This guide tells you what to do if you have been waitlisted for online college. We explain why this happens and what you can do about it.
So you have been waitlisted for your online college of choice. Now what? Just sit and wait for good news? Or is there something you can actually do to improve your chances of getting admitted off of the waitlist?
Well, there are a few things you can do if you have been waitlisted for online college. And if you ultimately decide that you would rather attend college in person, most of these tips apply equally to being waitlisted for a spot on campus.
But first, a few basics on the college waitlist.
The college waitlist refers to the pool of college applicants who have been “deferred” for admission. Deferred means that you have not been accepted or rejected. Sallie Mae notes that
If you are ‘deferred,’ it typically means that the admission committee still needs more time to review your application in order to determine if an offer will be made.
As a waitlisted student, your admission status is pending. You can choose to remain on the waitlist, which may result in later admission or later rejection from the school of your choice. You can also choose to be removed from the waitlist.
Students who apply for Early Decision or Early Action, and who are deferred, will be moved into the regular applicant pool. At that point, you may still be accepted, rejected or waitlisted alongside other Regular Decision students.Back to Top
You’ve been waitlisted for your online college because there are limited seats, even for online courses. You may not be attending a physical classroom with limited square footage. But you could be enrolling in a program with a select number of qualified professors, each of whom has limited bandwidth for effectively educating and engaging individual students.
In other words, it is a good thing that there are limits on how many students can be admitted into a given online program. This means that, once admitted, you have a better chance of getting a high quality education.
Indeed, the best online colleges and universities typically offer programs and courses with excellent professors and favorable student to professor ratios. Online colleges may waitlist students to preserve these ratios so that students enjoy individual attention and a more personalized online education experience.
Once waitlisted, you have the freedom to either accept or reject your waitlisted status. There is no wrong or right thing to do here. Naturally, if you reject your waitlist status, you will no longer be in the running for a spot at this school. From here, you can jump right to our look at things you can do to get ready during the summer before you start college. Otherwise, reply to your top-choice school and let them know that you will be accepting your spot on the waitlist.
Once you have accepted your spot on the waitlist, reach out to the admissions office and restate your interest in attending next fall. This is also a great opportunity to ask any questions about how to navigate the waitlist. Find out if there are any recommended ways to improve your chances of being admitted. This may be your first outreach to the admissions office, but it should not be your last. You will want to follow up periodically to express your continued interest in the school.
There is only so much you can do to get into the school of your choice. You may be able to request data about the waitlist for your college of choice. Some schools may provide you with details on the applicant pool size and the rate of waitlisted admission from prior years. Other schools will not be willing to provide these details. And ultimately, none of this information will tell you much about your odds of admission. It is best not to fixate on these details. Worry about only the things that you can control.
To reiterate, you may not be able to control your odds of admission. U.S. News & World Report notes that, in 2020, just 39% of waitlisted students applying to 98 top-ranked national universities were ultimately admitted. The odds were even longer for students applying to 63 top-ranked national liberal arts colleges. Just 17% made the jump from waitlist to first-year admission. In other words, it is not impossible, but it does not happen for the majority of prospective students. Simply stated, you should have a backup plan. Accept an offer from one of your other choices, submit a deposit, and make peace with the idea that this may ultimately be your college destination. Part of managing the waitlist process is recognizing that this may be the end of the line with your top-choice school. In fact, some of the schools accounted for above admitted zero students from their waitlist in 2020. If you do not get admitted to your top-choice school, recognize that there is nothing more you could have done.
That said, there is one thing you can control. Continue to be a model student. Do not let senioritis impede on your performance in those last few months. The colleges you apply to (and the colleges to which you have been accepted) will receive end-of-year transcripts. If you are still pushing to get into your top-choice school, make sure your final grades reflect continued diligence and dedication to your studies. While we cannot guarantee that a strong finish will get you off the waitlist and into your online program, we can say for certain that declining grades will hurt your chances of doing so. You are almost at the finish line. Keep up the good work to give yourself the best chance of being called up from the waitlist to the majors. And if you do make marked improvement in the last few months, you may be able to request that your high school send updated grades to your top-choice online college. Again, this may or may not help, but it certainly could not hurt.
According to Sallie Mae, this is another thing you can control. Additional glowing recommendations can significantly enhance your college profile. According to Sallie Mae,
Whether it be from a teacher, boss, or coach, a strong letter of recommendation can provide the admissions office with important insight into who you are and why you would be a good fit. Look to those who you have a strong relationship with and can speak to your strengths. This could be a good way to stand out among your fellow waitlisted applicants.
If you are a strong test-taker, now is a good time to flex those muscles. If you think you can improve upon your ACT or SAT scores, schedule new exam dates, consider taking an exam prep course, and do your best to top your previous scores. You can also consider adding Advanced Placement exams to your calendar in subjects where you excel. In addition to enhancing your academic profile with improved scores, this offers a great opportunity to follow up with the admissions office to both reiterate your interest in the school and demonstrate your continued commitment to achieving your educational goals. For help enhancing your exam performance, you may want to speak with a college admissions consultant.
While there is no formal or universal date for notifying waitlisted students of their final status, most colleges will provide a decision by around June 30th. So if you are getting into the college of your choice, you will likely find out in early summer. Be prepared to act accordingly. Have a plan in place both for acceptance and rejection. One of the disadvantages of being waitlisted is that you will have a bit less time to prepare for the fall semester than some of your classmates. Try to mitigate this disadvantage by preparing in advance for either contingency.
If you are accepted after spending the spring on the waitlist, it is up to you to decide whether or not you will accept this offer. If you have already made preparations to attend your back-up school, you may choose to reject this offer. That is your right. But if you plan to accept the offer, let your backup choice know as soon as possible that you will not be attending in the fall. In most cases, you will not receive a refund on your deposit, but you do need to take this step in order to discontinue the admissions process.
So your wish came true and you are starting classes at your top-choice online school in just a few months. Congratulations! Ok. Celebration time is over. You have a lot to do, and not much time to do it.
Make a checklist of the steps you will need to take to ready yourself for online class attendance in the fall. Know your deadlines and get started. This will likely include registering for a student orientation, registering for classes, and making sure your financial aid materials are in order. And of course, if this is your first experience with online education, there are several steps you will want to take now including getting your tech in order, creating an ideal home setup for online courses, and familiarizing yourself with your school’s online education portal. Use the summer months to get ready so you can hit the virtual ground running in your first semester.
Whether you end up at the top online college of your choice, or you end up in one of your fall-back options, now is the time to prepare for this new educational experience. Check out our advice on how to prepare for online college this summer.
If you’re considering taking a gap year before you start online college, we have a great resource for you here.
See our Complete Guide to the College Admissions Process for more.
Or jump to our student resource library for tips on everything from studying to starting on your career path.