Waitlisted? Rejected? It’s not over yet.

Author: E. Liz Kim

Needless to say that the pandemic has had a seismic impact on the college application. This college admissions season has been the most uncertain in recent history. Traditionally, admissions officers review students’ grades, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, essays, and recommendation letters.

The pandemic has upended the traditional process, with grade point averages complicated by the spring 2020 semester and many extracurriculars canceled.

Students hedged their bets by applying to more colleges as a result of COVID-induced uncertainties and the unknown impact that the test-optional policy will have on the review. 

The 2020-21 application cycle has been incredibly competitive. Harvard University saw applications rise by 42 percent, while the University of Virginia was up 15 percent. The University of California’s systemwide increase of 16 percent in applications. Consequently, many qualified applicants were placed on waitlists or rejected.  

Colleges faced their own problem of uncertainty, trying to speculate their yield rate – how many will actually enroll. During the admissions process, colleges must predict how many students will ultimately enroll. With more students applying to more colleges than ever, this can be difficult to forecast. 

While waitlists may be exceptionally long this year, there is also the possibility. 

Letter of Continued Interest: Going from Waitlisted to Admitted

If you want to increase your chance of admission, you need to do more than simply accept your spot on the waitlist. If you really want to attend a school that waitlisted you, communicate that message quickly and clearly. The students who stand out are the ones who go the extra mile to write a letter to express continued interest and commitment to matriculate if accepted. It is important to emphasize and mention specific reasons why you continue to believe the school is the best fit for you. 

Furthermore, your LOCI should include any updates to the admissions committee that were not reflected in your original application, contributions that you would make on that campus and beyond. You should state explicitly that if you are accepted, you will definitely attend. Your tone should be firm and assertive without being pushy or desperate. You should be courteous and appreciative.

Be aware that colleges have different approaches to the waitlist. You should carefully follow a college’s specific procedures when communicating continued interest.

Waitlist decisions are subject to a variety of factors – why you were waitlisted, how many students were waitlisted, how many and what type of students chose to accept their spots in the class, the college’s enrollment needs, and institutional priorities, availability of financial aid, etc. Admissions officers will decide whom to admit from the waitlist based on these factors.

Many waitlist decisions don’t come until much later in the spring or summer, well after the traditional May 1 enrollment deadline for many colleges. Thus, you should submit a deposit at a college to which you’ve been admitted before the enrollment deadline. Accepting an admission offer at another college will not hurt your chances of being admitted off the waitlist. You will not be penalized for accepting a spot somewhere else while waiting to hear back on a waitlist decision.

Once you’ve expressed yourself to the waitlisted colleges, don’t be stuck in limbo. While you are waiting on the waitlist decision from the colleges, manage your expectations. Remember, you have a seat ready for you at a college that wants you and that you were excited to apply. Focus your energy on the college in which you’ve placed a deposit and plan for the phenomenal collegiate years. 

If you are admitted off a waitlist, you should notify the school where you submitted a deposit and decline. Inform the school that you’ve been accepted off the waitlist somewhere else and that you are going to forfeit your deposit and withdraw your intention to enroll.

Appeal a Rejection: Going from Rejected to Admitted

Appealing a rejection is a more delicate issue. An appeal is only appropriate if you have new and very compelling information to offer that wasn’t included in your initial application. Significant new information that makes your original application much stronger might warrant an appeal.

Different schools have different processes for appeal. Some have formal appeal applications available on their websites, and others vaguely reference the possibility of appealing. While some may have no information on the topic, others clearly state that their admissions decisions are final and won’t review any appeals. For example, Columbia University does not allow appeals. UC Berkeley makes clear that appeals are discouraged, and you should appeal only if you have new information that is truly significant. UNC-Chapel Hill allows appeals only in situations where admissions policies have been violated or there was a procedural error.

Therefore, the first thing you should do is researching your school’s specific appeals policy and process. If the information is not readily available, call the admissions office to find out. If your school does have an appeals process and you have grounds for appealing its admissions decision, you should submit your appeal as soon as possible. You need not rush it but definitely submit it well before the closing period. It is imperative that you provide clear, concise evidence that there is a new piece of information that has a material impact on your application, and include documentation of any new facts.

All that said, it is important to remember that the odds of reversing a rejection are very slim. Yes, getting rejected from your top choice school stings, but you will learn to move past the shock and pain. Focus on the positives and plan for an exciting future at a college that accepted you.

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