What does it mean when you are “waitlisted”? Is it just a fancy way of saying no? Not necessarily.

You, as the applicant, must get your applications in by the deadline, or else. You must file for financial aid and scholarships by certain dates, or else. You must notify colleges of your acceptance decisions by May 1, or else.

Colleges, on the other hand, are not so much bound by deadlines. Apply Early Action, expecting a definitive answer sometime between December 15 and January 15? Maybe. Then again, that answer could come in February or March, and rather than “accepted” or “denied,” it could be the limbo of “deferred.”

When push comes to shove (gee, is it March already?), and colleges have to let students know where they stand (or else?), the ultimate “keep ’em in stitches” — the waitlist.

Just how long do students remain on the waitlist? Typically, at least until the college knows who’s coming, and who is not. Almost always, that will be after the May 1 acceptance deadline set by most colleges. Or, it could be September, the colleges waiting to see who actually enrolls. Then again, it could be never, students who were waitlisted when the Berlin Wall tumbled are still waiting to hear.

So what do the anxious student and their family do?

While the colleges want waitlisted students to inform them of their continuing interest, as well as new developments not previously reported in the admissions process, what they do not want (and most schools state this specifically) are additional essays, follow up letters, or a reincarnation of information already in hand.

Yes, do let the school know that you are still interested. Typically, there is a short form to complete for that purpose. Unfortunately, the statistics are stacked against students who are waitlisted. Only about 15% of waitlisted students end up being accepted. It’s important to entertain other colleges’ offers and be mindful of the May 1 deadline.

Then pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and ask yourself, “Do I really want to go to a college that can’t make up its mind whether it wants me or not?” The answer should, most often, be, “No. I’m going to a college that has made me an offer and welcomes me with open arms!”