With room for 3,960 in its incoming class, UNC placed 2,256 students on their waitlist in 2010. Eventually they accepted 487. With room for 1,312 in their incoming class, Princeton University waitlisted 1,451 and eventually admitted 164. Of the 1,095 students waitlisted at Amherst in 2010, the school took zero. And UCLA did not use a waitlist at all.

Being put on a school’s waitlist is a tricky proposition for a student, and getting off of it and into the ‘admitted’ pile feels a bit like playing the lottery. Obviously you cannot get off the waitlist if you don’t pay the fee to get on it, but, really, what are the chances of ever being the one who gets the coveted spot?  Before you try, you need to understand how the process works.

Imagine The Director of Admissions, Linda, is looking at the yield for her incoming class. (A school’s yield is very important to them and refers to the number of accepted students who decide to attend that school.) When looking over the numbers, Linda notices that she is going to have about forty beds that need to be filled in the freshman dorms. This empty space is what will inspire Linda to bring in people off the waitlist. Linda then contacts her regional admissions counselors and lets them choose whom they think should be admitted. The regional counselors are people who read your application. Chances are you met your regional representative when they spoke at your school while recruiting, or at one of the open houses if you visited. If you are unsure of who they are, you can usually find out by looking at the school’s website.

For the regional counselor to pick your name out of the many, they need to know who you are and have positive feelings about bringing you to campus. Here are the three messages you need to communicate to the admissions counselor of your first-choice school to catch their attention:

1. I’m coming to your school if you let me in! 
If you are waitlisted by your first-choice school, your main goal should be to let your regional admissions counselor know that you are going to be a part of their yield if you are offered the opportunity.   Even though you may assume that sending in your check to be put on the waitlist would convey your feelings of love and longing to be on campus, you still need to let them know in writing that it is your true heart’s desire to be called a “Tar Heel, Hokie, Blue Devil, etc…”

2. I can handle the academics.
Often the reason that you were waitlisted in the first place is because other applicants appeared to be more capable of handling the academic rigor of the institution. For competitive schools, this can be like splitting the finest of hairs…

“Student A has 5 perfect scores of his SAT I and SAT II’s while Student B has 3 perfect scores and she has brought peace to the Middle East.”  Eenie, meanie, miney, mo.

Schools are concerned with students getting overwhelmed with the academic rigor of the college, tanking, and then dropping out. To demonstrate you are capable of hanging with the incoming class, send your regional admissions counselor every progress report and report card you receive with a handwritten note thanking them for their consideration and reinforcing that College X is still the love of your life and your number one choice. You can also send any additional recognitions and awards you receive as well as anything else that might favorably impress them minus grandma’s sugar cookies.

3.  Stay noticeably in touch.
While you should not show up at the “Admitted Students Welcome Day” (because that would be stalking and a little weird), you should show up for every other College Open House you can attend. Your regional admissions counselors need to know that you are serious about their school. Make your goal to have seven positive contacts; these can include emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings. If they are on Twitter, you’d better be following them!

Finally, if you follow this advice, and, for some unexplainable reason, you still don’t get in, it is important to let go of any disappointment and move on. We are fortunate to live in a country with over 2000 four-year colleges and universities. The school that accepted you wants you. Be grateful and go into your college experience with an open mind. If things don’t work out, you can reapply to the your first-choice school the following year as a transfer student.

For more information on college admissions, be sure to check out www.artofpotential.com or listen to the Sept/Oct. 2011 podcast with the Ivy League college admission’s counselors.