Reserve your spot on our 2024-25 roster before we're fully booked!

Your 5-Step Guide to Surviving the Wait-List Apocalypse

Ivy Divider
This post was originally published on USA Today College.

The recent onslaught of wait-list letters arriving in the inboxes of disappointed students around the country probably isn’t quite as dire as a zombie apocalypse, but the terrors can be just as scary to combat. Once you’re infected, that feeling of unease can penetrate your life until you’re all like “mmmmm brainzzz.”

But students do have the power to fight back against the wait-list. Here’s how:


Every good survivalist knows that staying calm is essential. Don’t let the wait-list news throw you in a panic, don’t let the battle take you before it even begins, and don’t try to dissect your past application efforts. Instead, take stock of what weapons you have in your arsenal now — like improved grades or a new leadership position — and how you can use them to your advantage. And remember, regardless of how the news makes you feel, being wait-listed isn’t actually the end of the world.


There are very specific strategies involved in killing zombies. (At least that’s what the Internet tells us.) Similarly, schools will often tell you exactly how they want you to approach their wait-list. Some schools, like Vanderbilt, will outright ask you for confirmation that you are interested in remaining in their admissions pool. Many others, like the University of Virginia, expect you to accept a spot on the waiting list via their online application system. And while some schools welcome additional letters and materials, others, like the University of Illinois specifically state that they will only consider the originally submitted application materials. Be alert to all the details in your wait-list instructions to ensure that nothing takes you by surprise.


While schools can be particular about where and how they want you to confirm your wait-list interest, most are open-minded (not literally) about receiving a short email reinforcing your interest in their institution. You only get one shot at a direct hit, so make sure your letter is carefully crafted and loaded with exactly what an admissions officer wants to hear. The two main areas to cover include why you are still interested in attending the school and any notable life events or achievements that have transpired since you pressed the submit button. Make sure to use specific details that keep this note short, sharp and on target.


Sometimes the best plan is the one you least expect to work. Perhaps you are a prime candidate for a gap year. Or maybe setting your sights on a different school, even this late in the game, will be refreshing. Take the time to really consider your second, third and even fourth choice institutions. You may very well find you truly connect with members of these communities and can find opportunities to build on your skills in ways you had previously overlooked. Also, don’t forget to check matriculation deadlines for schools you might want to attend (usually May 1) if your wait-list opportunity falls through, as well as policies for withdrawal if you do end up victorious. Don’t be the fool who forgets to fill up the canteen before heading out into the woods. Be prepared for any and all outcomes.


Yes, you had goals set way back before the wait-list seemingly tore your world apart. But you are awesome and have the ability to succeed wherever you end up pursuing your passions. You are the only one who can bring a positive attitude, resilience and a determination to succeed no matter where you go. The future is in your hands.

About Stacey Brook

Stacey Brook is an accomplished writer and admissions expert who has spent the last decade helping students conceptualize, edit and refine their college essays.

Want an expert to review your appeal letter?
Ivy Divider

We're here to help.

Share this page:

Want free stuff?