The Private School Waitlist: What to Do Now

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Most everyone knows that you have to apply to private school and get accepted, but did you also know that you could get waitlisted? The admission waitlist is usually common knowledge when it comes to college applications, but is often not as well-known when it comes to private school admission processes. The varied admission decision types can make for a confusing time for prospective families trying to understand all their admission offers and pick the right school. However, the waitlist doesn't have to be a mystery.

Waitlisted at Your First Choice

Similar to colleges, many private schools have a part of the admission decision process called the waitlist. What this designation means is that typically the applicant is qualified to attend the school, but the school doesn’t have enough spaces available.

Private schools, like colleges, can only admit so many students. The waitlist is used to keep qualified candidates on hold until they know if those students who were admitted will enroll. Since most students apply to several schools, they have to settle on one final choice, which means if a student is admitted at more than one school, that student will decline the offer of admission at all but one school. When this happens, schools have the ability to go back to a waitlist to find another qualified candidate and offer that student an enrollment agreement. 

Basically, a waitlist means that you may not have received an acceptance to the school yet, but you might still be offered an opportunity to enroll after the first round of enrollments are processed. So what should you do when you're waitlisted at private school? Check out the following tips and best practices for handling your waitlist situation. 

Respond to the Waitlist Notification

Assuming that you hope to be offered admission to the private school that waitlisted you, it’s important to make sure the admission office knows you are indeed serious about wanting to attend. A good first step is to make sure you write them a note specifically saying that you’re still interested and why. Remind the admission office of why you might be a great fit for the school, and why that school, in particular, is your first choice. Be specific: mention the programs that matter most to you, sports or activities you want to get involved in, and even teachers whose classes you’re excited to take.

Taking the initiative to show you’re invested in the school can’t hurt. Some schools require students to communicate via an online portal, which is fine, but you can also follow up with a nice handwritten note - just make sure your penmanship is good! While many people think that a handwritten note is an outdated practice, the truth is, many people appreciate the gesture. And the fact that few students take the time to write a nice handwritten note can actually make you stand out. It's highly unlikely that someone will ever fault you for having nice manners!

Attend Accepted Students Day

Some schools automatically invite waitlisted students to accepted students events, but not always. If you see that there are events for accepted students, like a special Open House or Revisit Day, ask if you can attend them, just in case you get off the waitlist. This will give you another chance to view the school and make sure that you actually want to stay on the waitlist. If you decide that school isn’t right for you or that you don’t want to wait to see if you receive an offer, you can tell the school you’ve decided to pursue another opportunity. If you decide that you are still invested and want to wait for an offer of acceptance, you can have another chance to speak to the admission office to reiterate your desire to attend if you wish to remain on the waitlist.

Just remember, you shouldn’t go overboard when it comes to showing how much you want to attend. The admission office doesn’t want you calling and emailing daily or even weekly to profess your love for the school and desire to attend. In fact, pestering the office could potentially negatively affect your ability to get off the waitlist and be offered an open slot.

Be Patient

The waitlist isn’t a race and there really isn't anything you can do to speed up the process. Sometimes, it can take weeks or even months for new enrollment positions to become available. Unless the school you’ve applied to has given you specific instructions to follow in terms of communicating with them during this limbo period (some schools adhere to a strict, “don’t call us, we’ll call you policy” and breaking that could affect your chances at acceptance), check in with the admission office periodically. That doesn’t mean hound them daily, but rather, gently remind the admission office of your interest in attending and ask about the potential for getting off the waiting list every few weeks. If you’re backed up against deadlines at other schools, call to ask the likelihood that you might be offered a spot. You won’t always get an answer, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Remember that not every student accepted in the first round will enroll at the private school where you were waitlisted. Most students apply to more than one school, and if they are accepted at more than one school, they must choose which school to attend. As students make their decisions and decline admission at certain schools, in turn, those schools may have spots available at a later date, which are then offered to students on the waitlist.

Be Realistic

Students have to be realistic and remember that there’s always the chance that they may not make it off the waiting list at their first choice school. So, it's important to make sure that you don’t jeopardize your chances of attending another great private school where you’ve been accepted. Talk to the admission office at your second-choice school, and confirm deadlines to deposit to lock in your space, as some schools will automatically rescind their offer of admission as of a specific date. Believe it or not, it's actually ok to communicate with your second choice school and let them know you’re still making decisions. Most students apply to multiple schools, so evaluating your choices is common. 

Enroll and Deposit at Your Back Up School

Some schools will allow you to accept the agreement and make your enrollment deposit payment, and give you grace period to back out before the full tuition charges are legally binding. That means, you can secure your spot at your backup school but still have time to wait it out and see if you get accepted at your first choice school. Just remember, however, that these deposit payments are usually not refundable, so you risk losing that money. But, for many families, this fee is a good investment to ensure that the student doesn't lose their offer of admission from the second-choice school. No one wants to be left without a place to start classes in the fall if the student doesn't get off the waitlist. Just make sure you’re aware of deadlines for the grace period (if it is even offered) and when your contract is legally binding for the full amount of tuition for the year. 

Keep Calm and Wait a Year

For some students, attending Academy A is such a huge dream that it's worth it to wait a year and reapply. It's ok to ask the admission office for advice on how you can improve your application for next year. They may not always tell you where you need to improve, but chances are it won't hurt to work on improving your academic grades, SSAT test scores, or get involved in a new activity. Plus, now you've been through the process once and you know what to expect for the application and interview. Some schools will even waive some parts of the application process if you're re-applying for the following year. 

Notify Other Schools of Your Decision

As soon as you know that you’re off the waitlist at your top school, notify any schools that are waiting to hear your final decision immediately. Just as you were at your first-choice school, there may be a student who has been waitlisted at your second-choice school hoping another spot will open up and, if you're sitting on a financial award at your second choice school, that money can be reallocated to another student. Your spot might be the ticket to another student’s dream of attending private school.

Remember, it's important to communicate with both your first-choice school where you’ve been waitlisted, and your second-choice school where you’ve been accepted, so that you know where you stand in the admission process with each school, and what each school needs from you. 

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Your Citation
Jagodowski, Stacy. "The Private School Waitlist: What to Do Now." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Jagodowski, Stacy. (2021, February 16). The Private School Waitlist: What to Do Now. Retrieved from Jagodowski, Stacy. "The Private School Waitlist: What to Do Now." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).