Responding to Being Placed on the Waiting List

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Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students

by Dr. Donald C. Martin

After helping thousands of students through the application maze at a number of prestigious schools, most recently Teachers College at Columbia University, Dr. Donald Martin shares great insider advice for those exploring the idea of going to graduate school. His new book, Road Map For Graduate Study, is structured to help you determine if you should attend graduate school, what schools may be right for you, and how best to navigate through the maze of the application process.

In some ways, this is the hardest initial decision – you still don’t know anything one way or the other. “Wait” often feels/sounds like a four letter word. But don’t despair. Accept this decision, and consider doing the following:

1. Don’t take it personally

This is so much easier to say than to do. No one likes to being placed on the waiting list. Most likely, this means that while you have some very strong credentials, you were not considered to be as competitive as those being offered admission. However, the good news is that you were not denied. There is still a chance, and from my experience, in most cases, a very good chance you will be admitted.

2. Don’t assume you are going to be denied

As I just mentioned, most likely the opposite is true. If you stay calm, confident and patient, you will most likely get more encouraging news down the road.

3. Make sure you follow instructions

Once again, be professional and do what is suggested or asked of you. If you do not receive any information about what to do next, ask. Don’t demand, complain or argue. Just ask if there is anything you can do. If you are told no, accept that and do not do anything. It may tell you something about this institution if they do not provide you an opportunity to further address your interest in their program. If you are given specific instructions on what you can do, follow every one of them.

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Steps After Being Placed on the Waiting List

Here are some of the steps you may be told to take or you may choose to take if there is something you can do:

Step 1: If feedback is offered, ask for it! Listen to what you are told.

Do not argue, become angry, or get a chip on your shoulder. Thank the provider of the information and make sure you know how you are to respond. If a letter from you is acceptable, write one as soon as you can. Address each issue head on and explain why/how you believe you can “overcome” the concern.

Step 2: Mount a letter of recommendation campaign.

This is the time to have two or three additional individuals write recommendation letters for you. You may want some of your original recommenders to write another letter. You may ask others to do so. At most, do not send more than three or four letters of recommendation at this point.   More than this is overkill.

Step 3: Request a campus interview.

If your request is granted and this is a top choice on your list, do it. If a campus interview is not made available to you and you did have an interview with an alumnus, contact him/her to see if there are any recommendations they would make. This person might even be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you.

Step 4: Be cautiously creative.

Some waitlisted applicants send a CD, poem, photo album, acronym, e-card, a “Top Ten Reasons Why I Should be Admitted” list, etc. Please do not do all of these for the same institution! Choose one.

Step 5: Write a confidential, hand-written note to the person who signed your notification letter.

This could be sent a few weeks before a final decision is supposed to be sent. Indicate your level of interest in this program. Mention that you have responded as requested to your wait list status. End the note by thanking this person for the time and attention he/she has given and will give to your application.

Step 6: Practice your skills in patience and professionalism.

If ever you help admissions evaluators get a sense of you for better or worse, it is when you have been placed on the waiting list. There are several reasons for creating such a list; one reason that is not among them is that of deliberately trying to frustrate you. If you come across as being offended, inconvenienced, angry, resentful, argumentative or arrogant, you are almost certainly determining the outcome of your application – you will be denied. However, if you go with the flow, and hang in there with a positive and confident outlook, you will help yourself greatly.

Step 7: Prepare for either admission or denial.

While one decision is much easier to prepare for than the other, be ready for either response. Some suggestions on these decisions are presented next.

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Keep Searching for the Perfect Graduate School for You

Yes, being placed on the waiting list can be blow to your confidence, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep searching for the perfect graduate school program for you. In fact, whether you want to pursue a degree in Business, Education, Nursing, or anything else, there are many programs available to you.

Dr. Donald C. Martin is an expert in the fields of enrollment management, student affairs and higher education administration. From 1980 to 2008 he managed divisions including admissions, financial aid, student development, registration/advising, and career, disabled and international services.

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