Your family spent months waiting for an admission decision from your child’s top choice secondary school. During that time, you imagined the jubilation of an acceptance and even pondered the crushing possibility of rejection. But what happens if your child is waitlisted? The waitlist is the limbo of admission decisions, and it can be incredibly frustrating. Instead of the certainty of acceptance or rejection, families are relegated to weeks and months of waiting for a decision that may never come. Schools are adding to the uncertainty by increasingly rebranding the experience as a waiting “pool” rather than a “list,” acknowledging that at this stage, they are often looking for certain kinds of students to fill spots rather than taking students in any particular order.
Frustrating as this experience may be, there are proactive steps that families can take to navigate a waitlist decision successfully.
1. Re-focus on your original goal.
Before doing anything else, remind yourself (and your child) of your goal when you started this process. Did you start with a single school in mind? Probably not! Most families consider a variety of schools, hoping to find a school where their child can be happy and successful. While a favorite school may have emerged during the admission process, and a waitlist decision is disappointing, keep the original goal at the center of this process as you move forward.
2. Let the school know that you wish to remain on the waitlist.
Read the decision letter carefully. Even though your child received a waitlist decision, they may not automatically be placed on the school’s waitlist. Most schools require you to formally respond to a waitlist decision by accepting or declining a spot on their waitlist. Sometimes, schools will also ask you to specify how long you wish to remain on the waitlist. This can be an essential factor to consider. Being offered admission in May or June might feel fantastic, while learning of a spot in early August could leave your family scrambling and stressed over a sudden change in plans. Every family is different in this respect, so as you consider the next steps, think about when your family - and your student - need to have certainty in the plan for the coming year.
3. Write a letter of continued interest.
If you elect to remain on the waitlist, your child should follow up with a letter of continued interest (LOCI) to the admission officer who interviewed them in the fall. Keep the tone of this letter positive. While it’s fine for them to acknowledge disappointment in the waitlist decision, they also want to present themselves as optimistic and confident. This letter is an opportunity to update the school on any recent academic or athletic achievements. Your student should reaffirm why they believe that the school is an excellent fit for them and how they would be an asset to the school community. While you don’t want to overwhelm the admissions office with new materials, you should also take note of the school’s admission calendar. After the first LOCI, it may be appropriate to follow up with another short update right before the school’s enrollment date, when they are starting to get a sense of what openings they may have.
4. Consider your options.
Gaining admission off a waitlist is unpredictable, so once you have communicated your desire to remain on the waitlist, you need to shift your focus to evaluating your other options. Take advantage of admitted student revisit days at other schools that accepted your child. These events are often a far richer experience than the initial tour, with opportunities to attend classes, meet coaches, and mingle with current students. Your child may fall in love with a school that they weren’t that excited about the first time around. If you cannot attend a formal revisit day, you can always call the admission office and ask if your child can join classes for a morning. Since most waitlist movement occurs after the April 10 or May 1 enrollment date, you will need to enroll your child in a school even if they elect to remain on a waitlist elsewhere. The goal is to give your child an option that they are happy about, even if their dream school didn’t work out.
5. Think outside the box.
Once you get over the emotional response to a disappointing admission decision, it can be helpful to consider the reason behind the decision. The admission office may be able to provide feedback that can help your student become a stronger applicant in the future. For example, if your child’s academic transcript was weaker than other ninth grade applicants, you may want to consider reclassing into eighth grade at a junior boarding school like Fay. Unlike repeating a grade, which is generally done because a student didn’t meet the requirements to be promoted to the next grade level, reclassing is done to gain an advantage in secondary school and college admissions. Instead of repeating courses they’ve already taken, students take higher-level math, science, and language courses in their eighth grade year. This makes them very strong candidates when they apply to secondary schools and sets them up for more AP class opportunities in secondary school. Reclassing in eighth grade can also be an excellent way for competitive athletes to cultivate an academic resume that is just as strong as their athletic profile while preserving their four years of eligibility to compete in high school.