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Getting in might not be as tough as you think.
Getting in might not be as tough as you think. Tetra Images—Corbis

How to Get Your Kid off the College Wait List—and Into Dream U.

Jun 01, 2014

If your child landed on the wait list at his or her favorite college, now's the time to make a final push for a slot in this fall's freshman class.

As tuition deposit deadlines pass and schools have a better sense of how many accepted students will actually matriculate, colleges have already begun making offers to those on their B lists, says Peter Van Buskirk, a college admission consultant and former dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College. But your odds of getting in grow slimmer as summer progresses and the open slots are filled.

Here’s how to get the school to go from "maybe" to "definitely."

Find the decision maker

First step: Figure out who is the regional recruiter for your area, since that person will likely make the final call on your child’s admission. “You need to be on the radar of the person making the decision,” says Van Buskirk.

If you can't find this information on the college's web site, call the admissions office to ask for the name and email address of the appropriate contact.

Plead your case

Your child should send a note via e-mail to the regional recruiter, and cc: the admissions office, to reiterate that the school remains his top choice and that if admitted he would go. “Make sure your interest can’t be doubted,” says Van Buskirk.

The note should also tout any significant accomplishments since the original application was sent, such as an improvement in grades or receipt of an award.

“Present them with new information that’s valuable," says Giesela Terner, an educational consultant. "Don’t tell them you did a 5K walk.”

One e-mail is sufficient. Badgering the recruiter or the admissions office—calling every day or sending nonstop emails—can do more harm than good.

“Students have done crazy things like sending a cupcake every day,” says Susan Hanflik, an educational consultant who specializes in college admissions. “That’s not going to change anyone’s mind.”

Think about the finances

Keep in mind that schools often have very little financial aid left for students on the wait list. So even if your kid’s dream school offers a spot off the list, it may not provide as much in grant funding as your family needs.

After May 1, many schools make offers to wait-listed candidates by phone. And colleges generally give prospective students only a short period of time—sometimes as little as 24 hours—to give their answers.

Since it's a decision with a huge financial impact, make sure to have a serious talk in advance about what your family can afford and how much to take out in loans. “You have to discuss this frankly with your child,” says Hanflik. “If you have a kid who wants to be a teacher, how are they are going to pay off $200,000 in debt?”

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