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Being placed on a waitlist at one of your top-choice schools is uniquely stressful.

You may feel like you’re stuck in limbo, wondering how long to wait, what to plan for and whether to enroll elsewhere. While those questions can certainly be distracting, it’s important for you to stay focused on your college goals and continue making smart decisions that will help you achieve them. Here, high school counselors share their advice on determining how long you should play the waitlist waiting game.

While schools typically make offers to waitlisted students by the end of May, in some rare cases, it can be as late as July and August.

Ask About the Waitlist Timeline

To help you set your personal waitlist timeline, start by contacting the admissions office at the school where you’ve been waitlisted to ask about their timeline for notifying students. Jenny Box, a junior and senior counselor at New Hope High School in Columbus, Mississippi, says, “It’s perfectly acceptable to look on the college’s website and/or to call or email and ask about their [waitlist] timeline.” 

While schools typically make offers to waitlisted students by the end of May, in some rare cases, it can be as late as July and August. 

Learn Deadlines Where You’ve Enrolled

Next, make a call to the admissions office at the backup school where you’ve enrolled for next year. Use this opportunity to gather important information about upcoming dates and deadlines. These include sign-up and full or partial refund deadlines for housing, orientation, meal plans, classes, special programs and scholarships. 

Most schools clearly identify these dates online or in a calendar that accompanies your enrollment materials, but it’s always a good idea to confirm deadlines with an admissions representative. Box encourages students to be assertive about asking, politely, for the information they need. “Truthfully, students change their minds at the last minute all the time. Colleges are accustomed to this situation and have protocols in place.”

So think about how long you’re willing to wait on a decision from the waitlisted school and consider the repercussions. “The longer a student waits,” Box explains, “the more likely they are to miss summer activities such as orientation, summer programs or scheduling classes for the fall semester.” 

Decide how important each factor of your college experience is to you, and what you’re willing to give up in exchange for a late admittance at your top-choice school.   

Figure Out Your Finances 

Financial flexibility is another consideration as you weigh how long to stay on a waitlist. While some deposits for the upcoming year may be partially refundable if you receive an acceptance off the waitlist, the costs of making a late-season enrollment change can add up. Certain payments, such as orientation fees, likely aren’t refundable. 

Another consideration? Housing. If you’re accepted later in the process, your housing options might be limited. In addition, think about your proximity to the school you’re waiting for. It’s more financially feasible to move after a last-minute acceptance to a school that’s an hour away rather than one that’s located across the country. If you’re late in the game for securing affordable housing, will that make your entire freshman year more expensive? These factors can add a substantial cost to your college experience, and it’s up to you to identify what your threshold is for increased expenses.

Switching schools late in the game can also cause a delay in financial aid processing, so this is something to pay attention to as well, warns Box. If you’re receiving Pell Grants or federal student loans, it can take time to recalculate aid for a different institution. Make sure you ask about how your financial aid may be impacted so you understand all the details before making the choice to enroll at your waitlist school. 

Maintain Perspective  

If you don’t hear from your waitlist school by the deadline you set for yourself, keep the situation in perspective: Look at your waitlist experience as just one small part of your college story. You may realize that the school where you’ve enrolled for your first year is the perfect fit. And if it isn’t, there’s always the option of transferring later. Jessica Ramos, a professional school counselor at Indiana’s Bishop Noll Institute, recommends that students think deeply about their end game. “You’ll likely find you can accomplish your goals just as successfully at another school.” 

Being on a waitlist can make you feel stuck, but the best way forward is to continue planning and stay as informed as possible, so you can start your fall semester on sure footing. Ask questions, consider your options and plan for contingencies. Ultimately, if you don’t get an offer off the waitlist, “The key is not to see this as a failure but as a different choice,” says Box. “The right door will open at the right time.”

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2019.