Does Waitlist Mean Rejection – In 30% of Cases The Answer is YES

Getting waitlisted from a college means being put in between an acceptance and a rejection. You have neither gained admission nor been denied acceptance. However, the waitlist always turns into either an acceptance or rejection.

The college/university will follow up at a later date and inform the student on whether they were accepted or not. 

If you were waitlisted read this article till the end before accepting the offer from the college.

I will explain how to find out how high your chances are, how to put yourself in the best position to be accepted, and how to cope with rejection.

But first, let’s look at some interesting facts.

5 Interesting Facts About College Waitlists

I collected the information about the top 318 colleges – the list came from Princeton Review.

Only 198 colleges presented waitlist data in the form of CDS (Common Data Set), so all stats below are based on the data from those institutions.

26 Colleges Admit No One off the Waitlist

Most colleges that do not accept anyone from their lists are very selective.

I think you wouldn’t be surprised to see Princeton and MIT among them.

The worst thing about this is that so many students accept a place on the waiting list without realizing that they have zero chance of getting admitted.

But why do colleges do that? Why do they waitlist students without the intention of admitting them later?

There is a phenomenon called soft denial: some admission officers want to soften the blow of being rejected. They think that being waitlisted is better than being rejected.

But the fact is that in the case of colleges that accept 0 students, waitlist means denied acceptance.

So, if your dream college is in the list below, you better move on and not hope of being admitted later:

  • Babson College
  • Bates College
  • Chapman University
  • Colgate University
  • Creighton University
  • Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
  • Hamilton College
  • Howard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Macalester College
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • The Ohio State University – Columbus
  • Pepperdine University
  • Princeton University
  • Rice University
  • San Diego State University
  • Skidmore College
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Maryland, College Park
  • University of Puget Sound
  • University of Rhode Island
  • Wheaton College (IL)
  • Whitman College
  • Williams College
  • New College of Florida
  • St. John’s College (MD)

If you are wondering why colleges use wait lists, then there are 3 main reasons:

  • Gauging demonstrated interest. Basically, applicants are given a choice to either continue on the waitlist or pull their application. If you accept your spot, you are essentially showing the college that you are very interested in them. Consider it a final test to ensure you’re serious about attending the school. 
  • The college likes you, but they want to see how many accepted students enroll. Schools have a limited number of students they can support (in terms of housing, financial aid, class size, etc.), so if the number of students who decide to enroll is lower than the college projects, they start accepting students off the waitlist. 
  • Yield Protection. Yield is the ratio of students who enrolled to the students accepted. The higher the yield, the more prestigious the college. Accepting students off the waitlist helps increase the school’s yield.

34 Colleges Accept Less than 1% of Students

The next list is marginally better – universities that accept less than 1% of applicants.

For example, Carnegie Mellon University offered 8,986 spots, and 4,652 students accepted the waitlist offer. However, only 43 students were admitted later, which corresponds to the acceptance rate of 0.92%.

While 1% is better than 0, the reality is that you will most likely be rejected if you were waitlisted by these colleges:

  • Yale University
  • Boston University
  • Brandeis University
  • Bucknell University
  • Boston College
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • College of the Holy Cross
  • Colorado College
  • Connecticut College
  • Eckerd College
  • Fairfield University
  • George Washington University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Haverford College
  • Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • Middlebury College
  • Pitzer College
  • Providence College
  • Purdue University – West Lafayette
  • Santa Clara University
  • Scripps College
  • Siena College
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Spelman College
  • Texas Christian University
  • Tulane University
  • University of California – Berkeley
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

If you add 26 colleges that accept no one and 34 that accept less than 1%, the number of colleges that recruit to reject amounts to 30%.

63% of Top Colleges Accept Less Than 10% Off Waitlist

Here’s the distribution of admit rates for the top colleges in our research.

Chances to get off the college wait-list
Chances of getting off the waitlist

As you can see from the chart above, the majority of colleges, around 63% (or 126 of 198) accept less than 10% of students off their waitlists.

8 Universities Accept Everyone

While the odds of getting in are not high, there is still hope for some students.

We found 8 colleges that accept everyone who agrees to get on the waitlist:

  • Beloit College
  • Christopher Newport University
  • Butler University
  • Christopher Newport University
  • Kalamazoo College
  • Knox College
  • Seattle University

Only 5 Colleges Rank Candidates

Most students believe that there the waitlist is ordered and someone ranked #10 has higher chances than someone ranked #100.

In most cases, this is not true.

How do colleges decide who will be admitted eventually?

As a general rule, colleges have a certain number of spots to fill for the upcoming class.

After the May 1st deadline, they are able to see exactly how many students choose to enroll.

If there are spots still available, then they look at the waitlist

Another important factor regarding available spaces is a certain college/major falling short of students.

It’s not only a general number that the university expects to have, but also professors and other faculty expecting a certain number of students to take their class.

Let me explain with an example:

Northwestern University has six colleges: Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, McCormick College of Engineering, School of Communication, Medill School of Journalism, School of Education & Social Policy, and Bienen School of Music.

Within these schools, you have different majors as well. 

Let’s say that there are plenty of people in all but one college: the McCormick College of Engineering.

Admissions officers would then look at the waitlist and decide amongst students who applied with an intended major that is found in the McCormick College of Engineering. 

And since admissions do not know who will matriculate, they don’t need to rank students in their pool.

Except for these colleges:

  • Clark University
  • Clemson University
  • Amherst College
  • Gonzaga University
  • Wagner College

The following is a table with waitlist statistics for 198 top colleges: use search to see your chances of being admitted:

Allegheny CollegePA4862
American UniversityDC9,1462,08688
Amherst CollegeMA1,41990236
Appalachian State UniversityNC1,350612194
Babson CollegeMA2,6991,2860
Barnard CollegeNY2,5241,59766
Bates CollegeME2,4411,2640
Baylor UniversityTX3,767819491
Beloit CollegeWI201919
Bennington CollegeVT885823
Bentley UniversityMA1,59439322
Binghamton UniversityNY7,6693,048309
Boston CollegeMA13,0408,01913
Boston UniversityMA9,6435,8993
Brandeis UniversityMA1,6386937
Bucknell UniversityPA3,4631,54410
Butler UniversityIN621212
California Institute of TechnologyCA19516715
Carleton CollegeMN1,36359130
Carnegie Mellon UniversityPA8,9864,65243
Case Western Reserve UniversityOH11,6206,056436
Centre CollegeKY32813422
Chapman UniversityCA9925670
Christopher Newport UniversityVA559165165
Christopher Newport UniversityVA559165165
Claremont McKenna CollegeCA85053811
Clark UniversityMA80231145
Clemson UniversitySC10,0574,5121,162
Colby CollegeME3,6681,45419
Colgate UniversityNY3,6632,1460
College of CharlestonSC2,9581,302205
College of New JerseyNJ1,01836318
College of the AtlanticME47101
College of the Holy CrossMA2,0059891
College of WoosterOH3777411
Colorado CollegeCO8231932
Connecticut CollegeCT2,4841,1035
Cornell UniversityNY7,7295,531260
Creighton UniversityNE74240
Dartmouth CollegeNH2,0981,78541
Denison UniversityOH1,56455933
DePaul UniversityIL2,63769978
Dickinson CollegePA97431318
Drew UniversityNJ20319486
Duquesne UniversityPA999766274
Eckerd CollegeFL379951
Elon UniversityNC2,915778220
Emory UniversityGA6,4483,388107
Fairfield UniversityCT4,5741,26310
Fordham UniversityNY10,4962,893229
Franklin W. Olin College of EngineeringMA49380
George Mason UniversityVA794445302
George Washington UniversityDC5,0982,0141
Georgetown UniversityDC2,4551,80440
Georgia Institute of TechnologyGA7,1224,90341
Gonzaga UniversityWA859384287
Grinnell CollegeIA2,6991,42658
Hamilton CollegeNY3,0541,5860
Harvey Mudd CollegeCA61241917
Haverford CollegePA1,7421,0677
Hillsdale CollegeMI115164
Hobart and William Smith CollegesNY227921
Hofstra UniversityNY173150130
Howard UniversityDC2,9312,9310
Indiana University - BloomingtonIN78240225
Ithaca CollegeNY2167973
James Madison UniversityVA4,6662,5941,198
Johns Hopkins UniversityMD3,4432,3580
Kalamazoo CollegeMI33194238
Kenyon CollegeOH2,1651,17223
Knox CollegeIL811
Lafayette CollegePA2,13787063
Lawrence UniversityWI1831
Le Moyne CollegeNY102193
Lehigh UniversityPA5,0342,49993
Lewis & Clark CollegeOR93735469
Loyola Marymount UniversityCA6,78869
Loyola University MarylandMD1,05236818
Macalester CollegeMN1,0815910
Marist CollegeNY3,052501136
Marquette UniversityWI344344168
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyMA7636820
Miami UniversityOH2,739376257
Michigan State UniversityMI3000200012
Middlebury CollegeVT2,2592,21512
Mount Holyoke CollegeMA1,0854607
Muhlenberg CollegePA6061983
Nazareth UniversityNY136361
New College of FloridaFL100
North Carolina State UniversityNC7,4392,6890
Oberlin CollegeOH1,4911,368100
Occidental CollegeCA1,47063911
Penn State University ParkPA3,7962,384419
Pepperdine UniversityCA1,6519870
Pitzer CollegeCA7752761
Pomona CollegeCA86661413
Princeton UniversityNJ1,7101,3480
Providence CollegeRI3,0051,0583
Purdue University - West LafayetteIN13,2905,54819
Quinnipiac UniversityCT1,043431256
Reed CollegeOR5,3171,67576
Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteNY1,7281,1292
Rhodes CollegeTN1,1876829
Rice UniversityTX4,2443,1120
Rochester Institute of TechnologyNY2,115786210
Rollins CollegeFL90213621
Rose-Hulman Institute of TechnologyIN168789
Saint Anselm CollegeNH3888110
Saint Michael's CollegeVT79277
San Diego State UniversityCA8,5853,9930
Santa Clara UniversityCA4,0092,4678
Sarah Lawrence CollegeNY1,24143632
Scripps CollegeCA7223582
Seattle UniversityWA309122122
Siena CollegeNY2142032
Skidmore CollegeNY3,0231,3440
Smith CollegeMA2,2541,13237
Southern Methodist UniversityTX1,5477383
Southwestern UniversityTX90169
Spelman CollegeGA1,31409
St. John's College (MD)MD39390
St. John's College (NM)NM441
St. John's UniversityNY412311
St. Lawrence UniversityNY3046319
St. Mary's College of MarylandMD242589
St. Olaf CollegeMN88331014
Stanford UniversityCA5534578
Stetson UniversityFL28427933
Stevens Institute of TechnologyNJ2,173987172
Stonehill CollegeMA1,13326451
SUNY - College of Environmental Science and ForestryNY2525710
SUNY - Stony Brook UniversityNY4,2532,3321,028
Syracuse UniversityNY12,6384,073321
Temple UniversityPA3,813777633
Texas Christian UniversityTX1,7335292
The Ohio State University - ColumbusOH8542070
Trinity UniversityTX1,48749696
Tufts UniversityMA2,6641,328183
Tulane UniversityLA6,2322,2713
Union CollegeNY58223110
University of Arkansas - FayettevilleAR2,0101,9131,185
University of California - BerkeleyCA8,4564,65544
University of California - DavisCA13,0924,9603,919
University of California - Los AngelesCA16,97911,169367
University of California - RiversideCA11,8825,7692,282
University of California - San DiegoCA51,35036,1132,400
University of California - Santa BarbaraCA16,340101,1632,793
University of California - Santa CruzCA18,09911,9191,573
University of Central FloridaFL6,4103,95019
University of Colorado - BoulderCO6,5702,590101
University of ConnecticutCT3,9661,623122
University of DaytonOH2273877
University of DelawareDE81917
University of DenverCO5001983
University of GeorgiaGA3,0221,54334
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIL2,4551,5170
University of Maryland, Baltimore CountyMD1,3001,300654
University of Maryland, College ParkMD3003000
University of Massachusetts - AmherstMA8,5313,68174
University of MiamiFL20,2068,545115
University of Michigan - Ann ArborMI21,07815,07677
University of North Carolina AshevilleNC4039826
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillNC8,9576,564647
University of OklahomaOK2,6952,695191
University of OregonOR1,111435235
University of PennsylvaniaPA3,3512,508147
University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh CampusPA6,9053,7911,666
University of PortlandOR40815560
University of Puget SoundWA2440
University of RedlandsCA111213
University of Rhode IslandRI8507950
University of RichmondVA3,9036540
University of RochesterNY2,2292,08629
University of San DiegoCA3,0721,36037
University of San FranciscoCA1,86371168
University of ScrantonPA80813421
University of South Carolina - ColumbiaSC5,8472,23828
University of Tennessee - KnoxvilleTN2,198930140
University of the SouthTN32114810
University of VermontVT7,3482,8333
University of VirginiaVA8,3684,9377
University of WashingtonWA9,4505,453127
University of Wisconsin - MadisonWI6,4494,00611
Ursinus CollegeWY27247
Vassar CollegeNY1,33663832
Villanova UniversityPA3,3551,79536
Virginia TechVA13,3117,5872,458
Wagner CollegeNY83196
Wellesley CollegeMA2,5781,30444
Wesleyan UniversityCT2,7541,55781
Wheaton College (IL)IL133310
Wheaton College (MA)MA92896
Whitman CollegeWA3960
William & MaryVA3,8331,918136
Williams CollegeMA2,2418600
Worcester Polytechnic InstituteMA3,1091,347574
Xavier UniversityOH562226
Yale UniversityCT1,0007809

Is Being Waitlisted Bad or Good

As explained above, in most cases, being waitlisted does not mean being admitted or rejected, so it is neither bad nor good.

On the other hand, your chances of being admitted are slim (less than 10% in 63% of colleges).


If this is your dream college, I understand that you want to do anything to turn the decision to yes, but usually it’s best to start thinking about spending next year in one of the universities that accepted you.

Still, if you want to accept the waitlist offer, let me give you some tips.

First, do not accept the offer immediately. Normally, you have a deadline by which you need to decide whether you get on the list or not.

However, if you wait a day or two, your decision will come across as thoughtful as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction.

Second, be sure to provide updates about your awards and achievements that happen before the final decisions come out. On the other hand, if there is nothing worth noting happens during this time, it is ok not to bug admissions.

Difference between waitlist and deferred

In both cases, the college is unsure about the final decision, but with deferred, there are two scenarios:

1) you applied early to the school, and they push you into the regular pool

2) they want you to send more information in before they make their decision

For those who aren’t familiar with applying early to a college, it is exactly as it sounds. Regular application deadlines are usually in the beginning of January, but early application deadlines are sometime in November.

There are two kinds of early applications: early decision (ED) and early action (EA). ED is binding, which means you agree to go to the college if accepted, whereas EA is not. Decisions for early applicants come out sometime in December, so students who apply early can get into a college before some people have even submitted their application(s). 

Anyways, a college, instead of rejecting an early applicant, can push them into the regular application pool.

Most of the time, they want to see your grades for that semester, but they can also ask for things such as additional recommendation letters. 

Can you accept multiple waitlist offers?

You are allowed to accept multiple waitlist offers, but there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding if you should accept a waitlist and how many waitlists to accept. 

National Decision Day is on May 1st, and that’s when you decide which college to accept. When you do make your decision, you have to submit a deposit of usually a few hundred dollars.

You make the deposit to secure your spot in the college, but you aren’t officially enrolled. 

Waitlist decisions come AFTER the May 1st deadline.

The deposit mentioned above doesn’t mean you’re enrolled. If you were to put a deposit down for a school but then decide to go to another school after they accepted you off the waitlist, you lose the money you put into the deposit. 

So make sure you secure a deposit at another school even if you truly want to wait for that waitlist decision. 

When do waitlist results come out?

Waitlist decisions come after the National Decision Day (May 1st) deadline, however, there is no national waitlist decision day.

Your waitlist decision can come out a couple of weeks after the May 1st deadline or a couple of months after the deadline.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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