This post goes out to all my PhD applicants (at Heller, master’s applicants don’t receive waitlist decisions, although this may be different at other schools). Waitlists decisions are tricky to deal with because it’s not an immediate yes, but it’s also not a definite no. A waitlist decision, at least at Heller, means that you are a strong applicant and we’d be happy to have you, but we just didn’t have the “space” in the program to offer you an admit decision the first time around. That’s not a knock on you, especially this year: because we waived the GRE requirement, we received far more applications than is typical, and we’re aiming to enroll a slightly smaller class. That’s a recipe for a competitive year, so making the waitlist is still quite an accomplishment.

Okay, okay, but what should you do? Well, as frustrating as it is, you have to wait (check out my previous post about the art of waiting). However, there are a few things I would still recommend doing in the meantime, and a few things I would avoid doing.

You should give yourself space to be disappointed. It’s tough to receive anything other than an admit decision, and I completely understand that, especially if the school you received the waitlist decision from was one of your top choices. But… you shouldn’t give up hope. Heller admits students from the waitlist most years, so all is not lost!

You should still keep us updated if there are changes in your professional or academic life that are relevant. If you got a new job, or promotion, or grant, or publication, let us know! It’s not going to instantly turn your waitlist decision into an admit decision, but it demonstrates interest and may influence your position on the waitlist. But… the key here is “if they’re relevant and/or new”. The admissions committee spent time reviewing your application, and they deemed that you were a strong applicant (that’s why you received a waitlist decision!). Having your third-grade teacher or your mom’s cousin’s boss’ nephew place a call or send an email with additional recommendations isn’t likely to sway the committee.

You should make your choice known, and keep checking your email. In terms of making your choice known, that means that you should respond to the waitlist offer as soon as you are able to (after evaluating any other offers you may have received). This tells the committee that you are interested, and may give you a chance to receive an admit decision even sooner since some students decline our offer prior to the response deadline. But… start considering your other options. That may mean accepting another offer and putting down a deposit if your priority is to begin your PhD program this year. On the other hand, if you’re set on a certain program, it might mean starting to prepare yourself to apply again during the next cycle.

Every year, I get emails from students on the waitlist saying how disappointed they are to have not received an admit decision, and every year it breaks my heart. If you’re one of those students this year, let me say to you: You should be very proud of yourself. I’m wishing you all the best, and if you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out!