Imagine asking someone to the prom and getting this reply:
“Hmmm…maybe. I want to go with you, but I also want to see who else might ask me. So I’ll get back to you. Full disclosure, I can’t promise when I’ll give you an answer, or if it will even be before the prom takes place.”
That’s the high school date-to-the-dance version of being placed on a college waitlist. Instead of receiving an acceptance or a rejection from a college, you’re offered a spot on the waitlist and told that you might be admitted later if more space becomes available. But most schools can’t tell students who accept that waitlist option where they stand, or when they’re likely to know if they’ve been taken off the list and offered a spot. So the student is stuck in the college admissions version of purgatory–that means accepting a spot at a school that said yes while holding out hope that a maybe from another school turns to a yes.
If you’ve been placed on a waitlist and would like some straight answers about why they exist and what students can do to potentially increase their chances of being accepted , check out “Wait Listed: Questions, Ethics, and Strategies” from counselor and former associate dean of admissions at University of Virginia, Parke Muth.
And while you’re at it, here’s some other advice. If someone were to give you a “maybe” answer to your prom proposal, you’d be well within your social rights—and maybe better off—to simply decline and say:
“No hard feelings, but I don’t really want to sit around waiting for you. I’m sure we’ll both end up with the right matches we’re excited about. Best of luck.”
You can say pretty much the same thing to a college that waitlisted you.