Did you get waitlisted at your top choice school? Here’s what you need to know.

First, most colleges don’t start calling students from the waitlist until after May 1. This means you should pay a deposit to secure your spot at another college before May 1, just to be sure you have a college for next year. If you do ultimately get offered admission at your top choice college, you will forfeit that deposit. However, if you don’t get offered admission, you’ll still have a college to enroll in come fall.

Waitlists are tools that colleges use to round out their student body once the students offered admission have accepted. As a result, several things are universally true about college waitlists:

  • Waitlists are not ranked. Instead, the college looks at who has enrolled and uses the wait list not just to fill empty seats in classrooms but to fill gaps between the student body they’re trying to compose and those who have accepted admission. For example, if the college wanted more out-of-state students, they will choose out-of-state students from the waitlist first.
  • If you are offered a spot on the waitlist and you want to be on the waitlist, you need to accept the spot on the waitlist. This does not obligate you to attend the college if you’re ultimately offered admission, but you will not be automatically placed on the waitlist.
  • If you are offered admission from the waitlist, you will typically have 2-3 days to consider your admission offer before you need to decide whether to accept it. So if you’re contacted by a school about admission, saying “yes” in that first conversation just means, “Yes, I’d like to see an admission and financial aid offer.”
  • Many colleges allow waitlisted students to submit additional information such as more recent academic information. Check your portal to see whether and how to submit additional information.

One big consideration for waitlisted students is availability of scholarships and financial aid. Many colleges do not offer merit scholarships to waitlisted students. Most will offer need-based financial aid; however, need may be a factor in deciding who among waitlisted students gets offered a spot. By way of saying, if scholarships are an important part of your college decision, you should manage your enthusiasm for colleges where you’re waitlisted.