First of all, be realistic — as our previous article explains, the majority of students never get off the list. Most years less than a third of wait-listed students eventually get accepted. In some cases, especially at elite colleges, no students actually get off the list. You should definitely move forward with a back-up college.
But not all hope is lost, and you can do a few things to improve your chances of getting off a wait list:
- Do: Contact the Admissions Office to Learn More
Unless the school says not to, contact the admissions office to find out why your application wasn’t accepted. Were your test scores low? Were your extracurricular activities weak? If you are able to identify the reasons your application didn’t make it to the top of the pile, you’ll be better able to address the issue.
Also, try to learn how the wait list is managed. Are students ranked? Where do you fall on the list? Are your chances of getting off the list fair or slim?
- Do: Write a Letter Restating Your Interest
Write to the school to reaffirm your sincere interest in attending (and if you aren’t sincerely interested in attending, you shouldn’t put yourself on the wait list to begin with). Your letter should be polite and specific. Show that you have good reasons for wanting to attend — what exactly is it about this college that has made it your top choice? What is it that the college offers that you won’t find elsewhere?
- Do: Send the College Any New and Significant Information
Send along any new and significant information that might make your application stronger. Did you retake the SAT and get higher scores? Did you win a significant award? New academic accomplishments are particularly important.
- Don’t: Have Alumni Write to the School for You
It’s rarely effective to scrounge around to find alumni who are willing to write letters recommending you. Such letters tend to be shallow and they make you look like you’re grasping. Ask yourself if such letters will really change your credentials. Chances are, they won’t.
- Don’t: Pester the Admissions Counselors
Harassing your admissions counselor won’t help your situation. Calling frequently and showing up at the admissions office isn’t going to improve your chances, but it may annoy the extremely busy admissions employees.
- Don’t: Send Trivial or Off-Target Materials
If you’re applying to an engineering program, your latest watercolor or limerick probably doesn’t add much to your application (unless it won an award or got published). If you received a new SAT score that’s only 10 points higher than the old one, it’s probably not going to change the school’s decision. And a letter of recommendation from a bighead who doesn’t really know you — that too won’t help.