What’s the Deal with Waiting Lists?

So we’re right smack in the middle of that period of time when students are receiving notification letters, getting “dinged,” and being pushed toward that mysterious waiting list. What is a waiting list, how does it work, & what are my chances of getting off the list and into a dorm room? These are probably your questions if you find yourself wait-listed.

Unfortunately, I’m here to paint you a gloomy picture of university waiting lists. You may have heard stories about students who we were later admitted to U Chicago after waiting patiently on the list for months. However, the fact of the matter is, very students actually get off that list.

Who does get in off the list? Well, those spots become available when admitted students opt to attend a different university. So some spots are certainly available. And those will most likely go to a few candidates who didn’t quite have what it takes for admission in the first round.

In my experience, I find that students with a strong “tip” – a unique advantage like perfect Physics SAT II scores, high-level cello skills, or…ummm, being Chinese – are the kind that get admitted of the waiting list.

How can you give yourself the best chances? Well if you receive that letter putting you on the waiting list, the very first thing you do is write a paper letter to the school. Reaffirm how much you want to go to that school. Tell them it’s your dream school, your number-1 choice, and if you’re offered admission, you will certainly take it.

Then, give them an update on what your life/semester has been like. Send new transcripts, test scores, or even a short description of a crazy trip you’ve taken. The key, like in all aspects of the application process, is to stand out.

I can promise you that those letters do indeed make a difference in the admissions office, but they don’t guarantee acceptance. Waiting-list acceptance rates are still very, very low. If this is your dream school though, you’ve got to give yourself the best chances.

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