You've Been Put on the Wait List for College. Now What?

If you don't get in but you don't get rejected, there's more to do than just wait it out.

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[Read What to Expect if You Were Wait-Listed]

Colleges seek out students from their wait lists who are committed to attending if offered a seat in the class. If the college is your No. 1 choice, state that in your letter and say you will attend if you are taken off the list. "It is the job of the student to make sure that their first choice interest in the school is clear and their plan to attend is unquestionable," says SAR High School's Jacobs.

You can also call and ask if you can interview, especially if you haven't interviewed already. Some colleges permit this for students on the wait list. Try to schedule the meeting with the dean of admissions, and make your case directly. "If the student had a rocky patch in her high school career, it's imperative to discuss what happened and explain what steps she took—or will take—to ensure it will not happen again," says Kalamazoo's Staab.

Don't try to buy your way in with goodies. "Cookies, posters, and YouTube videos expressing their interest in enrolling generally do very little to further a cause," says Patrick Winter, senior associate director of admissions at the University of Georgia. Mandee Heller Adler, a counselor and president of International College Counselors, recalls one instance where begging actually worked, but in general resorting to tactics like sending multiple e-mails and calling every officer on staff is considered a no-no.

But sometimes it doesn't matter how great your extra essays or recommendations are. The National Association for College Admission Counseling estimates that only about 30 percent of students who opt to remain on a wait list are ultimately admitted. Johns Hopkins, for instance, did not accept a single person off its 2009 wait list. So counselors recommend that students embrace their backup colleges and try to see the positives in them. This might also be an ideal time to explore a "gap year" between high school and college. Colleges and guidance counselors alike encourage it, and it might open some new doors and give you time to re-assess your goals. "A gap year could take a disappointment and transform it into an exciting opportunity for growth, adventure, or a career internship," says college counselor and educational consultant Shirley Bloomquist. If your second choice school turns out to be a poor fit after a year, you can try to transfer.

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