Top 16 Strategies for Deferred or Waitlisted Students

It may not be obvious, but a “waitlisted” or “deferred” status presents a unique opportunity for your students to demonstrate their motivation and resilience. So, why not seize it? Keep reading to learn about the most actionable strategies that will help them maximize their chances of ultimately securing their spot at the school of their dreams.

1. Determine Next Steps

If their name has been placed on a waitlist, we recommend they immediately work out what they are planning to do next. The best option at this stage would be to understand the reasons behind their waitlisted status and think about the best course of action. In particular, decide whether to continue pursuing a place at this specific school or consider an alternative.

2. Accept or Decline the Waitlist Invitation

After they have cleared their head and reviewed potential options, they can decide on the waitlist spot. If this university is their best pick and they have a real chance of getting off the waitlist, then accept the invitation. If they don’t think so, then decline it and reevaluate backup options.

💡 Quick tip:

Try to complete this step as soon as possible! The university won’t wait forever.

3. Choose a Backup College

We recommend they have a Plan B before rejecting a waitlist spot. Review the list of top universities once again and understand the admission requirements for each one. Ensure they will be able to enroll elsewhere without getting waitlisted again.

If they are waitlisted or deferred at the college of their dreams, try finding a similar one from their backup list. The waitlist decisions are often not made public until after May 1, so they will have time to consider their options.

4. Check Application Status

Keeping in contact with the college where they were waitlisted or deferred is crucial. This way, they will avoid unpleasant surprises. There is usually a special section on the universities’ websites where they can find their application and check its status. If they can’t find it, then contact the staff directly.

💡 Quick tip

We recommend checking on the status of the application as often as they can during admissions season. But don’t overdo it! If they call the committee daily, they may eventually get tired of them, which will lower their chances of getting admitted.

5. Be Realistic

Staying rational will help them objectively evaluate their chances. The following factors can assist them in doing it. Note that:

The more free spots on the enrollment list, the higher their chances.
The admissions committee will favor them if their field of study aligns with the university’s requirements.
If they are motivated and actively demonstrate it, the committee will put them above unmotivated candidates.
The stronger their application is, the higher they will be on the waitlist.
The lower the percentage of admitted students last year, the higher it will be this year.

6. Follow the School’s Instructions

As a rule, colleges publicly announce their instructions for anyone who got deferred or waitlisted. Find these instructions and use them to answer the following questions:

Which documents do you need to prepare?
What is not required of you?
What accomplishments and credentials do you need to have?
In what ways can you strengthen your candidacy?
How long will your college deferral or waitlist last?

If the university provides no instructions, feel free to ask officials for help. They can address their questions to the admissions committee or university secretary. The phone numbers and email addresses are usually found on the university’s website.

7. Send Important Updates

While they are waiting for their waitlist or deferral to end, be proactive! Try to improve their skills and earn some extra credentials. While they are at it, keep informing the admissions committee about their progress. They need to see that you take their requirements and expectations very seriously.

8. Focus on Supplemental Materials

After they have checked the school’s instructions for deferred and waitlisted students, we recommend they pay extra attention to supplemental material. It will improve their chances and make their application more competitive.

There are many things they can do in this regard:

  • Try retaking the SAT to get a better result. It’s a great and relatively easy way to strengthen their candidacy.
  • Start attending extra courses and maybe hire a private tutor. It will help them deepen their knowledge of specific subjects. They can also mention it in their waitlist letter, which we will cover later in this article.
  • Be more active in their extracurricular activities. The more achievements and certificates they have, the more the admissions committee will want them. Also, it’s a great way to boost essential skills and abilities!

9. Stay in Contact with the School

Another good strategy is to remain in contact with the admissions committee. It can give them an upper hand and help university officials make their final decision. Also, we recommend they show them that they are motivated and genuinely want to study at their university. When the time comes and the waitlist or deferral ends, they will be ready to demonstrate how much they have improved and thus become a much stronger candidate.

10. Submit Deposit to Their Next-Choice College

Being waitlisted means they have fewer chances of admission than in the case of deferrals. If they have been waitlisted, we recommend they choose a good backup university, accept their offer, and make a deposit (it’s usually around a few hundred dollars). They can inform the backup of their plan change at any time if they get off the waitlist. Sadly, they won’t be able to get their deposit money back, but it’s nothing compared to having nowhere to study.

11. Let the College Know They Can Pay

Reminding schools that they are able to pay for their studies never hurts, especially during the first year. Admissions committee members know that allowing a full-paying student in can relieve their budget. If they tell them that they have all the required funds and that their family won’t have problems paying for their education, they will be more attentive to their candidacy.

12. Identify Weaknesses in Their Application

This is one of the most effective strategies. If they really want admission, it’s vital to keep their application strong and competitive. They shouldn’t hesitate to ask you about their initial weaknesses and ways to improve them.

To help them with this important task, we present the ways to fix the drawbacks commonly found in applications.

❌ Weakness✅ How to fix it
An outdated application.Add all the recent updates regarding your skill growth and achievements. Don’t forget to mention how much you’ve improved since your initial application.
Making a brand of yourself.Don’t oversaturate your statement with emotions. The committee doesn’t want to hear students bragging about themselves or begging for a second chance. It’s crucial to have self-respect and be professional.
Being too cursory.It’s best to talk more about your personal experience without exaggeration yet with passion.
Forgetting to thank the university.Remember to thank the university and the commission for their time and attention. Be polite and respectful.

13. Get a Recommendation Letter

This is another excellent strategy for improving their chances of getting admitted. If they know any teachers, business people, or other people of influence, ask them to write a recommendation letter. It’s even better when they know somebody from the university they are applying to. Just remember that this letter must highlight their positive aspects only. If it is critical of them, they are better off without it.

14. Visit Campus

A good way of showing passion and motivation is to visit campus. It will allow them to get to know the college from the inside and make new acquaintances that can vouch for them. They should try making friends with professors and other students—they can be of great help later. Some professors may even invite them for an interview, which can become their actual golden ticket!

💡 Quick tip:

Visiting campus is also a great way to learn about the skeletons in the university’s closet. If they think the school is the place of their dreams, this impression may change once they visit it. This way, their expectations will be more realistic.

15. Stay Patient

Staying calm and patient is crucial for conserving their energy and nerves for more important things. If they have done everything they could but still ended up on the waitlist, don’t panic! They must understand that there is nothing wrong with their candidacy. It’s just that there are many things universities consider when making their decisions. Some can’t be changed no matter how hard we try, while others we can influence. Do everything in their power to get admitted, and everything will be fine.

16. Write a Waitlist Letter

This is the most important thing we recommend. If you want to seriously increase your chances, write a waitlist letter. It’s a great strategy that effectively shows interest and devotion to the admissions committee.

This information comes from a blog post “Navigating Waitlists and Deferrals: 16 Winning Strategies” from IvyPanda. Check out the full post here: