What to Do if a College Waitlists or Defers You

A lot goes into your college applications. You’ve spent years taking the right classes, earning the grades, and boosting your resume. Getting accepted to your dream school would certainly make it all feel worth it, but what happens if you find out you’ve been put on a college waitlist or deferred?
If you apply to college during the regular decision cycle, you will hear back from schools around March. You’ll typically be notified by email that you can check the college’s website, though some schools still send a letter as well. Most of the time you will see one of the following: accepted, rejected, waitlisted, or deferred. You have until May 1 to send in your final decision.
Here’s what you might hear from colleges and what that means for you:

  • Accepted

    Congratulations, you’re in. If more than one college accepts you that means you have options. Think back on your visits, research, chosen major, and any interviews you may have had to determine the best fit. Some colleges also hold special tours and events for accepted students that you can check out to help select the right school. Keep in mind that this is a sales pitch from the college, and in the end, you don’t want to choose the school that feels like the best fit for you and your future goals.

  • Rejected

    It stings, but don’t spend too much time dwelling on a no from any colleges. Remember, thousands of outstanding students are rejected from colleges every year. It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have excelled at your dream school or that you’re not good enough. Focus on your acceptance letters and consider all of your options.

The first 2 are pretty straightforward, but being waitlisted or deferred can be a little more complicated.
  • Waitlisted

    Being put on the college waitlist can feel like being in limbo. You’re not in yet, but you might still be admitted if a spot opens up. If you do find yourself in this position, there’s a few things you need to think about, and some steps you can take.

Why do colleges have a waitlist?

Colleges put students on the waitlist because they know not everyone who gets accepted will end up going. Most students apply to many schools, and many will receive acceptances from more than one. Your college wants to make sure they have a full freshman class, even when some students choose another college, take a gap year, or join the workforce or military.
When spots open up, they’ll begin contacting students on the waitlist to admit them.

Next Steps

Even if you wind up on the waitlist, you still need to make a plan assuming you won’t get in. The percent of students who will be admitted from the waitlist varies by college, but it’s usually a small number.
When you decide on a school, you will likely have to make a deposit, and you should do that for your first choice school that accepted you outright. If you are admitted to a school from the waitlist, you can choose to go there instead, though you do typically forfeit your deposit. You also won’t receive a financial aid package from any schools that put you on the waitlist, so don’t assume that getting in will mean getting the scholarships you need to attend.
Instead of worrying about schools where you were waitlisted, focus on the colleges where you were accepted. Even if you’re thinking about saying yes to your second choice, make sure it will be a good fit if you end up going there. Remember too that you can always look into transfer opportunities in the future.
  • Deferred

    If you applied early decision or early action, a deferment means that you have not been accepted, but you haven’t been rejected either. Some colleges only use deferment for a small number of applications, but others defer all applications to the regular decision pool. In this case, it doesn’t mean you didn’t get in; you still might be admitted with the regular decision students. Make sure you send your regular decision applications in on time and to schools you would like to attend.
    If you get deferred during regular decision, it means you need to submit more information before they will make a decision. Sometimes, the college will wish to see your fall semester grades, additional test scores, or further recommendations. You’ll find out what else you need to provide, and should do so as quickly as possible if you’re still interested in that school.

No matter why you were deferred or waitlisted, stay committed to your class work and extracurricular activities. It also can be a good idea to interact with the schools that waitlisted or deferred you by visiting, doing an alumni interview, or participating in an informational session. Be thoughtful, though—calling or emailing the admissions office numerous times will not help and may actually hurt your chances of getting in.