6 Steps to A Successful Waitlist Letter

Oh spring, the time of year known for blooming flowers, frequent showers, and of course either pure ecstatic celebration of getting into your dream college…or the heartbreak of getting rejected. If you’re waitlisted, don’t give up hope just yet. Many of my clients have been accepted after sending a waitlist letter or what’s known as a “letter of continued interest.”

Wait, you need to write something new? Again? After sending what seems like a magnum opus of personal essays last fall? Sorry, but yes.

The waitlist letter is your last chance to show “demonstrated interest” and maybe get on the admit list if enough students don’t accept. In fact, some colleges are notorious for accepting fewer students than they need and then filling up their freshman class with the waitlist (this way, they get higher on the US News & World rankings…sneaky, I know). So you may have a better shot than you think. At the very least, you’ll know you’ve done everything you could.

Here are 5 steps to a waitlist letter that will stand out:

1) Find Your Specific Admissions Representative

First, in terms of format, keep in mind that this is an actual letter with a Dear and Sincerely field, not a more creative personal essay. In this letter format, the "Dear ____" part is everything. Addressing the general admissions office is a common mistake - always address the individual admissions officer dealing with your application. You can normally find this in your direct admissions communications and/or on the website (each admissions officer normally has a region they’re responsible for). Ask your counselor for help or call the admissions office directly if you’re still lost.

No:
Dear Vanderbilt Office of Undergraduate Admissions,

Yes:
Dear Ms. Shuster,

2) Be Yourself in Tone
Even though the letter itself has a formal outline, you should still sound like yourself and not a stiff, formal version of you. For example, starting with “It is with my sincere appreciation” sounds too 17th century. Their eyes would glaze over immediately. Overly formal writing is generally too wordy too and feels like you’re wearing your “adult” corporate suit, but it doesn’t really sound like you. For example, try replacing “undoubtedly” with something more enthusiastic and less formal like “in a heartbeat.”

No:
It is with my sincere appreciation that I would like to thank those that allowed me another opportunity at attending the school of my dreams by offering me a place on Vanderbilt’s waitlist.

Yes:
I would like to thank you sincerely for allowing me another opportunity to attend the school of my dreams by offering me a coveted place on Vanderbilt’s waitlist.

3) Be Specific in the “Why this college” section

In this scenario, the details are everything. Like the “why this college” essay, your waitlist letter should sound like a love letter to this school. Be specific on how exactly your goals align to their institution so it doesn’t sound like an empty statement. What excites you about the college? You should bring up at least two to three things you love that makes it your top choice. You don't have to go too deep into them - they know what their school has to offer, they just need to know what in particular appeals to you about it to see where you'd fit in.

No:
I strongly believe that my professional and personal goals align to that of your own institution; as a result, Vanderbilt has long been my first choice. If I am offered a place in the Class of 2022, I would undoubtedly accept it.

Yes:
I have no doubt that my professional and personal goals align to Vanderbilt’s own emphasis on intellectual curiosity, just one of the many reasons Vanderbilt remains my first choice.

4) Be Specific in Your Goals for the College
In fact, make sure you add a paragraph about what you will bring to the campus community: clubs you will lead/join, research opportunities you would love to take, etc. You want your passion to come across more than anything. For this letter to make a difference, you have to do your research and name specific professors or research opportunities that you’d engage in. Otherwise it sounds too generic and like you’re copying and pasting for every school.

No:
If I am allowed a position, I would continue my efforts by contributing to the research that the facility is currently undertaking and the universal diversity and equality Vanderbilt champions.

Yes:
If I am allowed a position, I would continue my efforts by contributing to the research that the Kennedy Center is currently undertaking, specifically the treatment and diagnosis of children with autism spectrum disorder.

5) Share What’s Changed Since You Submitted Your Application
Did you take on a part-time job to help with college expenses? Or did you complete an impressive research project? You should alert your colleges to anything new and exciting that will help tip the scales in your favor. Also, make sure you’re very clear on what is new in your letter - they may not have time to revisit your application in depth.

No:
My nomination as a Miami Herald Silver Knight has recognized my work.

Yes:
Since I sent in my application, I’m so excited to share with you that I was nominated as a Miami Herald Silver Knight for my volunteer work.

6) Keep Your Tone Positive

And whatever you do, do not express your disappointment in any way, shape, or form. You are absolutely allowed to feel upset, and one good way of addressing those feelings is to journal about your reactions privately. In this formal letter, however, the tone needs to stay positive and excited. Show your appreciation for being added to the waitlist: many students don’t have that privilege, and so you should always sound courteous.

No:
While disappointed with my admissions decision, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be looked over once more within what I know is an arduous complicated process.

Yes:
Once again, thank you for considering me for your waitlist. Only your incredible access to undergraduate research and interdisciplinary excellence will allow me achieve what I have been working for, and what I will continue to work for.