Here Is What You Do If You Get Waitlisted Everywhere

We recently received an email from a student with a very reasonable question that might seem like a panic-inducer to many:  

Subject: What to do if you’re waitlisted

Message: Hi Caroline,
I know that there are still a lot of college decisions awaiting to be released, but after two waitlists and one rejection letter, I’m starting to feel worried about my chances at other schools (the schools I am waiting for a similar tier). 

I was wondering what should I do after accepting a spot on the waitlist for a college? I have seen mixed opinions about college updates across the Internet; some sources say it may upset admissions officers as they’re alrwady very busy while others say that an update could potentially help my application be accepted. Should I send additional materials? What should I talk about? 

From a slightly concerned senior.

While this is not a common circumstance and this never happens to kids we work with, we want all students to be prepared for the fact that it’s possible. If the college bribery scandal were any indication, college is getting more and more competitive by the day. All high schoolers should be prepared for any given scenario.

Chill out

First, you need to meditate. The next step is going to be to make some choices and organize your preferences. This requires focus. And you can’t exactly focus if thoughts and feelings are swirling around in your head. Take a moment to pause and center yourself. Once you’re a bit more clear-headed, start to prioritize.  


It might seem counter-intuitive, but at this stage in the game, you’re going to commit to a school. You might be thinking, “Hey, TKG. How can I commit to a school that hasn’t made me an offer yet?” The answer is, there’s this little thing called a “yield rate.” Yield rates is the number of students who are accepted into a school who ultimately matriculate. And waitlists are all about yield rates. Schools don’t want to accept anyone off the waitlist who isn’t going to come, so what you need to do is demonstrate your commitment.  

Send the school you want to attend most a letter that basically says you will absolutely, unequivocally, cross your heart and hope to die stick a needle in your eye, swear to god that you will go to that school if you’re accepted off the waitlist. Say that, but probably more professionally so.

Expect the Worst

If you’ve applied to 10 schools and get waitlisted or rejected from all 10, then the first thing you need to do is refer to steps one and two above. 

The next thing you should do is identify a few gap year options as a backup plan. Gap years are increasingly common. American high schoolers are adopting a trend that’s been popular in other countries for a long time. Taking a year between high school and college can be awesome, especially if you feel like you’re not ready for the academic and social changes involved with college, or you just want to see the world or do some service before locking yourself into pre-med for four years. Gap years are also great for students who don’t quite make it in where they expected to. You won’t be alone or have to feel awkward about explaining your circumstance. You can spend a year hanging out, growing, and learning alongside other kids who have made a similar choice. Heck, even Malia Obama took a gap year.  

Get Ahead Before It Happens

As we said above, this doesn’t happen to the kids we work with. In fact, in our seven-year history, it’s never happened once.  

Our method is, in part, risk-averse. In addition, we invest in strategic planning and long-term thinking to help our students find the perfect fit for them. If a kid has a 33, we operate as though they’re not going to get into the Ivy League. That’s because we know the way to avoid a calamity is to be rational and focused. Some people think that applying to a ton of schools will definitely ensure they’ll get in somewhere. We find that that throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall can have messy consequences. If a student has a 33 and applies to all 8 Ivy League schools, the probably still won’t get in. Instead, we help our clients form realistic lists of schools that are a great match for them. That also means we spend time helping students soul search at the beginning of their process. In short, the only way to avoid this issue is, first, to work hard to be an impressive candidate, to honestly evaluate yourself, and to create realistic goals.


Need help figuring out a backup plan? Reach out to us here. We are experts at helping students plan their next move in a pinch.