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Wait List Hell April 14, 2010

Posted by Jason McDonald in : College-bound seniors , trackback

Hi gang,

A number of folks have responded with questions about those letters of
appeal I mentioned in my last email. Here are some ideas for ways to respond
to schools which have wait listed (or even rejected) you.

I’ve appended a suggested format at the end of this email to give you an
idea of how such a letter could look.

Before getting in to such strategies, listen carefully to me: I don’t know
of anyone out there who hasn’t gotten one “bird in the hand” – one sure bet
acceptance, and though I’m all in favor of going for the gusto and appealing
at your wait list schools, this is primarily the time to get your heads and
hearts around being excited for your top choice school where you HAVE been
accepted. You can’t pin all your hopes on the wait list school to come
through – truth be known it probably won’t. So go ahead and give it a shot
but also “move on” and get  psyched for the school(s) you know want you.

Many of you will be tempted to say “heck with ‘em” and toss the offensive
letter in the waste basket and never think about that school in a positive
sense again.

Think twice before you do that. Can you say “sour grapes”? Sure, it’s a drag
they didn’t take you first time through. Yep, they blew it, and you can be
sure that they accepted some kids who couldn’t carry your backpack, while
they outright rejected some great and worthwhile kids, not to mention wait
listing you. In other words, the college selection process is neither
infallible nor fair. Who ever said it was?

But don’t walk away from it just yet. You wanted to have the option to go to
that school – give it one more shot by telling them that. Return whatever
form or postcard they may have sent you to indicate your willingness to
remain on the wait list, but don’t stop there.

I think you should send ‘em a letter which conveys, pleasantly, the
following thoughts:


Or something to that effect.

The idea here is to be nice, to be confident, and to take one more shot at
wowing them with what a great addition you’d be to their school. This is
sort of like the follow-up letter (which I described to you in my February

Let them know that you are still extremely interested in them.

Tell ‘em what’s new and exciting in your life – stuff like what you’re up
to, third quarter grades (what you’re anticipating), new or ongoing sports
or other activities, awards or special recognitions, new jobs or events,
etc. etc.

Give them another piece of writing they haven’t seen (one of your essays
that went elsewhere, or a recent paper you’ve written); and if possible have
another letter (or two) of recommendation sent to them (tell them it’s
coming and from whom).

Let them know that you have received other acceptances, and that you will be
choosing one by May 1st, but if they were to indicate to you that there was
a strong chance that you’d be coming off the wait list, you might ask for an
extension beyond May 1 before you commit somewhere else (yes, you’re allowed
to do that).

Some schools will grant you two extra weeks if you give ‘em a good reason
for the request; it’s not uncommon for students to send a deposit to a
school where they’ve been accepted while waiting to see if they come off the
wait list somewhere else. If they do, they write a sincere letter to
the first school rescinding their decision. You may have to eat the deposit
(usually between $200 – $400) but in the big picture that may not be so

Well, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it. Don’t get your hopes too
high with this, but if I were you I wouldn’t take this lying down with an
icepack on my head. Tell those admissions folks what they’re about to lose
out on, and then at least you’ll know you gave it your best shot.

And one never knows…

If any of you want to talk strategy, or need help with your decision
process, please don’t hesitate to give me a jingle or email. And for those
who are now closely checking out the financial aid part of the puzzle, let
me know if I can be of help. Don’t forget it’s not unheard of to ask for
more (but it matters if you have NEED versus WANT. Both are legit, but the
approach you take in the asking will vary).

Sheeesh. Bet you never thought life would be so complicated! Get used to it!
And don’t be disheartened or discouraged! There’s plenty of good times
coming your way, and they will outweigh all this burdensome stuff, trust me
on that!

Here’s that example of a wait list appeal letter:


your address


Joann McKenna (address it to the person in admissions who signed the WL
Director of Admissions
Bentley College
Waltham, MA

Dear Ms McKenna,

I recently received word that I have been wait listed at Bentley College for
next fall’s incoming freshman class. Though I’m disappointed, I am writing
to inform you of my continued interest in being accepted to Bentley – in
fact, your school remains my top choice (or, one of my top choices).

I’m a senior at East Armpit High School in Eustis, Maine. I’m currently
wrestling with a busy schedule highlighted by fourth quarter academics
(these teachers never let up!) and an intense amount of school involvement
in a number of organizations – primarily as Secretary of the Student Senate
and President of the Prom Committee. I’ve enclosed a piece of writing where
I share some of the rigors of my daily routine.

As I squeeze in time to visit and attempt to prioritize the schools where I
HAVE been accepted, I thought it might be to my advantage to send you some
additional materials which, if appropriate, I’d appreciate your including in
my application file. Perhaps I didn’t do as thorough a job as I could have
sharing with you my activities and energies, which I will undoubtedly bring
to whatever school community I wind up at next fall. With this in mind, I’ve
included with this letter the following:

1. a copy of my third quarter grade report.

2. the above mentioned writing sample on my business-related interest and my
experience as President of Prom Committee this year.

3. additional letter(s) of recommendation from __________, my __________
teacher; these will arrive under separate envelope.

4. my updated resume, and an accompanying piece of writing describing my
scouting experience (I received the Gold Award in 2005) and my work as a
Peer Mediator.

I know that your numbers were high this year and you had a competitive pool
to chose from (good for you, I suppose), and I know that my SAT scores may
not have impressed you. However, I’d like to think that my grades and
classes, and my activities and my drive to be successful, will outweigh
those scores and convince you that I will be an asset to Bentley’s class of

Obviously, timing is of the essence because I have fortunately received
several other acceptances from good schools, all of whom need to know by May
1. I’m told that I might be able to extend this deadline by a week or two,
but frankly I would need to receive some sign from you that it may be in my
interest to request extensions. If there is anything further you could
suggest I do to help you come to the conclusion that moving me from the
waiting list to the accepted list is called for, please don’t hesitate. I
would be happy to make myself available for an interview if that would help.

One final question: have you ever offered a wait listed candidate like
myself a January start? I might be interested in such a possibility.

Thank you very much for your continued consideration. I look forward to your


Joe Beets



You know, I’ve even had students send a variation on this letter to schools
which have REJECTED them. Why not, if it’s really your first choice? I
believe they DID make a mistake by not selecting you, so what have you got
to lose by giving ‘em one more chance to get you?!


But listen up. I don’t know of anyone out there who hasn’t gotten one “bird
in the hand” – one sure bet acceptance, and though I’m all in favor of going
for the gusto and appealing at your wait list schools, this is primarily the
time to get your heads and hearts around being excited for your top choice
school where you HAVE been accepted. You can’t pin all your hopes on the
wait list school to come through – better to give it a shot but also “move
on” and get  psyched for the school(s) you know want you.

You’re gonna do great. Good luck with your decision process, with figuring
out financial aid, and let me know if I can be of help.

That’s all from your matriculation maitre de, your deposit decision doyenne,
your senior slide sufi, your EFC enthusiast, your – ah, you get the idea…



P.S. And just to prove that “great minds think alike” (or at least that once
in a while I get lucky!), read this week’s Jay Matthews “Class Struggle”
column in the Washington Post on exactly the same subject, where he (ahem)
gives just about the identical advice I have:


Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711

College Placement Services provides high school students and their families
assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application
and financial aid process.


1. AM - April 26, 2009

this is really helpful. i am waitlisted at johns hopkins university and will try some of your tips and especially your letter format. thanks a lot