April 23, 2020
The entire college admissions process can be fraught with ups and downs, especially when you are wait-listed to your top choice institution. But what happens if you accepted a spot at another college and then you find out that you are off the waitlist at the college you really want to attend? Check out these quick tips to get some clarity on this common issue.
First and foremost, college students should realize they're not alone if this occurs, since this scenario is not particularly uncommon. “When you are wait-listed at a college, you really have no recourse but to put down a deposit at another institution that has offered you admission because there is no guarantee that you will be offered a spot off the waitlist," advises Carolyn Kilgus, founder of Cast-A-Net College Admissions Consulting in Carmel, N.Y.
Once the May 1 decision date has passed and the college gets a sense of how many admitted students are accepting offers, you may be notified that there is an open spot for you at the college that initially wait-listed you. If that happens, it's time to consider your options.
“You will have to make a decision if you still want that spot quickly, and you should make sure you know what the financial aid offer is at that time as well," explains Kilgus. “It is certainly your prerogative to take the waitlist spot and to forfeit your deposit at the school you previously committed to and it will not hurt their feelings. Colleges are businesses and they know that this happens."
If you do accept a spot at the college that initially wait-listed you, you'll want to let your second-choice school know that you won't be attending. Calling that college to tell them you plan to accept a spot at the school that previously wait-listed you can seem intimidating, but it's an important step since the faster you let the school know, the quicker the college can offer that spot to someone who is waiting to get in.
“You should call the school that you committed to and ask very politely if it is too late to change your mind, and simply explain to them that you have been pulled from the waitlist at your first-choice school and you would very much appreciate it if they would give you space to another student on their waitlist," advises Rebecca Eckstein, president of Admission Network in Atlanta, Ga.
Caveat: Unfortunately, the situation is trickier if you are not part of the regular-admission decision pool.
“If you made a binding, early decision or early decision 2 commitment to the school where you accepted a spot, you should have pulled all college applications and never even found out if you were on a waiting list," says Laurie Kopp Weingarten, co-founder and director of One-Stop College Counseling in Marlboro, N.J.
However, if you did make a firm commitment (binding or early decision) to an institution and did not pull your applications from other schools — whether intentionally or unintentionally — you should discuss the situation with your guidance counselor to see if any options of changing your mind exist at this point.
Chances are that by now, you've been working on your college applications for at least 10 months, so once you get the waitlist hurdle behind you, it's time to breathe a sigh of relief and start planning the next steps in your journey — finding a roommate and packing for college.