How the Waitlist Works

This time of year, many applicants find themselves stuck in the waitlist process at one or more schools, which can be a very slow and painful waiting period.

Not only are you competing for fewer and fewer seats, you are doing so against everyone on the waitlist all the way back from round one as well as any fresh, new applicants from the final rounds. One thing applicants often want to know is how many people are on the waitlist at their particular school. Unfortunately, this is a black box and schools do not generally disclose an exact number of people who are waitlisted.

Candidates on the waitlist may be admitted at any time, which makes the wait particularly painful... 

...since unlike regular round admissions where there is a decision date or notification date, the waitlist candidates struggle with every day or week potentially being the day or week the phone will ring with an admission offer or a release from the waitlist.  In addition to being stressful for the waitlisted candidate, this also makes the number on the list fluctuate and difficult to track even for the schools themselves. When the pressure is too great, or when other offers are made from competing schools (or plans change), candidates and sometimes choose to remove their name from the waitlist at any point in the process. Therefore, the actual number of candidates on the waitlist can literally vary from day to day.

Most top schools’ Admissions Committees make a conscious decision to limit the number of applicants who are extended a place on the waitlist, so know that if you are on a waitlist, you are in good company with a relatively small number of fellow applicants.

It’s highly advisable, therefore, to remain on the list if you are still even slightly interested in eventually being offered admission.  Know that this offer can sometimes be extended very close to the start of the academic year.  Because of yield fluctuations and changing plans of admitted students (particularly those who get offers from “better schools” at the last minute), there have been cases of admission being offered to waitlisted candidates as late as the day before classes begin.  Every year there is a last minute shuffle of the deck, as students jump ship for their dream school who comes calling at the 11th hour, which obviously opens up a slot wherever they had already accepted.  Sure, they lose deposit money, but the chance to go where they really want makes it worth it. 

If you have the patience, you might just find yourself in the surprise position of receiving a late-stage offer from a school where you had lost hope. 

Like fishing, leaving that line in the water can occasionally yield results.  Of course what you do with your time between submission and matriculation can also impact whether or not you are ultimately pulled off a waitlist.  Stay tuned for some specific tips on how you can best navigate the waitlist process.

If you are looking help with your applications, please contact us via or at We have seen what the competition is doing and we can say without a doubt that we go deeper, more strategic, and generate better results with our methods.  Line up a call and find out for yourself.