So you have been accepted to an independent school wait list, now what?

Waiting to learn of an admission decision or hearing from a school that you have been found acceptable but that they don’t have a space for you can be frustrating, stressful and nerve wracking. Once you have been waitlisted for a school, what does it mean and what should, can you do?

First, let’s look at what being put on a wait list means. If you are in a “wait pool”, it is the same thing. Some offices use “wait pool” instead of “wait list” as they do not want families to think that a “wait list” is prioritized. In my experience, whichever term is used, parents still want to know where their child ‘is’ on the wait list or where they ‘are’ in the wait pool. At Lakefield College School, we use the term “Accepted Pending Space” to also mean the same thing. All of these terms mean you are acceptable to the school, there just wasn’t a space for you at the time of the decision. You may be wait listed at different times of the year based on your application type, e.g. day student, boarding student, and international student. Schools generally have ‘cycles’ and day spaces may fill first. Eventually, particular grades levels fill, and occasionally spaces for a particular gender are filled as the school tries to balance the number of boys and girls.

Once on a wait list, many families want to know what they can do. Schools use each admission decisions to enrol the best candidates for the needs of the school at the time. For this reason, most will return to the ‘list’ or ‘pool’ and evaluate all candidates at the time of an opening. Schools with rolling admission processes continue to accept applications for most grade levels, which can give latecomers to the process as great a chance for entry as someone who has spent a while on the wait list. For this reason alone, families are generally not discouraged from ‘padding’ a file after being wait listed with new material, achievements, report cards, etc. Universities dealing with thousands of applications generally discourage this practice, as might some larger independent schools that have a more ‘numbers’ based rating process. They simply don’t have the time or means to incorporate additional materials in their ‘scoring’ of your application. Generally new material will not increase your scores, however, a report card showing improvement for example, may improve your standing the next time your file is read. Usually in first rounds, schools only rate the specific components that they ask for in the admission process in an effort to provide a level playing field. Once you are on the wait list though, don’t be shy. A school may not look at anything new, and may have a policy enforcing this. Personally, I read everything in a file.

The hardest part about being on a wait list is, of course, the waiting. During that time you can feel doubt in your abilities and your fit with the school. For schools that accept and then wait list students, you are essentially being told that they would want you if they had space. Unfortunately, during the wait you are placed de facto in a new competitive process which then pits you against unseen competitors with no control over your future. So what do you do? My advice is to communicate with the admission office. Short of harassing behaviour, calls to the admission office to see when the school might experience openings are not held against you. Knowing that the school is completing its reenrollment within a few days, weeks or a months for example gives you a horizon, one on which to wait, but also to make decisions if you need to. Do you accept another school’s offer? Register somewhere else? Pay a non-refundable deposit? These are all decisions you have to make in case you do not get the offer you are waiting for, and knowing the timeframe helps in making these decisions. If the timeframe passes, don’t think all is lost. Some schools have elaborate plans and capabilities to communicate with wait listed students, others do not and have not forgotten about you, but do not have the time or personnel to communicate they don’t have a space yet. My advice again is to call or email the admission staff and try to establish a new timeline for communication from the school so you can make the decisions you need to.

I can be quoted for saying, “Never say never”, especially in a boarding school environment where many things can happen before a student leaves home and arrives in a new setting come September. Some get cold feet, others might have a student visa issue, or another’s parent gets transferred to a new city for work. There is always movement in the summer, that is why it is always good to stay in touch with the admission office if you still want a space. A wait list that is twenty students long can quickly dwindle to four or five as families in ‘limbo’ make decisions to enroll elsewhere. Once these decisions are made, they often cannot accept a space. The family in contact with the admission office and known to be waiting patiently in the wings can sometimes be the first person the admission office calls. Admission personnel develop relationships with you and genuinely want to help you into the school. Never feel you can’t contact the admission office and let them know you are still interested.

Being waitlisted isn’t fun. Keep yourself aware of the timeframes in which to expect decisions and make other arrangements as necessary. Take solace in the knowledge that you have been found ‘acceptable’ by the school and feel good about that. Keep the lines of communication open with the school and let them know when anything new and exciting happens you think they should know about. And good luck.