One of the most concerning situations you may face as a graduate applicant is how you should handle a waitlist offer from a school you really want to attend. The decision can be difficult as you decide whether to flood your school with additional material, hoping that something you send will convince the admissions team to admit you, or if you should just sit tight and not risk annoying the admissions committee with unsolicited material.
Our best advice is to simply follow the instructions from the admissions committee. If they prefer you not to send in additional material, then you should honor their policy. Even though it can be tempting to let them know how interested you are, disregarding their request may put you at a disadvantage.
You do want to remain in contact with your graduate school while on the waitlist, but you must be careful to be respectful to the admissions committee. Sending an additional 10 letters of recommendation may convince the admissions team you are well-qualified to attend, it may also make them question what kind of student you will be once you have arrived on campus.
We always encourage graduate applicants to remain positive if on a waitlist. Many applicants who are placed on a waitlist (and are not accepted) opt to transfer to that school later if they decide that is still where they want to be. Candidates who are considerate during the application process one year will be thought of more positively the next. The way you present yourself as a potential graduate student is something important to remember, especially if there is a chance you may re-apply to that school later.
If you do submit a letter of continued interest, instead of a generic letter, a specific approach is more convincing. Tell the admissions committee reasons why you want to attend this school and how this specific school would be a good fit. Highlighting anything that is new and different to your application since you completed your original application.
Graduate schools use waitlists to control class size. Admission is not an exact science, but schools have a certain number in mind of how many students they want to enroll. If too few students accept offers of admission, admissions committees will consult the waitlist, review the applications, and consider admitting one. The list is typically not ranked, but it can be used to balance or solidify certain aspects of the class demographics like gender balance, diversity numbers, geographic distribution, or to make sure the financial aid budget can be met. So, if someone with a similar background to yours denies an offer, you are more likely to be admitted.
Many graduate schools have large waitlists only expecting to admit a few, if any, from the list. Additionally, waitlists are often used to craft the class later in the admissions cycle. Some schools review their waitlists in April or May, after first deposits are due, letting candidates know their fate rather quickly. But other schools may keep the list open much longer, where applicants may not get an offer until a few weeks before classes start.
To best handle this waiting game, you should decide how long you are willing to wait to hear back. Set a date. If you haven’t been admitted by then, ask to be taken off the list. In any case, regardless of the date you set, you will want to make sure you pay your deposit to enroll in a program you have been accepted to. Deadlines to accept vary by school, but usually are within a few weeks from when they announce your offer. Remember, you will be expected to forfeit any deposit if you are offered a spot off the waitlist at your top-choice school.
Being on a waitlist certainly can be stressful, but try to be patient. The fact that they put you on a waitlist means they obviously saw strengths in your application, and want time to reevaluate it. Graduate schools almost always accept people from the waitlist later in the process, so stay positive, you are still in the game!