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Getting Off the College Waiting List

5 Essential Steps

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Getting Off the College Waiting List

Harvard

Photo by Glen Cooper, Getty Images

College wait lists have become an instrument of torture for tens of thousands of teens across the nation. The University of California alone wait-listed 10,000 applicants in 2010, leaving them to languish in limbo until their luckier counterparts had decided which school's offer to accept and which to reject, thereby freeing up space. But there are some things kids and their families can do - and not do - to help hasten the college waiting list process.

      Return the card: Just because your teen got a letter saying he'd been wait listed doesn't mean he's actually on the waiting list. He needs to formally accept the college wait list offer, i.e., return the card or click the online button saying "I accept."
      Set Plan B in motion: These days, the odds of getting off the wait list are not great. Urge your child to go through his acceptances, pick his favorite college from that list and commit. File an intent to register and send in a deposit for registration and housing. (Depending on the terms, some of those deposits may be refundable.) Visit the school. Buy the sweatshirt. Celebrate. Be happy. Try not to think about the waiting list. (And if this is the only option your child has, bear this in mind: More than 200 universities still have availability for new applicants in May and June.
      Don't call: Resist the temptation to call the college admissions office and ask why your child was wait listed. It doesn't help, it doesn't provide new information, and college admissions officers hate it.
      Consider writing: Urge your teen - not you, him - to write a brief letter to the admissions office of the wait-listed school reiterating why he loves this particular school so much and why he is such a perfect fit for it - be specific about the academic program, professors or activity (orchestra, for example, or gamelan ensemble) that makes this a match made in heaven. He should keep it short - a paragraph is plenty - and reiterate his pleasure at still being in consideration.
      Provide new information: If your child rocked his third quarter report card, was named MVP of his varsity team, accepted into the state honor band, or earned any other major honors or accolades, make sure he includes that information in the letter. It gives the admissions office something new to contemplate and may bump him up the wait list.
      And, of course, wait... wait ... wait.
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