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How to Manage a Wait List Decision

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Admission Decision: "Wait list" "Wait pool" How Should Parents Respond?

After all the months of going through the admission season, it's frustrating when your child ends up on a waiting list at your top school. Hopefully, your child has at least one acceptance at a second choice school, but is there is a chance you child could get off the waiting list?  In my experience as an admission director and 14 years as an independent educational consultant, I have seen many students get off the waiting list at their first or second choice schools. 

Who gets on the waiting list? Are wait lists ranked?

Some schools wait list all the qualified applicants they cannot take, while other schools keep a small  "wait pool". In either case, there is a small, unranked group identified as priority candidates to choose from. Schools often choose a student from the wait pool who closely resembles a student they did not get in order to keep balance and diversity in the class.

How should parents respond to a wait list letter? How long do schools keep a waiting list?

When students are wait listed, the school will request a reply in the form of a return post card, phone call or email to state if the student wishes to remain on the list or not. Parents should notify the school as soon as possible so the school can begin to assess who will remain in their wait pool.

After a week or so, call the admission directors for an update on how the list is looking. Admission directors try to give parents an accurate assessment of their child's chances of getting off the waiting list. Sometimes a "wait list" decision is a "soft no"; sometimes the school really wants a student and tells a parent they think they will go to the waiting list soon. Sometimes a school gets more acceptances than they expected, so that class will be "over-full" and the school will not go to their wait list.

My experience is that some students get off the wait list within two weeks, but others are still waiting on the Common Reply Date. A few days after contracts are due, schools assess their numbers and then contact their wait-listed students. For some students, this is too late because they have already enrolled at another school. As long as the school shows interest in keeping your child on the waiting list, and you would be able to accept a place if offered, you should stay on the list.

Need help getting off the wait list or making the right school choice?

Managing wait lists and deciding on which school to accept is a service provided by School Solutions even for students who did not go through the admission season as our client.  If you want proven, effective strategies to make sure you are accepting the right school offer, a Consultation could be the best way to end your admission season with the right school choice.


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Nothing is more important than your child's education. SCHOOL SOLUTIONS in Houston, Texas, offers educational consulting services to help parents make the right choice for their child’s school. As an Educational Consultant and founder of SCHOOL SOLUTIONS in 2004, I have helped over 1000 students find the right fit at over 90 different Houston private and public schools, from preschools to high schools, including special needs schools.

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