Wait-lists Do's and Don'ts



BY LEE SHULMAN BIERER

2022 – the year of the wait-list. I’m sure you’ve heard the crazy numbers this year; Harvard received 61,220 applicants and accepted a mere 3.19% (1,954) – just try to get your head around rejecting almost 97% of the students who applied. It’s record-setting, but it’s also heartbreaking for so many students. And then there are the wait-lists, the oh-so unpredictable wait-lists. According to a 2019 survey from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), 43 percent of four-year colleges reported using a waitlist in 2018. Of all the students who accepted a position on the waitlist at these colleges, 20 percent were accepted. Of course, that number can vary dramatically – take Princeton which chose not to share its admissions stats this year, but has previously shared that: in 2017, Princeton accepted 101 undergraduate students from its waitlist, but in 2018, that number dropped to zero. I’ve previously written about a “Letter of Continued Interested” – (LOCI). Writing a personalized letter to the admissions office is the student’s best opportunity to set themselves apart from other students on the wait-list. Here are some do’s and don’ts:

  1. Keep it short – put yourself in the Admissions Officer’s shoes – what do they need to know about you that you haven’t already shared. Make sure your letter isn’t just a repeat of your “Why this college?” essay. DON’T DRAG ON AND ON. I think a one-page letter with an introduction, a conclusion and two body paragraphs: 1 -the meat of the letter focused on why the school is a good fit for you – provide details and 2 – emphasize why you’re a good fit for them. You typically can use that second paragraph for a variety of your schools.

2. Start out by thanking the school for considering your application. Reiterate your commitment to the school and your belief that its philosophy and approach are an ideal fit for your educational preferences and goals. DON’T WHINE AND MOAN AND TELL THEM HOW SAD YOU ARE THAT YOU WEREN’T ACCEPTED. Please don’t tell them that you have pictures of you in a cheerleading outfit as a toddler or that you fell in love with the campus the first time you visited at age 8. Sorry, it’s really not relevant. 3. Update your qualifications. This is the guts of the letter. What is new and improved since you submitted your application? Ideally, you should relate these new achievements to some of the themes or experiences you addressed in your essays. Some examples could include an update on your first semester grades, competitions or tournaments you’ve attended, especially if you’ve been recognized, a new leadership role in a club project or organization; or additional work responsibilities; a recent job-shadowing or volunteer experience that has been particularly meaningful. DON’T GET OBSESSIVE HERE – FILL THEM IN BUT DON’T SCARE THEM WITH YOUR DEVOTION.