The Odds Waitlisted Students Will Get Accepted

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A man looking at a laptop screen and waiting.

What Are the Odds Waitlisted Students Will End Up Getting Accepted?

Waitlisted students are placed in an unfortunate situation. These applicants are placed in a sort of limbo where they’re unsure about their college fate and have to decide whether it’s worth waiting out the decision or moving on to their next college choice.

For many high schoolers, the prospect of becoming a waitlisted student isn’t an idea that pops up. The college admissions process is usually seen through a black-and-white, binary lens where the result will either be a clear-cut “yes” or “no” in the form of an acceptance or rejection.

A female student with a notebook on the head while looking at a laptop.

In reality, colleges and universities simply aren’t that refined in their college admissions process. An impressive number of schools rely on waitlists to supplement their decision-making, using them as an additional filter and a convenient extension when decisions aren’t made on time.

As a waitlisted student, you need to understand your chances of admittance to make an accurate and informed decision about your next move. Should you stay on the waitlist and risk the possibility of rejection? Or should you cut your losses and move onto your second-choice school?

Here, we’re going to explore the odds waitlisted students have of getting accepted along with some strategies students should follow if they find themselves in this situation.

What does being a waitlisted student mean?

Waitlisted students are often taken aback by the decision after expecting a clear-cut acceptance or rejection. Many are unsure exactly what it means to be placed on a college waitlist.

In short, admissions officers place applicants on a waitlist who have met or exceeded all of the requirements for acceptance but can’t get accepted at the current time.

Being a waitlisted student isn’t a fun experience, but it’s important not to lose hope! You still have a solid chance of gaining admittance. There are a number of reasons an admissions committee might decide to place an applicant on the waitlist.

A close up of a woman thinking and getting worried.

The best-case scenario is that there simply isn’t enough space at the school. How is that good news? Well, it means your application isn’t the problem. In this scenario, colleges place a number of qualified candidates on the waitlist in hopes that many will opt not to remain in limbo; thus, eliminating the space-limitation issues.

Another reason waitlisted students are placed in this position is due to the quality of their application. Maybe your grades, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, essay responses, or other parts of the application just didn’t pass muster enough to get direct admittance. On the flip side, your application wasn’t bad enough to dismiss outright.

What’s the point of a college waitlist?

It’s one thing to understand the reasons a college might use a waitlist, it’s another to dig into the motivations behind this trend. Although it’s a convenient way to buy a little more time when reviewing borderline applicants and a great way to filter out some potential candidates when limited spots are available, it’s also a byproduct of the increased number of people applying to college.

In the past, the college admissions process was much more complicated and involved than it is today. Yikes! That sounds miserable, right? Well, it’s true. The development of digital and standardized applications like the Coalition Application and Common Application made things easier for admissions officers and high schoolers.

When you throw in the increasing accessibility of a college education with the increased ease of application, you have a perfect storm for creating a massive wave of eager applicants which results in having waitlisted students. The number of high schoolers applying to college has been growing over the past few decades.

With limited spots available, schools had to get more selective. Their admissions processes had to be refined and improved. While it’s true that colleges have increased their capacity limits and offerings to accommodate the growth of applicants, the expansion efforts haven’t been in direct proportion.

This puts colleges and universities in a precarious situation where they want to accept qualified candidates but simply don’t have the space. This development is part of the reason waitlists are used by so many schools today.

How many schools use a waitlist?

A National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) survey found that 43% of institutions use waitlists. Generally speaking, the more selective the school, the higher chance it uses a waitlist.

The NACAC report also suggests that 48% of private post-secondary institutions use waitlists while only 34% of public colleges and universities used this strategy for admissions. It also seems reasonable to assume a higher percentage of Top 10 and Ivy League schools use a waitlist than public state colleges.

Among schools that accept lower than 50% of applicants, 82% maintained a waitlist. Furthermore, schools with lower acceptance rates were more likely to place a higher percentage of applicants on the waitlist.

What factors impact a waitlisted student’s chances of acceptance?

Before we dive into the exact chances waitlisted students have of getting accepted after getting put on the list, it’s important to note that it’s not a simple process. There are a variety of factors that admissions officers weigh when making the decision.

To make matters even more confusing, different factors are in play in different scenarios. It all depends on the applicant, the school, and the circumstances at the time. Here are just a few potential elements that could impact the chances of waitlisted students getting accepted.

The number of spots available.

If you were waitlisted primarily because of limited capacity issues at a university, the likelihood of getting accepted will rely largely on the number of available spots that open up in the meantime.

The more spots that are open, the higher chance you have of eventually getting accepted. On the other hand, schools with fewer spots will have to remain more selective, decreasing your chances of admittance.

The intended major of an applicant.

Your area of study is another factor that can contribute to your likelihood of acceptance after becoming a waitlisted student. Many colleges and universities are diligent about the makeup of their freshman class in terms of their fields of focus.

For example, if a school doesn’t feel it has a sufficient number of liberal arts majors in its incoming class, students with this major have a better chance of getting off the waitlist. There’s no exact science to this methodology, so it’s nearly impossible to predict as an applicant.

Further Reading: Not sure what you want to study. Read about some tips for choosing your major.

The background of an applicant.

The field of study a waitlisted student intends to pursue isn’t the only characteristic that might impact a college’s final decision. There are factors of your background that might also influence the odds of getting accepted.

For instance, if a college wants to increase the number of international students that are present in their incoming class, applicants from within the country will have decreased odds of getting admitted in that scenario.

The likelihood that you’ll attend the university.

It’s important to realize that the college admissions process is a two-way street. Colleges aren’t just interested in how they can benefit your academic development. Admissions officers also want to see that students will take full advantage of what’s being offered to them.

Although colleges won’t reach out to waitlisted students and ask about their likelihood of attending the school, they will make a judgment based on your application and any demonstrated interest you’ve made in the past.

The strength of your application.

The most influential factor determining your chances of getting accepted after being a waitlisted student is the quality of your application. How compelling is your academic performance, extracurricular participation, college essays, recommendation letters, and all other parts of the application?

Admissions officers will ask themselves this question when reexamining your application. If you outperform most waitlisted students academically, have compelling recommendations, and did an excellent job of describing why you want to attend the university, you’ll have a higher chance of getting admitted. On the other hand, if your application falls short, other students with better applications are going to have a better chance.

Where you’re ranked on the waitlist.

Some schools consider all waitlisted students equally while other colleges and universities rank their priority of admittance. Schools that use ranking systems will accept the top student whenever an open spot reveals itself.

Those at the bottom of the list don’t have a high chance of getting accepted while those at the top have better odds. Colleges that don’t have a ranking system will rely on a combination of the aforementioned elements.

What are the chances waitlisted students get accepted?

Now that you understand how colleges take a variety of factors into account when determining who gets accepted from the waitlist and who gets rejected, it’s time to look at the exact statistics. In other words, what are the precise chances waitlisted students have of gaining admittance.

The overall number of students that get waitlisted depends on the school, its capacity, the number of applicants, and their admission process. Some will waitlist just a few hundred while others will waitlist thousands of applicants.

School # of Students Offered Waitlist # of Waitlisted Students # of Waitlisted Students Accepted Acceptance Rate of Waitlisted Students
American 5,158 1,657 133 8%
Amherst 1,640 1,081 7 1%
Bates 1,995 676 4 1%
Boston University 8,791 5,592 674 12%
Bryn Mawr 865 531 17 3%
Bucknell 2,942 1,180 115 10%
Caltech 312 235 10 4%
Carleton 1,325 603 76 13%
Carnegie Mellon 6,819 3,461 288 8%
Case Western 9,760 4,921 1,076 22%
Chapman 1,818 739 463 63%
Claremont McKenna 776 486 75 15%
Colgate 1,630 1,009 97 10%
Holy Cross 1,632 632 20 3%
William & Mary 3,080 1,714 145 8%
Colorado College 700 224 23 10%
Connecticut College 1,642 705 5 1%
Cornell 6,750 4,791 190 4%
Dartmouth 2,661 1,945 95 5%
Dickinson 602 253 13 5%
Elon 1,890 429 48 11%
Fairfield 3,999 1,227 36 3%
Olin 43 33 15 45%
George Mason 1,128 711 462 65%
Georgetown 2,215 1,733 336 19%
Georgia Tech 6,214 4,235 853 20%
Hamilton 1,875 1,060 17 2%
Harvey Mudd 630 457 55 12%
Haverford 1,331 741 21 3%
Indiana 640 150 80 53%
James Madison 2,800 1,457 1,117 77%
Kenyon 12 12 4 33%
Lafayette 1,881 862 79 9%
Lehigh 4,361 1,875 1,684 90%
Macalester 760 336 112 33%
Middlebury 1,338 534 104 19%
Mt. Holyoke 515 294 52 18%
Muhlenberg 742 274 40 15%
NC State 4,567 1,681 232 14%
Oberlin 1,541 1,369 149 11%
Occidental 1,083 651 129 20%
Ohio State 1,412 647 0 0%
Pitzer 500 148 30 20%
Pomona 862 505 150 30%
Providence 2,723 811 375 46%
Purdue 5,307 2,740 90 3%
Reed 1,264 421 48 11%
Saint Michaels 83 40 15 38%
Santa Clara 2,749 1,747 410 23%
Scripps 570 265 30 11%
Sewanee 625 156 16 10%
Smith 1,155 684 67 10%
SMU 2,043 765 340 44%
Spelman 550 173 15 9%
Stanford 850 707 259 37%
Tufts 2,136 1,017 222 22%
Union College 708 290 120 41%
UC Berkeley 8,753 5,043 1,651 33%
UC Irvine 18,621 11,081 2,664 24%
UCLA 14,470 9,254 1,779 19%
UC Riverside 11,319 5,638 3,828 68%
UCSB 9,885 6,342 6,103 96%
UCSC 16,484 10,370 8,870 86%
Georgia 1,157 693 493 71%
UMass Amherst 4,381 2,326 396 17%
University of Miami 11,444 3,664 781 21%
Michigan 20,723 9,856 1,248 13%
Notre Dame 1,778 1,253 530 42%
URichmond 3,406 1,717 113 7%
USD 1,797 794 240 30%
Virginia 6,465 3,780 165 4%
Washington 9,726 4,712 1,870 40%
Villanova 6,555 2,563 210 8%
Virginia Tech 10,800 6,990 3,959 57%
Wellesley 2,252 926 52 6%
Wesleyan 2,302 1,370 133 10%
Wheaton – IL 177 41 18 44%
Williams 1,944 846 73 9%
WPI 2,450 1,063 489 46%

Should I stay on the waitlist or back out?

Students are given a choice when placed on a waitlist. They can either remain on the list and await the decision or back out. Staying on the list keeps you in limbo but might limit your chances of being able to move forward in the college admissions process.

At home, a male student thinking about something and getting worried.

Since you’re not sure about your fate at one school means you can’t make a decision about others. On the other hand, opting out of the waitlist automatically disqualifies you from getting accepted to the university.

Naturally, many waitlisted students wonder whether it’s better to remain on the waitlist and hope to get accepted or to back out and focus on a school where acceptance is more surefire. It’s a tough decision, but there are some considerations that might help.

If the school is your number-one top choice, then it’s a good idea to stick around through the waitlist period since you’re positive you’ll attend if accepted. However, you might want to focus your attention on other schools that want you more if you don’t have a strong attachment to the school.

It’s worth noting that colleges are hoping many applicants will back out once placed on the waitlist. It makes the elimination process easier for admissions officers. So, don’t simply assume you’re on the waitlist just because you’re not strong enough to gain admittance. That’s not always the case.

Increase your chances of getting into your first-pick school.

Not sure where to begin in the college admissions process? You’re not alone! Every year, millions of high schoolers are preparing for college without much direction or guidance. That’s where an admissions specialist like AdmissionSight can help, especially waitlisted students.

For over a decade, we’ve been offering college-admissions services to help students just like you master the process. Our ultimate goal is to increase your chances of getting into your first-pick school.

Sitting on a couch, a woman is laughing while looking at her laptop.

Whether you have your sights set on a public state college or an Ivy League school, we have the tools and resources to help you realize that goal. We help waitlisted students put themselves on the right track for college by improving their high school performance while also helping them prepare the best application possible.

At AdmissionSight, we take a multi-layered approach to college admissions because it’s a dynamic process. By hitting all areas that admissions officers will scrutinize when reviewing your application, you’ll increase your chances of getting admitted. Want to learn more about what we offer and how you can benefit? Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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