How College Waitlists Work

College students
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To take your place in a classroom at the college of your choice, you'll have to beat out other students with outstanding qualifications.

Though it doesn't necessarily guarantee you a high-paying job once you graduate, earning a college degree is important for many people who want to break into the workforce. Before you can earn that degree, however, you have to be accepted by a school. But getting an invitation from the college of your choice isn't always a sure thing, either. Universities are flooded with applicants and want to focus on getting the cream of the crop. Even though their inboxes are filled with applications from qualified prospects, admissions officers want to see if they can pull in others with a little higher grade point average or test scores, to give the institution more bragging rights -- which come in handy when asking alumni for more donations.

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If you've received a notification that you're on a college's waitlist, there are two ways of looking at it: On the one hand, you're eligible to attend that school, you just haven't been formally accepted. On the other hand, there's no guarantee that there will be a spot for you when the admissions staff makes its final decision. And before staff members decide who stays and who goes, they take several factors into consideration.

While it's difficult to survey every university throughout the world, data retrieved from the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Harvard University and the University of Oxford, among others, give us a general idea of the waiting list process. It's true, each school weighs applicants' strengths differently and it's generally accepted that prospects need to show how diverse their skills are. Where high school grades carry the most weight at the University of Georgia, extracurricular activities and supplemental materials such as a written essay often separate candidates with similar credentials. Before applying, research the application process and be sure you meet the criteria.If you're headed toward the waitlist, read through the next section to get a feel for what to expect.