04/12/2013 06:41 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2013

The College "Wait List" and 3 Ways to Survive It

If you've already applied to college (or soon will), there's always a chance this could happen:

Placement on the "wait list."

For many students this "admissions limbo" means an added layer of stress.

That's why it's important to get a grasp on it... and possibly even come out of it on top.

For starters, you already know that college applications are on the rise. With a limited number of spots in each freshman class, competition increases.

For that matter -- The Common Application is making it easier than ever for applicants to blanket schools they don't even want to attend.

So it makes sense that you might end up on the wait list for one of your top schools...

Here's how to be proactive -- and smart -- in the ways you handle your wait-listed status... including 3 ways to increase your chances of jumping from wait list to acceptance:

Strategy # 1: Make Certain You Have Back-Up Schools
One of the biggest mistakes families make when they're on the wait list... is pinning their hopes on just one school.

You still need to pick from the schools that did accept you and begin moving forward with your second choice.

If you make it off the wait list, you can always forfeit your deposit and commit to your primary choice.

The wait list could keep you hanging until literally the last second or even long after a decision is required (by May 1st).

And you don't want to get caught without a spot in a Freshman class when September rolls around.

Strategy # 2: Don't Get Infected with "Senioritis"
Another common mistake is applying to colleges and then blowing off the last few months of high school.

You need to keep this in mind if you end up on the wait list:

When many colleges begin to evaluate wait list candidates, they will request last semester grades.

If you let off the throttle and try to coast to the finish line, you may not make the positive impression that it takes to get off the wait list and into the next freshman class.

Strategy # 3: Make Yourself Unique; Differentiate Yourself
Many college wait lists are not ranked. When they evaluate wait list candidates, it's like starting the evaluation process all over again.

Now is the perfect opportunity to set yourself apart from the other wait list candidates.

Write a letter to the admissions department and make it known that you absolutely will attend their college if selected -- after all, they definitely want to know if they are your first choice.

You can also highlight anything that makes you a special addition to their campus... whether it's an extracurricular activity or some community service that sets you apart from other candidates. New activities, honors, leadership opportunities and service that you did not highlight on your original application are especially powerful.

Financial aid difficulties could also be a barrier to your acceptance. Make sure the admissions office has your correct information and that they know how you intend to pay for your education.

Finally, make sure to keep in touch with the admissions office. But -- and this is an important BUT -- do not become a bother or a pest. (That said, a well-timed email or phone call can keep you in the front of their minds).

Just following these three simple steps which can make all the difference in escaping the wait list and making your way into your top school.

Keep your focus, and before you know it you may open your mailbox to see the fat envelope you've always wanted.

Scott Weingold is the publisher of and also co-founder and a principal of College Planning Network, LLC - the nation's largest college admissions and financial aid planning firm. Scott has been ranked the #1 "College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About" in the U.S. by, and he co-authored the book, "The Real Secret To Paying For College"

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.