Being put on college wait lists can be extremely frustrating. If you have applied to the college of your dreams and you have been wait-listed, you have not been accepted but you also have not been denied acceptance into a school. This is why many call wait lists the purgatory of the college admissions process. When you are waitlisted by the college admissions department, it is the school’s way of hedging against how unpredictable the enrollment process can be once acceptance letters are sent out. If you are wondering whether or not wait lists are worth the wait, read on and learn what you need to know.

Understanding the Purpose of College Wait Lists

If you were to receive a letter stating that you have been placed on the admissions waitlist, you may feel as if the school is playing with your emotions. While it feels this way to students who are unlucky enough to have to play the waiting game, the wait lists do serve a purpose. When acceptance letters are sent, the college must know the yield of how many students will enroll at the school after being accepted. While the average yield is 50%, this number can fluctuate. If the number is historically 50%, the college will send double the acceptance letters out, expecting only half to enroll. If less than 50% of students enroll, waitlisted students will gain acceptance so that the class sizes are appropriate.

Should You Wait or Enroll Elsewhere?

Being waitlisted does not mean that you have been denied, but most college admissions counselors agree that your chances of actually gaining acceptance because of low enrollment rates are low. About 30 percent of students who decide to stay on the waitlist are admitted into the college, according to a survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

While the percentage rates do vary from year to year, it is safe to say that wait-listed students should have a backup plan in place. If the letter that you receive tells you that you are high in the ranking pool, you have a higher chance of getting accepted. You can wait if you are high on the priority list, but it is best to find out what can happen if you choose to wait. Many times, financial aid departments place limitations on aid granted to students on wait lists. This is because these students cannot apply for aid until after the deadline.

What Can You Do?

More than likely, you have applied to more than one college. If you have other acceptance letters, you should put down a deposit until you decide what to do with your wait list status. If the college where you were waitlisted has a great reputation, you may want to stay on the list, but if acceptance is unrealistic, decline. Plan to attend the college where you have guaranteed admission, but always have a backup plan if you are granted acceptance.

Wait lists are frustrating but they are not uncommon. If you are worried about getting trapped on a wait list, make sure that you are prepared. Submit more than one application, ask the right questions on college visits, and make sure that you know what to expect from college wait lists before you get overly excited or discouraged.

Related: Can Colleges Revoke Admission After a Student Has Been Accepted?