The Student Success Blog

Waitlisted. Now What?

Posted by Milken School 2/12/2018
Find me on:

As you've learned already, there's an application process and admission to private school is not guaranteed. You have to be accepted to the school you wish to attend, and when admission decisions arrive, some students are accepted, others are unfortunately denied admission, and some are waitlisted. Wondering what the waitlist is and what you need to do if you're on it? Check out these frequently asked questions.

What is the waitlist and how does it work?

Schools have a limited number of spaces available for incoming students, and most schools have multiple students applying for each available spot. These competitive admission cycles means that schools need to carefully allocate their available spaces so as to not over-enroll a particular grade. As such, students who might be qualified to attend the school could be placed on the waitlist, which is literally a list of students who are waiting to hear an admission decision. 

Think about it this way: if a school has 100 spaces available for new students, they may send 120 acceptances and waitlist an additional 50 students in the first round of admission decisions. Not every student accepted in the first round will enroll; in fact, many students apply to multiple schools, so they have to choose the school that is best for them to attend. That means, as students select their first choice schools and let their other choices know they aren’t enrolling, spots will likely open up. Some students will eventually come off the waitlist and receive an acceptance, while others may ultimately be denied.


What's the difference between a waitlist and waitpool?

For most schools, the two terms essentially mean the same thing: a student is in a limbo mode, waiting to see if an offer of admission will come. While schools, and even colleges, use the term waitlist, this language can be confusing, as it makes it seem like there is a ranked list that dictates an order in which students might receive an acceptance. This usually isn't the case. In fact, it's unlikely that the admission office will simply go down a list of students and enroll them one at a time in a particular order. There are multiple factors that schools consider when assessing whether a waitlisted student will receive an offer of admission, and it typically has nothing to do with the order in which names appear on an actual list. Because the waitlist usually isn't ranked, some schools, including Milken, opt to use different wording and instead refer to the waitlist as a waitpool. 


What does it mean to be waitlisted?

A waitlist or waitpool decision doesn’t mean that you’re officially accepted to the school, but it does mean that there’s still a chance that you could receive that acceptance letter you’ve been waiting for all year long. While yes, you can reach out to the admission office to check in once or twice and see if they have any insight for you, when you’re on the waitlist it is highly advised that you don’t check in daily or even weekly. Read on for tips on what you should do if you're waitlisted.


What should I do if I'm waitlisted?

The first step is to make sure the school that waitlisted you knows that you are serious about wanting to enroll. It's a good idea is to write them a note (email is fine) telling the director of admission or the admission officer you worked with that you’re still interested and why you think you'd be a great student there. You can remind them why the school is your first choice and how you would contribute to the community. Be specific in your note, attention to detail can help; mention things you talked about in your interview, like the academic and extracurricular programs that matter most to you. It's ok to reach out with this initial touch, but don't bug the admission office. There's no need to contact them daily or even weekly. Just let them know you're interested.


How long will I have to wait?

Sometimes, it can take a while for admission offices to determine if new enrollment spots are available. Some schools may give you specific dates of when notices will be sent, but most likely you'll be in a period of limbo waiting with a lot of unknowns. Sometimes, spots will open up immediately, while other times, spots never come available.


Should I follow up regularly?

Some schools may provide instructions to follow in terms of communicating with them during this limbo period, but in general, it's best to limit your communication. Write that initial note that I mentioned earlier, and then wait until you absolutely need to reach out, such as you're considering enrolling at another school. Bugging the admission office for an answer won’t help your chance of getting off the waitlist, so it's best to wait patiently. When you do decide it's time to check in, be polite and respectful; demanding an answer won't get you far.


How likely is it that I'll get accepted?

There’s truly no way to know this, and you always have to be prepared for the chance that you may not make it off the waiting list. As such, you should have a backup plan in which you consider accepting an offer of admission at another great school where you’ve been accepted. Make sure you’re aware of the deadlines for when enrollment contracts are due so that you don’t lose your spot while waiting. Communicate with admission officers at both your first- and second-choice schools, and let them know where you stand in your decision-making processes so everyone is on the same page, and you can make the best decision possible.


Should I enroll at another school or keep waiting?

This is a decision that each family needs to make individually, and is often driven by deadlines to enroll at other schools. If you're considering enrolling at a backup school and have enrollment deadlines to meet, check in with both admission offices to let them know and determine what your options are for enrolling and/or waiting longer. Some families might decide to accept another offer of admission and remove themselves from the waitlist. Others will take a more risky approach and decline other offers of admission in hopes of getting off the waitlist. A third option that some families choose is to accept an offer and make a deposit at one of the schools where the student was accepted, in order to avoid losing the spot, but still wait to see if they get off the waitlist. This isn't recommended, and if you do go this route, it's likely that if your first-choice school eventually offers admission and you decide to enroll, your deposit is forfeited at the second school. For some families, this is a worthy investment, but it's not the right move for everyone.


I'm off the waitlist! Now what?

As soon as you hear back that you're officially accepted and off the waiting list at your top school, notify the other schools who were waiting for you to make a decision. Your acceptance at those other schools was reserving an available spot that will eventually be reallocated to students who were placed on a waiting list there, just as you were at your top choice.


I've accepted an offer at another school. Now what?

If you've decided against waiting for an answer from the school where you were waitlisted, let the school know. This allows the admission office to keep an accurate list of students who are pending final decisions.



Topics: Choosing a Private School, Applying to Private School

Download the Milken Viewbook

The Student Success Blog

by Milken Community Schools

Welcome to Milken's Student Success Blog! We use this space to share information that we think will be helpful to all students at each stage of their middle and high school journey. 

Explore this blog for ...

  • Science and art ideas
  • Information about finding private schools
  • Application tips and tricks


Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Download the FREE

Innovator's Notebook!