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Sometimes it can feel as if gaining admission to that dream school is nothing more than a pipe dream. With admission rates falling lower and lower each year, from a purely logistical standpoint, there has never been a more unfortunate time to be applying for college. Even more heart-wrenching is the scenario where, after all your essay-writing and soul-searching, you’re waitlisted at the school of your dreams. Knowing that there’s anywhere between a 0% and 10% chance of being admitted off a waitlist, with the figure for many colleges floating around a measly 1%, it may seem like a waitlist letter constitutes a soft rejection.

Well, I can tell you that I’ve been there and done that. During my own college application process, I was waitlisted at three schools and accepted to two of them – the one which I didn’t gain admission to was not accepting additional materials. That said, it seems that if you’ve been waitlisted, you’re going to have to put in some legwork after-the-fact by reaching out, sending more materials and getting creative to prove to adcoms that you’re a good fit for their school.

Senior Year Updates

Ideally, your achievements during high school should build off of each other. The penultimate year of study before higher education doesn’t have to be the end-all be-all of your high school story – in fact, senior year is a fantastic opportunity to show that you haven’t lost steam, that you haven’t fallen into complacency as many other high schoolers have during the college applications season. If you’ve won any new awards or achieved any new heights in leadership or extracurriculars at your school, don’t be afraid to send an update email or letter! Colleges want to see that you’re continually growing as opposed to stagnating, so make sure that you keep all of your information as up-to-date as possible. You also shouldn’t just be listing off what’s happened since you first sent out your application. Try to tie your new experiences into your passions and explain how they’ve helped you grow.

GPA Updates

Everyone knows about the dreaded midyear report, and if you’ve applied to school through regular decision, you’ll know the pain of keeping up your academics while some of your ED/EA friends have already started slacking. For those who are placed on the waitlist from RD, it may even be necessary to keep putting 110% into academia until the end of the third quarter. That way, if and when grades come out for that third quarter, you can also attach an unofficial transcript to any email or letter sent to the admissions office. Show them that you’re unafraid to keep up the hard work!


Ah yes, supplementals. Perhaps you weren’t really considering sending them in before, but now you’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. There’s no point in hiding any perceivable talents you have now. If you love to sing and dance, send some audio clips and videos. If you’re an amazing artist in an unconventional sense, send in your portfolio. Now is not the time of apprehension, because the waitlist is truly one’s last chance at gaining admission to a college of choice. The key is to let adcoms know all there is to know about you. That hobby or talent that you’ve been hiding could potentially be the last piece of the puzzle to push your application over the threshold.

Another Recommendation Letter

In addition to the rec letters that you’ve already attached to your application, you may want to consider getting yet another person to vouch for you. It could be a teacher from senior year that you happened to really get along with or someone that you were too shy to ask during the first pass. Regardless of who it is that you ask, adcoms will most certainly appreciate another perspective of you as an individual.

Once you have all these components, feel free to add anything else you think was missing from your original application! I personally wrote a poem in my email to the colleges that waitlisted me, expressing my continued interest in attending. My advice? Do something original, something outlandish, something fresh to catch admission officers’ attention. I guarantee you that that’s what’ll separate you from the crowd when it comes time to review waitlisted applicants.

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the author

Nelson Dong is an incoming freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and hails from North Hunterdon High School. Born in a state overrun by loud, tan New Yorkers (yes, they're all from New York with the exception of Pauly D), he holds great disdain for the shore. He dabbles in dancing, singing and writing, among other artistic ventures and plays tennis to stay in shape. However, it must be noted that he absolutely does not lift because he doesn't have time.

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