Every year, countless students are waitlisted at major colleges and universities across the country. When my daughter was applying to colleges back in 2013, we ran into this exact situation. She received a notice that she had been added to the waitlist at the University of Chicago. 

It was another record year for UChicago – over 30,000 applicants for approximately 1,500 spots.  This was a 20% increase in applications over 2012, for the same number of spots.  About 10,000 of the applications were for Early Action (non-binding option where decisions are received mid-December) and only 13% of early action applicants were accepted. Along with applications, the yield rate (number of accepted applicants who actually enroll) for UChicago is also up. In 2012, it was almost 47%.


Navigating a waitlist situation with stats like these can be daunting. Let’s dive into the good, bad, and ugly about college waitlists – and how you can evaluate how to move forward from a financial perspective.

Cons of Being Waitlisted

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first – being waitlisted by the college of your child’s dreams isn’t always a walk in the park. There are three primary drawbacks to being waitlisted:

  1. Your chances of being admitted off the waitlist are typically low. Although numbers in recent years have increased for waitlist admissions, they’re still markedly lower than if your student were to have been accepted in the initial wave of applicants. Even if only 40% of all admitted applicants enroll, that should be enough to fill the class. On top of that, schools are putting a higher number of applicants on the waiting list, so there is more competition for any spots that do open up.
  2. You didn’t really “get in” to the college that waitlisted you. Especially if this was your #1 school, your dream of acceptance didn’t come true. Yes, you should be glad that you weren’t declined, but this outcome isn’t what you wanted. You will need to find another school that you like equally well, or at least as a close second, and enroll there.
  3. You’ll lose your deposit. If you get accepted off the waitlist and decide to enroll, you will lose your deposit at the other school where you enrolled. 

Pros of Being Waitlisted

  1. You weren’t rejected! You can take some comfort in knowing that you were at the top of the applicant pool, just not quite high enough to make the cut. The school didn’t really say, “We don’t want you,” they said, “If we had more spots to fill, we would offer you one.”  When people ask whether you were accepted, saying you were waitlisted is better than having to tell them you were declined.
  2. You get to move on. (This is the optimistic view of Con #2.) Even if you decide to stay on the waiting list just to see what happens, you will be forced to pick another school.  You can turn your attention away from this one and invest it fully on the school you choose. Then, if you are one of the lucky few who make it off the waiting list (usually sometime in May), you may even be over the waitlist school and want to stick with the one where you enrolled.
  3. If you do get accepted off the waitlist, you are not obligated to enroll. You will still have the opportunity to decide if losing your deposit at “School B” is worth it so you can enroll at “School A” and evaluate whether you still really want to go to “School A.”

Evaluating Whether You’re Waitlisted At Your “Dream School”

For my daughter, UChicago wasn’t really her “dream school.” 

There were reasons why she really wanted to go there, but there were other reasons why she wasn’t so sure. She was ok with being waitlisted, and was ready to move on to other schools on her list.  

If you (or your child) have found yourself in a waitlist situation, you can evaluate a few key questions:

  1. Is this school my (or my child’s) dream school?
  2. Is there another college I (or my child) was accepted into that checks all of the boxes I’d need to feel confident in my college decision?
  3. Am I willing to lose my deposit at a different school if I end up getting accepted to this college? 

You can also do a cost analysis on attending the college that has waitlisted you and the schools where you’ve been accepted to determine which is the best financial fit using MyCAP! Sign up for your free account by clicking here.