Wait-Listed and Rejected Students

Students who have been wait-listed or rejected by a college rely on you for insight and direction on how to proceed with their college enrollment plans. Help your students handle disappointment and offer them the guidance they need to enroll successfully at a college that is a good fit.

Advising Wait-listed Students

The handful of seniors who discover that they have been wait-listed—neither accepted nor rejected—may present the biggest challenge.

The waiting list is the college's safety net: If a number of accepted students decide not to attend, the college can fill their spots, so that the incoming class will still be at capacity. Most students who are accepted to a highly selective college will attend, so where does this leave the wait-listed student? Encourage students to give serious consideration to other options.

A student who is eager to attend a particular college may decide it's worth the time, effort, and anxiety to stay on the list. Share the document What to Do If You're Wait-Listed in the Resources section with these students, but make sure they know that fewer and fewer colleges are accepting applicants from their waiting lists.

What You Can Do

Once your students have had a chance to come to terms with being wait-listed, take the following actions:

  • Guide your students to focus on the real choices: the places that have sent acceptance letters.
  • If your students do want to stay on the waiting list:
    • Explain that colleges don't admit from the waiting list until the May 1 decision deadline has passed.
    • Encourage the students to prepare to attend another college by filling out the paperwork and sending a deposit. (If a student is accepted from the waiting list and decides to attend the waiting-list college, this deposit is forfeited.)

Advising Rejected Students

In some ways, it is easier to help students who have been rejected outright. Although they have some decisions to make, they are not in a state of limbo. They know they have to seek an alternative to their first-choice college.

Understanding the Decision

Admission officers at selective colleges readily admit that as many as two-thirds of the students they reject are fully capable of succeeding academically at their institutions. Unfortunately, it is often a matter of too much demand for too few places.

Understanding this reason for rejection can help students and their families better handle their disappointment.

What You Can Do

You can suggest the following ways to help students handle a college rejection:

  • Listen to them; let them vent and acknowledge their feelings of disappointment.
  • Help them refocus by reminding them that it's not the college that really matters, but the college experience.
  • Point out that the experience they get at a different college that's a good fit may end up offering better opportunities.
  • Explain that many factors other than what college a person attends lead to success in the real world.
  • Lift their spirits by letting them know that you think the college that refused them is missing out on a great student.
  • Explain that admission trends are subject to variability and reflect institutional priorities; a rejection is not a personal indictment.
  • Be enthusiastic about the other colleges students have applied to, emphasizing that they, too, are good fits.
  • Encourage students to consider offers they've received from other colleges and to select a college that excites them.
  • Remind them that a focus on their academic work should continue into college.
  • Let parents know that it's okay for them to feel disappointment, too, but that they should remain supportive.

Appealing a Rejection

While it's extremely rare for a college to overturn its decision, you may recommend that rejected students write a letter of appeal explaining why they deserve to be reconsidered. This action will give students the peace of mind of knowing that they have done everything possible to make a strong case.

Planning a Transfer

Remind students that they can try to transfer to the desired college from another college after a year or two and explain that there are steps that can be taken now to make this easier. Advise them to:

  • Determine that the desired college accepts transfer credits for those courses taken at the college they will attend.
  • Ensure that the college they attend is a good fit academically.
  • Enroll in courses in which they can excel.
  • Take challenging courses.
  • Work hard and get the best grades possible.