How College Waitlists Work

Waiting to Gain Admission

Student volunteer helping senior
There are many ways to stand out on your college application. Volunteer experience is just one type of extracurricular experience that looks good to admissions personnel.

Every year college admission becomes more competitive. The fact is, there simply isn't enough room for every applicant. For example, in 2009, Georgia Tech accepted 6,465 of 11,510 freshman applications. Of those, 2,650 enrolled (total enrollment in 2009 was 19,400) [source: Georgia Tech]. The University of Georgia accepted a similar percentage (9,594 of 17,909 freshman applicants with 4,725 enrollments) [source: University of Georgia]. While these two schools accepted roughly half of their applicants, it's a safe bet there are many who have been turned away simply because there isn't enough room.

If you're already on a college's waitlist, here are a few things you should understand: First, keep in mind that the school is interested in your enrollment if there's room for you. Be aware, however, that the school may choose to wait as long as possible before deciding to grant you acceptance. Unless you're in the upper percentage of early applicants, you probably won't get accepted until the school has had a chance to view more applicants.

Generally schools don't rank applications on waiting lists. In 2008, 600 students chose to join the waiting list at the University of Georgia through the school's specially developed Web site. The school doesn't guarantee anything, but fewer than half of the applicants accepted actually enrolled. When a spot opens, the school contacts the applicant and asks if they still want admission. At this time, applicants are granted admission to the next available semester.

For the most part, you need to have a combination of good grades and high test scores, not to mention some sort of extracurricular activity under your belt. Test scores are extremely important but not the only thing that matters. In fact, some schools have been known to turn down students with perfect test scores. It's also important to understand not every school has a waitlist. Oxford, for instance, didn't offer a waitlist for fall 2009. Harvard had one, but may have only accepted up to an additional 100 students. Advisors are also adamant about meeting deadlines. If you fail to get everything together and postmarked by the appointed dates, you can forget about getting in -- at least initially.

In the next section, we'll point out a couple of things you can do to increase your chances of acceptance the first time around and what to do if you're forced to wait for a decision.