When Do Waitlist Decisions Come Out? All You Need to Know

Waitlist decision dates
May 7, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

When do waitlist decisions come out? What does it mean? Keep reading to learn all about college waitlists. 

Understanding waitlist decisions is essential for college applicants. While being waitlisted may seem like a setback, it's actually an opportunity. Colleges use waitlists to fill remaining spots in their freshman class, which means you're still in the running. 

By knowing how to navigate this process and staying engaged, you can improve your chances of being admitted. So, instead of seeing waitlist decisions as obstacles, view them as opportunities on your journey to college.

What Is a College Waitlist?

A college waitlist is a crucial component of the college admissions process. It comes into play when a college or university receives more qualified applicants than they can accommodate in their incoming freshman class.

Essentially, it's a backup plan for colleges to ensure that they fill their available spots if some of the initially admitted students choose to enroll elsewhere. Waitlists are common too and used at a number of top colleges, like Harvard. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with them so you know what you’re up against. 

How Do Waitlists Work?

If you've found yourself on a college waitlist, you might be wondering how it all works. Here's what you need to know:

Placement on the Waitlist

When a college waitlists you, it means they haven't made a final decision about your admission. You're in a state of limbo, neither accepted nor rejected. The number of applicants placed on the waitlist can vary from one school to another and from year to year.

Acceptance and Decline

If you receive a waitlist offer, you have a choice. You can either accept the invitation to remain on the waitlist, expressing your continued interest in the college, or decline it if you have already decided to attend another institution or don't want to wait for an admission decision.

Admissions Timeline

Typically, colleges begin considering waitlisted applicants after the May 1st deadline. This is the date by which admitted students must submit their enrollment decisions and non-refundable deposits to secure their spots. 

If, after this deadline, there are still openings in the freshman class, the college may start admitting students from the waitlist.

Rolling Admissions

Waitlist acceptances can occur gradually from May through July and sometimes even into August, right before the school year begins. However, it's important to note that not all students on the waitlist will be admitted, and some colleges may admit only a few or none at all in certain years.

Factors at Play

Several factors influence the chances of getting off the waitlist. These include how many spots the college needs to fill, the representation of majors or demographics they want in the incoming class, your demonstrated interest in attending the school, the overall strength of your application, and, in some cases, your ranking on the waitlist.

What to Expect When You're on a College Waitlist

When you're on a college waitlist, it can be a mix of hope and uncertainty. You haven't received a rejection, but you haven't secured a spot either. Here's what to expect:

  • Waitlist Notifications: You'll receive an email or letter stating that you've been placed on the waitlist. This notification will provide information on how to confirm your interest in remaining on the waitlist.
  • Confirmation of Interest: To stay in the running, you'll need to confirm your interest in being on the waitlist. This often involves responding to the college within a specified time frame, usually by a given deadline.
  • Waiting Period: Once you've confirmed your interest, you enter a waiting period. During this time, you'll wait to see if the college admits you from the waitlist. It can be a period of uncertainty, so it's a good idea to explore other college options and potentially submit a deposit to secure a spot at another institution.
  • Boost Your Application: In some cases, colleges may allow you to submit additional materials, like updated grades, new test scores, or a letter of continued interest, to strengthen your application while on the waitlist.

How Will I Be Notified About My Waitlist Decision?

When do waitlist results come out? Colleges typically use various methods to notify students of their waitlist decisions. The most common methods include:

  • Email: Many colleges will notify you by email, especially if they've been communicating with you through email during the application process.
  • Admissions Portal: Some colleges will post your waitlist decision on their admissions portal, where you can log in to check your status.
  • Regular Mail: In some cases, colleges may send a physical letter via regular mail to inform you of your waitlist decision.
  • Phone Calls: Although less common, some colleges may contact you directly via phone if you've been admitted from the waitlist.

It's essential to monitor your email and the admissions portal (if applicable) regularly, as colleges often provide specific instructions and deadlines for waitlisted students.

When Do College Waitlist Decisions Come Out?

When do waitlisted students hear back? The timing of waitlist decisions can vary from college to college. Typically, waitlist decisions start rolling out after the May 1st deadline, which is the national deadline for students to submit their enrollment deposits to colleges. 

This is because colleges need to see how many admitted students choose to enroll before determining if they have space available for waitlisted students.

While some waitlist decisions may come out in May or June, others may extend into July or even later. It's important to be patient during this period and to have a backup plan in place in case you are not admitted from the waitlist.

What Are the Chances of Getting Accepted If You Are Waitlisted?

Navigating the process of admitting students from the waitlist is complex. A number of factors come into play, including the needs of the college, your personal connections, and your chosen majors, all of which have a say in the final decision. We’ll get into other key factors that can influence waitlist decisions in the next section. 

It's worth noting that waitlists don't follow a ranked order, so even if you hold the top spot, it's not guaranteed that spots open up. However, factors like your preferred major and legacy status can tilt the scales in your favor.

While many colleges extend waitlist offers to a significant number of students, not everyone chooses to remain in the waiting game. This fluctuation in the pool can influence your odds of securing admission. 

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), approximately 20% of students who opt to stick with the waitlist eventually earn acceptance. However, when it comes to highly selective colleges, the waitlist acceptance rate tends to be lower, with only about 7% of waitlisted students making the cut.

As you navigate the uncertain waters of the college waitlist, remember that your chances are shaped by a host of factors. Just do your best to stay informed and positive, and exploring alternative options are all important strategies as you await the final verdict.

Factors That May Affect Waitlist Decision

Certainly, let's delve deeper into the various factors that can significantly affect a college's decision to admit students from the waitlist:

  • Available Spots: The number of available spots in the freshman class is crucial. Few openings decrease your chances, while more spots, often due to lower enrollment, improve your odds of admission.
  • College Priorities: Colleges prioritize various aspects when crafting their freshman class, such as diverse majors and geographic representation. Students who align with these priorities have a better shot at waitlist admission.
  • Likelihood of Enrollment: Your enthusiasm for the college matters. They want students who are genuinely interested in joining. Show your interest, and it can boost your chances.
  • Application Strength: Your application quality is crucial. Admissions officers evaluate your academics, extracurriculars, and unique qualities. A strong application sets you apart.
  • Waitlist Ranking (if applicable): Certain colleges use a ranking system for their waitlist. Higher ranks improve your odds if spots open up.
  • Family Ties: Legacy connections, when your family members went to the same school, could give you a leg up in admissions. It's something colleges consider.
  • Yield Rate: Colleges keep a close eye on something called the "yield rate." It's the percentage of students they admit who actually decide to enroll. If a college sees that not enough admitted students are enrolling, they might turn to the waitlist to fill those spots. So, it's a key factor in waitlist decisions.
  • Admitted Student Decisions: Sometimes, admitted students change their minds and decide not to enroll. This can open up spots for waitlisted students, but it's a bit unpredictable and can impact waitlist admissions.
  • Program or Major: Program availability matters, too. If a program isn't as popular, there could be more room for waitlisted students, improving their chances of getting in.
  • Geographic Diversity: Colleges like diversity, so if you're from an underrepresented region, it could work in your favor when it comes to waitlist admissions. 
  • Additional Materials: Some colleges allow waitlisted students to submit supplementary materials, such as updated grades, new test scores, or letters of continued interest. These materials can bolster their application and increase their chances of admission.
male student looking at laptop nervously

How to Improve Your Chances of Admission When You’re Waitlisted

If you find yourself on a college waitlist, there are strategic steps you can take. Follow these steps to boost your chances of getting off the waitlist

  • Write a Letter of Interest: Express your continued interest and commitment to attending the school if admitted.
  • Send Important Updates: Share relevant accomplishments and updates, especially those achieved after your initial application.
  • Maintain Good Grades: Continue to excel academically, and consider submitting new grades or transcripts if they reflect your improvement.
  • Stay in Contact: Keep in touch with the school, particularly the admissions committee or regional dean, via email.
  • Retake the SAT/ACT: If applicable and you can improve your scores significantly, consider retaking these tests.
  • Get an Interview: If offered, take advantage of interviews as they can provide an opportunity to showcase your enthusiasm for the school.

While being on a college waitlist can be uncertain and challenging, there are steps you can take to improve your chances of securing a spot at your dream school. Stay proactive, express your commitment, and keep your options open. 


When do waitlist decisions come out? Do waitlisted students get accepted? How long does the waitlist take? These are some of the many commonly asked questions surrounding college waitlists. Let’s get into them. 

1. What Percent of Applicants Get Waitlisted?

According to the Art & Science Group, approximately 20 percent of college applicants may be placed on waitlists. However, it's essential to note that this percentage can vary significantly from one college to another and from year to year. 

2. Can Waitlist Decisions Vary by College?

Yes, waitlist decisions can vary by college. Each college has its own policies and practices regarding waitlisted applicants. Factors like selectivity, available spots, and specific needs influence these decisions. Some colleges admit more waitlisted students, while others admit very few or none.

3. Can I Stay on Multiple College Waitlists?

Yes, you can typically stay on multiple college waitlists simultaneously. However, it's important to carefully manage your commitments and adhere to each college's policies regarding waitlist acceptance and deadlines.

Final Thoughts

Navigating the college waitlist journey can be filled with anticipation and ambiguity. As you enter this waiting period, remember that your chances are influenced by various factors unique to each college. Stay optimistic, keep your options open, and embrace the uncertainty as you await the final decisions shaping your educational path.

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