How to Handle Admissions Decisions: Accepted, Rejected, or Waitlisted

Application Strategies
December 30, 2019
When You Finally Send Out Your Application, The Last Thing On Your Mind Is What Admission Decision You’ll Be Receiving...

While you’re obviously hoping for a college acceptance letter, many of us put off thinking about how we’ll handle being rejected or waitlisted until the fateful day comes. However, preparing for how you’ll handle your admission decisions before you receive them can not only help you manage your emotions, but think about the next logical step once you have.

What You’ll Find In This Article

What Are College Admissions Decisions?

You’ve finally conquered the mountain of paperwork that makes up the college application process. After countless hours spent researching colleges, filling out forms, and visiting campuses you’ve finally hit send on your application. Now it’s time to wait for a decision.

There are three main types of admissions decisions that apply to college applications, along with a fourth decision reserved for early decision applications.

  1. An accepted college application means that you’ve been granted admission to the incoming class. Your next steps include accepting or rejecting the position, reviewing financial aid, and doing your happy dance.
  2. A rejected college application means that you have not been granted admission to the college. Your next steps include considering your other options and making a rock-solid plan for what comes next.
  3. A waitlisted college application means that your application has been placed on a waiting list. Colleges turn to these applications when accepted students do not enroll. Your next step is to develop a plan for the rest of your college admission journey.
  4. A deferred early decision or early action application is one that shows promise but is not competitive enough when compared to other early-round applications. These applications will be considered again during the regular decision round.

Fortunately, while every college has a different admissions process with slightly different steps, there are always ways that you as a student can better handle whatever admissions decision you receive.

What To Do If Your College Application Is Accepted


Getting into college is no easy feat. Take a moment to reflect on all the hard work and effort that brought you to this moment. It’s time to get excited!

Make sure you tell your family, friends, teachers, and college counselor. Schedule one more visit to the college and see it through your new perspective as an incoming student. Having your college application accepted is an accomplishment worth celebrating!


Once you catch your breath and your excitement dies down, it’s time to start considering your next steps. Will you wait for all of your other college application decisions to come in, or will you contact the other colleges to withdraw your applications before seeing whether you’re accepted or not?

Obviously, if this is your dream school, you’ll want to withdraw your other applications. However, if you’re still unsure, there’s no rush to make a decision. You can (and maybe should) wait to hear back from every college you’ve applied to before deciding where to attend.


Once you’ve been admitted, it’s time to take a closer look at your financial aid options. While you may be tempted to put this off, take the time to talk to the financial aid office and develop a plan for how you’ll pay for college before you enroll in your first class.

Waiting until you’ve accepted your position and enrolled in classes to do this vital research can put you in tough financial situations that you aren’t prepared for; which can have long-term impacts on your ability to pay for or even attend college.


If you’re considering taking a gap year, it’s important that you know what the goal of a meaningful gap year is: to gain experience outside of the classroom that broadens your horizons.

This can be accomplished by enrolling in specific gap year programs, setting out to see the world, or by learning all that your own corner of the world has to offer while gaining on-the-job experience. A gap year gives students the opportunity to pursue their lives beyond college while still keeping their college goals in focus, but it should always be approached with the right mindset. A gap year still requires you to work hard!


Once you’ve considered all the details that go into making the final decision of your college admission journey, it’s time to respond to your accepted application.

Following the steps outlined in your admissions letter (or the website it directs you to), send your acceptance to your new school along with your deposit. Your new school will guide you toward the offices and experts that will help you get enrolled in classes, placed in the right housing, and ready for your first day of classes in the fall!

What To Do If Your College Application Is Rejected


A rejected college application affects everyone differently. However, these facts remain constant for everyone who has had their college application rejected:

  • You are not the only student receiving a rejection letter.
  • The colleges that accept or reject you do not define your academic potential.
  • College admissions decisions are not personal.
  • With more students than ever applying for college, admissions are more competitive.
  • Colleges consider more factors than ever to create a fairer process.

Take a step back from thinking about college for a few days if you need to. It’s only natural to feel angry, frustrated, hurt, or upset when you receive a rejected college application. Don’t try to fight your own feelings, or you’ll only end up feeling fed-up with the entire process.


Naturally, how hard the rejected application hits you will depend on how committed you were to this college. If this college was your  top choice, you’ll need to start looking toward the other colleges on your list to keep moving forward toward your ultimate goal.

Have you already been accepted to other colleges? Rereading an acceptance letter from a different college won't magically make you feel better about the rejection letter, but it will remind the logical part of your brain that you do have other options you can consider.


If this college was your first choice, take the time to become more familiar with your second choice (especially if they’ve already accepted you.) Don’t rush this process to the point where you’re still upset and feel like you’re “settling” for your second choice. When the time is right, start to do things that will help you get excited about the school that did accept you. Schedule a tour, read online reviews about the school, and take a second look at all this college has to offer.


For many students, this won’t be the first or last rejection letter they receive during their higher education. After receiving all different types of college admissions decisions, you’ll quickly become an expert at finding alternative routes to reach your goals.

If your dream college rejections your application, it’s time to brainstorm possible ways you could reapply in the future. Whether you take a gap year to widen your worldview or apply to transfer after a few years at another college, make sure you don’t lose sight of the overall goal. Keep your grades up while you finish high school and continually work on your writing skills to keep your application skills sharp, just in case.

What To Do If Your College Application Is Waitlisted


If a college places your application on its waitlist, there are a series of questions you should answer before you take your next step:

  • What level of commitment do you have to this school? Is it a reach, target, or safety school?
  • How competitive are the admissions for this school?
  • What other options are you considering for college, and have you received any other admissions decisions yet?

The hardest decision you’ll need to make about your waitlisted college application is if you will accept or refuse the position. If this college is at the top of your list, or you have few other options, it may be wise to accept the waitlist position. On the other hand, if this school was a backup plan or you’ve already been accepted to another school, you may consider letting go of your waitlist position as a courtesy.

As hard as this decision is to make, keep in mind that with the rise of the Common Application, many colleges are increasing the size of their waitlists. This rapid growth in the number of waitlisted applications is unfortunately not matched by rapid growth in available positions within incoming classes. Many students may be better served, both emotionally and productively, to focus the majority of their efforts on their other college applications, rather than on their waitlisted ones.


While your application may have found itself on a waitlist, your college admission to-do list is far from complete. Once you’ve decided to either accept or let go of the spot on the waiting list and determined how much of your focus you’ll place on this application, it’s time to develop a plan.

The first step of your plan should include writing down the answers to the questions listed in the “Make a Decision” section above. Most importantly, make sure you take the time to write down each college that has already accepted your college application.

Not only will listing your accepted college applications give you a much-needed confidence boost after your waitlist decision, but it will also help you develop the next step of your plan. Now, you’ll need to decide how you’ll fill the time between this waitlist letter and the final admission decision letter.


At this late stage in the college admissions journey, there are no essay edits or extracurricular activities that will improve your chances of admission. Outside of large projects, awards, or recognition related to things you already highlighted in your college applications, there are few new things you can do to increase your chances of getting off the waitlist.

However, there is one area of your admissions story that you have a large amount of control over up until the point you graduate high school: your grades. Do what you can to raise your grades while you wait, and you’ll be increasing your chances of admission across the board, not just with this one college.


Colleges take your level of interest into account when considering your application. While the little things you do to show your commitment may not officially factor into your decision, colleges do notice them. If you’re still serious about attending the college that waitlisted your application, reaffirming your interest never hurts your application.

Ways you can show that you’re serious about attending a college include:

  • Scheduling a campus tour
  • Asking for an alumni interview
  • Interacting at college fairs
  • Sending a polite email to the admissions office, thanking them for considering you

This late into the admissions process, there is little under your control, but don’t let that stop you from doing what you can. Colleges often ask that waitlisted applicants refrain from sending updates or additional supplemental materials. Always follow the guidelines set out by the college’s admissions office, and never hesitate to call up the admissions office themselves if you’re confused about your waitlisted application.

Admissions Are Just The First Step In A Long Journey

While your first step in the journey toward college was sending in your application, the first step in your new college life will be an acceptance letter.

Of course, the waitlisted and rejected applications you receive along the way are also parts of your story, and they’re parts that you shouldn’t be ashamed of. No matter how much hard work and effort you put into your applications, you won’t be able to escape the fact that college admissions are competitive, especially at more prestigious schools.

Fortunately. regardless of how competitive your first choice school is, WeAdmit counselors know how to tailor your application to give you the best chances of success. From selecting your top extracurricular activities to crafting your essay responses, our team of experts will guide you through everything you need to maximize your chances of receiving an acceptance letter from your first choice school!

That Way, You’ll Be College-Bound In No Time!



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