What To Do If You’re Waitlisted from Graduate School

December 15, 2014

Here’s what a that it means to be waitlisted from graduate school: you are a qualified candidate, but more qualified applicants applied than the program had spaces available. There are a number of scenarios that might lead to a waitlisted application. Maybe your personal essay and test scores were solid, but you don’t have a lot of other experience. Or perhaps you have had great performance at high-level internships, but your GRE scores were average. Or, perhaps there was just a surge of interest in the program and you were edged out by a small margin.

Don’t let yourself get too worked up over being waitlisted. You haven’t been denied admittance yet, and this could be an opportunity to share with the selection committee one or two of your latest achievements. Be sure to call the selection committee or email your graduate school program department head to share any award, honor or prize you may have recently earned. You could let them know about your latest grades if they’re particularly impressive.

Be sure to also ask the selection committee what you can do to increase your odds of admittance. You might want to reiterate that this program is your first choice, if you haven’t; selection committees want students who want to be there. Also share that you would be happy to provide any additional materials that might help sway their decision.
Try to keep these correspondences brief. Other students were also waitlisted and also have questions.

Though it may feel like it, waitlists don’t exist to make you nuts. Selection committees need to make sure their slots are filled with the best candidates. Every student who receives acceptance into a program has several decisions to make: Will they attend the graduate school, period? (Some students choose to defer for a year. Others simply never enroll in any program.) Will they attend another school? A waitlist gives the school a chance to fill in an empty space if a student responds that he or she will not matriculate.

Waitlists have other uses to the selection committee, too. They’re a way to make sure an incoming class is diverse with respect to experience, gender, race, and age. Different programs look at a variety of factors. So if a student who has been granted admission replies that he or she will not attend, the selection committee may very well try to fill that space with a student from the waitlist who has a similar background or experience.

Waitlists also come into play for potential graduate students with regard to financial aid. You should consider whether you are at any kind of disadvantage with financial aid deadlines because it should play a role in your decision.

Your might feel a sense of anxiety during this period. Try your best to stay organized and on top of deadlines. Ultimately, you cannot wait forever for a decision from the selection committee; there is a finite amount of time. For example, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re still waitlisted for your dream program, but you’ve been accepted to another program that has a fast approaching deadline. You may be required to respond to your third or fourth choice program before you know, for sure, about the dream program. It happens, and it’s unfortunate. Pull out the scale (or pad of paper) and weigh your pros and cons. Find the deal makers and deal breakers of each program. Draw up a list and evaluate it, along with your goals and finances.