Is It Possible to Get Off a College's Waitlist?


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After battling through the epic journey of the college application process, with all its emotional twists and turns, the torturous anticipation, the potential heaven of acceptance or hell of rejection, judgment day has finally arrived. You tear open the envelope and frantically scan the letter for a telling phrase. You have been “offered a spot.” So far, so good … “on the wait list.” Ugh. Welcome to admissions purgatory.

The good news…

Colleges do not place students on the waitlist to soften the blow of rejection or to spread false hope. The waitlist exists as a useful tool that provides institutions with a safety net against tough-to-predict yield rates. A growing number of top-tier schools have opted to drop early decision, which makes pinpointing how many accepted students will actually enroll an even more unpredictable science. Thus the percentage of students plucked off the waitlist varies greatly from year to year. For example, in the past decade, the number of applicants accepted off of Brown University’s waitlist has fluctuated between zero and 196 students. It’s quite possible that you will luck into a good year for waitlisters.

The Bad News…

Of course, the odds are not exactly forever in a student’s favor. Stanford’s waitlisted students stand somewhere between a 0-5 percent chance of receiving an offer, depending on the year. Acceptance rates for those waitlisted by juggernauts like Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, and Middlebury College average under 4 percent.

In the 2015 cycle, Emory University students fared slightly better, with 8 percent eventually gaining acceptance. Claremont McKenna College waitlisters had a banner year (in a very relative sense), getting in at a 17 percent clip. Less inspiring is the news that out of the 429 students on Caltech’s waitlist, not a single one ended up with an offer of admission.

The bottom line is, in a good year, chances may be half-decent. In a bad year, odds are more on par with a participant in "The Hunger Games."

What You Can Do…

Carnegie Mellon offers students the option of joining their “Priority Waitlist,” which means you pledge to attend if admitted. While this will improve your odds, it is worth pointing out that only 4 of more than 2,800 students were offered spots in Carnegie Mellon University’s freshman class last fall.

For all other schools, the number one thing students can do while on the waitlist is communicate clearly, firmly, and respectfully to the admissions office that, if offered, you will accept a spot at the school. Admissions officers like knowing that they have students who will enroll if called upon. A sincere letter to the admission office and an occasional check-in from a guidance counselor will suffice. Waitlisted students who obsessively pepper the Dean of Admission’s inbox with crazed inquiries typically do not do themselves any favors. Remember, colleges are looking for the next productive member of their freshman class, not the next stalker.

Of equal importance to expressing a student’s intentions is, not surprisingly, maintaining a strong academic performance. Spring grades, another teacher recommendation, or a recent unique accomplishment can still sway an admissions committee.

You will still want to submit a non-refundable deposit at your first-choice school to which you’ve been accepted. There are no bonus points awarded for declaring that if you do not get off of the Tufts waitlist, you’ll skip college altogether and become a street performer.

If you never get off the waitlist, allow time to grieve if you must, but then move on and get ready to thrive at your second-choice school. After all, the second-choice school surely has a waitlist full of people stuck in their own purgatory who can only dream of being in your shoes.

College Transitions offers updated waitlist statistics at America’s most competitive colleges. Click here to access the most recent waitlist statistics.

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College Transitions

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About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

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August 2019

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Experience the vibrant Latin American culture through music, entertainment, arts and food. Enjoy dancing, music, authentic Latino food, kids’ activities and much more. A two-hour outdoor...

Cost: Free

Where:
West Weaver Street
Carrboro, NC  27510


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Hundreds of artisans from across the Southeast, festival foods, demonstrations, a kids' play area and live music highlight the town's signature arts and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Town Hall Campus
316 N. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27513
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Geocaching is a treasure hunt where participants use GPS coordinates to track down hidden "caches." We will learn how to use traditional GPS units and the Geocaching App (by Groundspeak) and then...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Discover Historic Yates Mill—a place of business, community, and exciting local history! Watch a brief slideshow, then explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Ages 11 and older with disabilities make spaghetti, meatballs and a salad. Register online. Choose course #1247467.

Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
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These programs are open to students 6–12 years old. Parent/guardians are welcome to stay for the program or drop-off. Preregistration is required. Learn about predator and prey...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. Choose course #124969.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Unexpected NC is hosting a Mommy Meet-up at SnickerDoodles. This event is for new and experienced moms alike. Kids are more than welcome to attend and make some new friends.    ...

Cost: Free with registration

Where:
SnickerDoodles
3721 Lynn Road
Raleigh, NC
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Sponsor: Unexpected NC
Telephone: 99-717-7298
Contact Name: Morgan Price
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Explore the ways you can plan ahead for the heat and care for yourself while outdoors on hot days. For ages 6 and up (adult accompaniment is required for all children); FREE. Registration is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

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Plus-Plus is one shape with endless possibility. Younger kids can build 2-D mosaics and older kids can create 3-D masterpieces. Come into Learning Express Falls Pointe for an instructional...

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
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Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
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Read the story by Laura Numeroff and make brownies. Register online. Choose course #124737.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Listen to a story about Johnny Appleseed, the legendary character who's based on John Chapman, the American frontier nurseryman who planted apple trees in many states. Play the game of fruit...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Enjoy a showing of the movie as Indiana Jones himself leads an expedition into the jungle, where explorers like yourself will search for the artifact: The Ark of the Covenant.  We’re...

Cost: $2 members, $5 nonmembers

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Telephone: 919-707-9965
Contact Name: Hugo Romero-Sanchez
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Families take part in an unconventional family adventure race on a muddy obstacle course. Spectators may watch families compete. Parking is $5/car.

Cost: $30-$40/person for race

Where:
Hill Ridge Farms
703 Tarboro Rd.
Youngsville, NC  27596
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Shop for local handmade arts and crafts from local vendors. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Celebrate African-American culture and history with an art gallery walk, vendors, kids' activities, food and more. See website for hours.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
Fayetteville Street
, NC  27601
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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 2:30 & 3:00 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

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Enjoy a charity radio controlled model flying event and fundraiser benefiting Meg's Smile Foundation. See all sizes/types of electric radio controlled aircraft and watch a drone...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sugg Farm at Bass Lake Park
2401 Grigsby Avenue
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Holly Springs Skyhawks RC Group
Telephone: 919-270-8467
Contact Name: Doug LeRoy
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