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How to Write the Perfect Letter to Get Off a College Waitlist

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Young woman writing a college waitlist letter at a laptop computer.

So you’ve been waitlisted—how to write a deferral letter to admissions officers

After months of hard work and another few months of waiting, you’ve finally received your college admissions decisions. You’ve celebrated your acceptances, and now you’re weighing your options and deciding which college or university you will attend.

But if you’ve been waitlisted or deferred by one of your top choices, you may be feeling confused. You haven’t been accepted or rejected, so what happens next? How do you get off a college waitlist?

Remember that a deferral means that the college or university in question believes you are qualified to attend, but has a limited number of places in each freshman class and does not have room to admit you. As students accept a college’s offers of admission or choose to attend elsewhere, spaces may open up and the college will admit students from the waitlist.

There are a number of things you can do to increase your odds of being admitted off a college waitlist. If a college where you were deferred remains one of your top choices, it’s key that you not only formally notify the school that you want to remain on the waitlist, but that you tell admissions officers that you are passionate about the college. One of the best ways to do this is by writing a letter to the admissions committee.

As you begin your deferral letter to admissions officers, it’s important to keep the letter’s purpose in mind: The letter should reaffirm your interest in the school, remind admissions officers of why you’re a great fit, and update them on your achievements since you submitted your application.

Remember that the admissions committee has already read your application and college essays: They know that you were captain of the swim team during your junior year and they’ve read about your favorite novel. Rather than repeating points from your earlier college application, focus on sharing new information that will give the committee an even fuller picture of who you are and why you’d thrive at their school!

The structure of your letter might look something like this:

  • Introductory paragraph: Introduce yourself, explain that your application was deferred, and state that the college remains your top choice. In two or three sentences, briefly summarize why the college appeals to you and why you think that you’re a good fit. Transition to your body paragraphs by explaining that you want to tell the committee a bit about what you’ve accomplished in the past few months.
  • Body paragraphs: Devote one to three short body paragraphs to the achievements you want to share with the admissions committee.These paragraphs don’t have to reference your earlier application, but they could: For example, if you wrote your Common Application essay about the challenge of learning of learning a foreign language, this section of the letter is a fantastic place to mention that, after months of hard work, you earned an A in French class. Close each of these paragraphs by drawing a connection between your achievements and your interest in the college. You could refer to a specific academic program (with your new French-speaking skills, you hope to enroll in an advanced comparative literature course) or draw a more general connection (your curiosity about other culture and languages will make you a great fit for the college’s international, interdisciplinary approach to education).
  • Conclusion paragraph: Wrap up the letter by sharing once more why you want to attend this college in particular. Are you excited about a specific research programs? Are you itching to design your own curriculum? Do you admire their commitment to social justice? Did you feel inspired by your campus visit? Have you learned something about the college since submitting the application that made you certain that you want to attend?
  • Closing: Before signing off, thank the admissions committee for their time and invite them to contact you if they have any questions about your application.

Beware of tone, typos and length!

  • Tone: As you write, be sure to choose words that convey a friendly, positive tone. While you may have been frustrated or disappointed to learn that you were not admitted, avoid expressing these emotions in the letter. Instead, thank the admissions committee for the time and thought they’ve spent reading your application and emphasize that you still hope to be admitted.
  • Keep it short and sweet: Remember that admissions officers read thousands of applications and letters every year. They’ll thank you for keeping your writing concise. Do your best to limit your letter to one page, single spaced.
  • Proofread your letter before you send it: Checking your letter for typos will ensure that you make the best possible impression on the admissions officers who read your letter! Include your full name, contact details, and any ID number that the college assigned to your application. This ensures that admissions officers will be able to easily identify you and add the letter to your other application materials.

Last but not least, take pride in your academic achievements and the hard work you’ve put into your application! Remember that, whether or not you’re admitted to your top choice school, being waitlisted is an enormous accomplishment, and you have exciting opportunities ahead of you regardless of which college you attend.





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Written by Emily Frisella

Emily Frisella is a freelance writer, editor and educational consultant. While studying history and English at Wellesley College and the University of Oxford, Emily volunteered with MIT’s Education Studies Program and co-founded The Oxford Writing Project. More recently, she has worked as a tutor-counselor at Northfield Mount Hermon’s Upward Bound Summer Program and as a senior educational consultant at Apolish. In her spare time, she blogs at www.untimelycriticism.com.

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