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Articles / Applying to College / What are Courtesy Waitlists?

What are Courtesy Waitlists?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | March 25, 2010

Question: I have heard the term "Courtesy Waitlist." What does this mean and how do I know if I am on one?

Although admission folks may insist otherwise, some colleges practice what is know as "Courtesy Waitlisting." This is when students who ordinarily would be rejected outright are, instead, added to the waitlist for a variety of reasons.


Often, these denizens of admissions purgatory are the children of alumni and VIP's. Sometimes, they are applicants who have overcome great obstacles in life, and admission officials want to to send an encouraging word rather than the harsh blow of denial. Courtesy waitlisting may also be used to show respect for a high school counselor who has advocated vigorously for a particular candidate who, nonetheless, never made the final cut.

So, if you are on a waitlist right now, ask yourself if you might be a courtesy kid. If so, you’re not entirely out of luck, but your odds of success may be even steeper than those of other applicants who are also lost in limbo-land.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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