Last Chance: Are Waitlist Essays Worth the Effort?

Last Chance: Are Waitlist Essays Worth the Effort? title=
Last Chance: Are Waitlist Essays Worth the Effort?
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By Dr. Gina La Monica

After you have submitted your college applications, the waiting period begins as you anxiously await hearing from those institutions. This can be an exceedingly stressful period as many high school students receive their college admission correspondences. Besides learning if you were one of the lucky ones being accepted to your top college, you might receive a letter indicating you were placed on a college’s waitlist.

According to the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), only 43% of universities have waitlists. From the hundreds of students who make this mysterious list, only 20% actually get accepted. Although, this percentage should not deter you from completing your waitlist essay if you truly want to attend this college.

This year more than any other will be the most competitive for college admissions due to the remnants of COVID-19. Admissions staff have an overwhelming job of sifting through a record number of applications due in part because of the omission of the standardized tests. This phenomenon coupled with the 2020 freshman class taking a gap year creates an enormous undertaking of whom to admit for the freshmen class of 2021. Hence, waitlists will play an instrumental role in this year’s admission process.

Waitlists are mainly driven by enrollment targets for the institution. The most important role for an admissions department is to identify a group of committed freshmen for their new fall class from their returning gap year students, newly committed freshmen, and then lastly, from the waitlist to fill those last available spots to meet their fiscal requirements for the coming year. Colleges also take this opportunity to review the waitlists for applicants that will fill a void in their current student population, such as increasing the number of history majors or females in their graduating classes.

If you are placed on a waitlist, a college usually requests a follow-up essay indicating why you would like to attend their college. Before you start writing your essay, thoroughly research the school to be absolutely certain you want to spend your four years of undergraduate studies there.

If you decide this school would be a perfect fit, then answer the prompt thoroughly within the allotted word count, which is usually around 200. Only respond to what the prompt asks of you; do not add any additional information. Review your college application and essays you previously submitted to ensure you do not repeat information that has already been stated. Conversely, note areas that can be strengthened or where you have additional information to submit like a new job or internship.

Review the college’s vision, mission, and goals. Outline how your values and goals align with the college’s culture; basically, telling the admissions staff how you are a perfect fit for this institution. For example, the University of San Diego’s website states that they are “preparing leaders who are dedicated to ethical conduct and compassionate service.” Is this you?

Read about your major, the clubs that interest you on campus, and anything else unique about this school that you can also include in your response.

Being on the waitlist means that you meet the admission criteria for the college. You now must convince the admissions staff that you are committed to attending if accepted and fit harmoniously with their college environment. Submit your waitlist essay early before the due date. However, you probably will not hear from your waitlisted school until after the admission deadline of May 1. Therefore, you must commit to another college while you wait. If the school is your “dream college,” then it is worth the wait.


Dr. Gina La Monica has a Doctorate in Education and has worked as a high school counselor, college administrator, and professor at many universities and colleges including the University of California, Los Angeles, California Lutheran University, California State University, Northridge, San Diego State University, etc. She was a tenured professor and an expert in career technical education and adult learning. She currently teaches at a local college and helps students of all ages from kindergarten to the university level with career exploration, college admissions, learning assessment, tutoring, and education plans. 

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