, and that is a common practice among colleges with waitlists. Most colleges do not rank their waitlists and will be re-evaluating applications after May 1, so your child's application needs to remain as strong as it was when they saw it the first time, if not more so.
4. Make a deposit at a college by May 1. Students can't, and definitely should not, wait to hear from the college in question before committing somewhere. "The only thing worse than getting rejected from a top choice school that has waitlisted you is getting rejected without having a backup plan," Stacey Brook, founder and chief advisor at College Essay Advisors, told TODAY Parents. "Don’t dig your heels in and refuse to commit to a second choice or forget to send in that deposit to a school you would feel good about attending if your dream school says no. That deposit may not be refundable, but the security that, no matter how the chips fall, you will be able to receive an education, is worth it."
5. Enjoy what remains of high school. Once your family has done all it can by keeping in touch with the college on hold and making a deposit at another college, it's time to savor the end of high school with your child. This is it; prepare yourself for the emotional onslaught of all the "lasts." Try to stay in the present moment, because those last few months will go just as fast as you fear.
"This April, I want you relish your senior year," wrote Richard Clark on the Georgia Tech admissions blog. "Enjoy spring break, go to prom, take the opportunity to thank a few teachers or read something outside of school that you’re genuinely interested in. When talk about college comes up, whether that be with family or friends, steer the conversation away from where and towards what you want to study, experience, learn, and accomplish."
6. Realize it's all going to work out somehow. Waitlists vary from year to year and by college, and there is absolutely no way to predict if there will be a spot for your child after May 1. "We took 42 students off the waiting list in 2015 and made 402 waiting list offers the next year," noted Dean J on the UVA blog.
But know that no matter what happens, your child will find a college where they can be happy, whether it is now, this summer, or sometime beyond. And as Clark wrote in his post for Georgia Tech, "If you have the confidence to embrace uncertainty, and can be open to and excited about the adventure of not knowing, you will not only navigate the next few weeks well, you’re going to live a rich and content life."