Are waitlists an opportunity or a scam?

Allie Boulier

By Allie Boulier


“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”—Are these the words inscribed at the gates of hell or the unspoken message of college waitlists?


Getting waitlisted is an entirely different beast than a flat out denial—it leaves uncertainty. When you’re denied, you can move on to other colleges, devastated of course, but the future remains clear.


Different colleges I’ve looked at in Virginia (and in the country as well) state that a waitlisted student may remain actively on the list up until Aug. 1. Keep in mind, most colleges have move in day towards mid to late August, making that wait a hefty commitment in its own right.


When I was waitlisted at my top college, James Madison University, I devoted myself to remaining patient above all else. Keep in mind, I didn’t quite have all of my eggs in JMU´s basket, as I had been accepted into Virginia Commonwealth University and planned to attend in the fall.  I watched classmates around me commit to their choices, and even watched some give up their spots on JMU’s waitlist rather than wait. Needless to say, the verdict was that waitlisting is a scam designed to keep favorable students as backups, and no one really ever gets in.


Hearing this, I decided to do some research for myself, and this conclusion is far from unsupported. The online consensus essentially says waitlists are a tool to keep admissible students as an option without allowing them to completely get away, often due to a high influx of applicants or a lack of space. To be fair, colleges are unaware of how many applicants will accept the offer of admission, but often waitlists are too large to realistically get even half of the applicants accepted.


Understandably, I was discouraged, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about giving up my spot once or twice. But when it’s that college that you’ve pictured yourself attending for years, and worked towards for even longer, what’s a couple of months?


Interestingly, every college I have looked at has said waitlisted students will only begin to be notified after May 1, the day applicants must commit to any college in the country. However, on April 16, during spring break, I got the call from JMU offering me a spot. That day, I paid my tuition deposit, filled out hours and hours worth of paperwork, and stocked up on cute JMU gear from the bookstore.


Clearly, not all of the information we know about college waitlists is true, including the idea of waitlists being another form of rejection. To those of you who have been waitlisted, don’t be discouraged. Your magic phone call could be just around the corner.