What to do if you get waitlisted, deferred, or denied…


I first posted most of this information in December last year, and it has proved to be one of the most popular posts on the site, so it seemed timely to share once more.

When it comes down to it, no admissions decision is really final, but your investment of time and energy may vary widely depending on which letter you receive.

Being deferred is generally an indication that your record is borderline for admission, and the admissions office wants to see some portion of your senior year grades and/or more recent test scores before making a decision.  In that case you want to get your grades and scores as high as possible.  You may also want to send a note to the office letting them know that you are really interested and that the school is your first choice, if that’s the case.  You don’t need to send any other supplemental information unless the school asks for it, or unless there is something significantly different/new.  So what is significant?  Say you never sent them a copy of your garage band’s really sweet track – that’s probably not helpful unless you’re a PHENOMENAL musician AND applying to a music program (and even then it might never get a listen). On the other hand, say you win a Nobel Prize – any Nobel prize will do – that’s likely something you should share with the admissions officers.  You really can’t appeal a decision to defer, since it’s not really a decision so much as a post-poning of your decision.

If you get denied, you are unlikely to change the decision unless you believe the admissions committee made a huge mistake (if your name is John Smith and you a have a 4.0 and perfect SAT’s, are valedictorian, and won a Nobel Prize, but were denied by your local junior college, you have a reasonable chance that there’s been some confusion with your file).  It is possible that there is something the committee missed, overlooked, or just didn’t know. You can, at most institutions, appeal your decision, although very few institutions announce this or even mention it.  If you wish to do so, you can send a letter to the Director of Admissions asking for a review, but I encourage you to consider whether you have any new information to offer.  If there is nothing new to consider, and unless that new information is really compelling, it’s unlikely the school will change their decision.

Waitlisted  – also known as purgatory or limbo.  I suggest, sort of like deferred, you do your best to get your grades and scores up if you can, and send a note saying just how much you want that school.  Some students try to appeal waitlist decisions, but I’ve found, often as not, that this pulls them out of waitlist consideration and into an appeals process, which is unlikely to be successful, and may even hurt your chances on the waitlist.  Some schools offer waitlist interview opportunities – you should TAKE THEM.  No one is opposed to a little in person begging and groveling, given the opportunity.

The hardest thing to do is not to be miserable over a less than positive admission decision.  Too often students tell me that their lives have been RUINED by the stupid decisions of some admission committee.  Please, don’t give them (or even me) that much power. One mom complained that I just didn’t know her daughter as well as she did.  Right. That would be because she is…wait for it…not my daughter.  All colleges like to talk about how personally we treat you, but at the end of the day admissions officers are making decisions about your life without spending much, if any, time with you. They only have what’s on paper (or the screen), and maybe a fwe minutes from an intereview, and that is NOT YOU.  There are 4,000 colleges and universities in the country and MANY will be great for you.  Don’t let a bunch of people you never met be decision makers about your feelings of self-worth.  They don’t know YOU, just a bunch of numbers. And yes, some might even make stupid decisions. 

Of course, it’s likely that Mason IS the perfect school for you (because we’re just that good), but wherever you get admitted, bear this in mind:  As of the last big Department of Education study, 60% of all students in higher education attend more than one institution. Translation – hundreds of thousands of students transfer each year.  The U.S. has the greatest community and junior college system in the world. Don’t be afraid to pick one as a great place to start.  Be seeing you.

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10 Responses

  1. Great article! I look forward to sharing your encouragement and straight talk with our seniors!

  2. It really is important to keep on with a deferred application. I was deferred last spring on a transfer application from Community College to GMU, I appealed it and I’ve been having the time of my life here!

  3. I agree w/ Missy….I was put on deferred for UPENN and I was pretty qualified:

    1st in the easy nova challenge business contest

    got rejected then finally appealed and got in.

  4. This is a great article! I’m still sort of confused by the waitlist process though- especially as I’m getting back letters from colleges about unranked waitlists. Do you have any idea how that works?

    • Generally by unranked colleges either mean that they will offer space to waitlisted students in the order their confirmation of waitlist is received, as opposed to schools that go through their waitlist confirmations and make offers to the ones they want most (and those factors may be a lot like the admissions process itself, or more driven by numbers/financial aid/income, depending on the institution and their needs in a particular year). The funny thing is that both types are likely to say that they won’t tell you where you “rank” on their waitlist (or don’t rank their waitlist at all) – this is their “kind” way of saying, “don’t call us, we’ll call you. “

  5. If you are put on a waitlist, does that affect the amount of financial aid you get if accepted later? I was waitlisted at Mason and was wondering if you rank waitlisted students or is it a priority based list?

  6. Most colleges and universities attempt to reserve from financial aid for late admits, such as students accepted from the waitlist. It is true, however, that at many institutions financial aid packages for waitlisted students will not be as favorable as students directly admitted – generally meaning more self aid (loans and workstudy) and less gift aid (scholarships and grants).

  7. Does it never occur to academics that some of us just don’t have the money to apply to several colleges in order to find out which one will accept us. How do I choose which college will be most likely to accept me? I have tried different kinds of colleges with different sets of standards. The least prestigious deliberately stalled me because they didn’t want anyone to know their faculty violin teacher would be on sabbatical and someone with my experience wouldn’t be suited to studying with anyone else on their faculty.
    The most prestigious were unbelievably rude and nasty during my auditions. I think we need some laws and regulations (and inspectors to make sure they are upheld) to hold these colleges to some kind of ethical standard. I am tired of being robbed by people who have no intention of giving me a fair chance. And I am running out of money.

  8. Which has a higher chance of being accepted: waitlist or appeal? I was waitlisted to one of the UC’s, but I heard you get a greater chance if you appeal when you are waitlisted. Should I continue with the waitlist and write the 200 word short essay about why I believe it is the right college for me or should I appeal?

    • At Mason appealing takes you out of the WL pool, and unless there is new information doesn’t usually improve your chances. When in doubt, I would advise doing both – but the appeal really needs to include NEW information.

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