January marks the application deadlines for most secondary schools. Admissions offices will continue reviewing test scores and application material for the next couple of months as they build their classes. Then, in March and April, students and families will be notified of the schools’ decisions. Instead of only the acceptance letters, many students will receive notice that they have been placed on a waitlist at one or more their target schools. Understandably, this can be disappointing for many families and leaves students feeling helpless. This does not have to be the end of the story. We want to encourage students and families to recognize what a Waitlist designation actually means.
It’s not you, it’s them
The most important fact for students to remember is that they are waitlisted because of events beyond their control. They are not waitlisted because of something in their scores or application. Factors outside of their application got in the way. There may be more legacy or staff related students in a particular year. An earlier entry year at the school may have been overenrolled. (Many of the 3rd graders from 5 years ago plan to continue with the school in 9th grade.) Additionally, the school may be going for a certain demographic in the year you apply.
Although the admissions process can be unpredictable, it isn’t as arbitrary as it may feel. We are simply not aware of all of the decisions being made for our particular admissions class. You are a qualified candidate, and the schools do want you. As we stated above, you are not alone in this challenge. Hundreds of students are waitlisted every year at our regional schools. Unfortunately, a school often has other goals for its incoming class in addition to accepting the best students. Please note that in most cases, the waitlist designation does not change for most students. Nevertheless, it is important to focus on what is within our control.
A comma, not a period.
The decision to put a student on the waitlist is up to others. However, how a student responds to this decision is entirely up to them. We recommend spending your time and energy improving the probability you will be accepted should a spot become available. Although it is best to assume that a spot will not open, you will want to do what is within your power while you can. Your first order of business is to keep working in school to make sure you have the best grades possible by the end of 8th grade. Turn in your assignments, keep studying for your tests, and talk to your teachers if you need help. No matter what happens on the admissions side, these habits will help you in the long run.
Being the squeaky wheel
While you focus on your success at your current school, you can let your prospective first choice know you are still interested. You can begin your correspondence by thanking the school for informing you of its decision, confirming you are still interested, and looking forward to hearing from them again. If there are new grades or accomplishments to share, send those as well. Ideally, you will want to reach out to the school every 10-12 days. Not all of the contact will come from you directly, however. After your initial mailing, check your network of teachers, coaches, and advisors. Perhaps one of them can submit a follow-up appeal on your behalf. Your continuing efforts in school and life will make this easier for them. Later, if a school is truly your first choice, and you intend on attending if invited, you can ask your current school to contact your candidate school to share your enthusiasm and intent to attend. Again, try not to let two weeks pass without contact about your application. Finally, students should not feel the pressure to submit new test scores if they are waitlisted.
While it is certainly disappointing to be informed you haven’t been accepted, it does not mean you have to accept the decision passively. As with any negative outcome, recognize it is not a verdict about you and decide to use the disappointment to spur you to positive action. Good luck!