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bpilgrim89

So You've Been Waitlisted, Now What?

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Hello! This is the Ghost of Waitlists Past! As someone who was waitlisted and ultimately admitted, I wanted to share a few reflections from my experience. Being waitlisted is the worst. Your application cycle has been dragged out even further. You feel a weird mix of joy and defeat. My inner saboteur kept telling me, "I was good, but not good enough." At the end of the day, you may not get admitted despite all this added anxiety. These steps, though, made me feel like I had done everything I could do. 

1. If you want to be on the waitlist, re-affirm your interest. I do not just mean replying to the DGS's waitlist email saying, "Yes! Keep me on it!" (Though you should do that ASAP.) A week or two later, I also sent a formal letter to the DGS, i.e. 2 short paragraphs in an email with a Dear XXX and Sincerely XXX, re-affirming that the program was one of my top choices. Keep it concise and do not repeat anything from your SOP. This might only be one short paragraph. However, here are a few other things you might want to mention:

1a. If this program is your first choice, say it. When I submitted my PhD applications, I was fairly confident this program was my first choice, but after having a few more months to reflect, I was now certain. In my letter, I said that and stated that I could confirm my attendance if admitted before the April 15th national deadline. This is a big commitment, so only say this if you are going to commit to that. When April 15th barrels down on the adcom, they want to offer admission to students on the waitlist that will accept their offer. Some adcoms will have a ranked list of waitlisted students, and this gesture may not do much. However, if your program's adcom does not have a ranked list, this may help.

1b. Tell them about any admissions you have received. Some DGSs will ask for this, but either way, be sure to mention which programs admitted you! This makes you a more attractive candidate, and if those acceptances are from impressive programs, it could spur them to review your file to see what they might have missed. Plus, it also alerts them that you will need to know before April 15th since you have an offer on the table.

1c. Any updates to your CV since you applied? After submitting my application, I had a few CV additions. I had a paper accepted for a conference, I was awarded a competitive grant, and I had another line of employment to add. I included those in my letter since those, like admissions to other programs, could spur some review of my application. Even if you do not have updates like that, you can still tell them about other things. Still in school and finished your fall semester with a 4.0? Tell them. Was that conference paper or publication listed as "forthcoming" on your last CV now given/published? Tell them. Did you finish a project at your job that seems relevant to the program? Tell them. The point here is not to brag, but to affirm that you are a hardworking candidate that could bring something special to the cohort.

2. Ask the DGS what the waitlist procedure is. Some will tell you up front and in detail how they select students and how frequently they will update you about your progress. Some will be more opaque. Either way, you have the right to ask questions like, "How does the committee select students for admission from the waitlist?" and "Are waitlisted students able to visit the department, either at the open house or individually?"

3. After you send the letter of interest, keep in contact with the DGS, but do not overwhelm them. This is where it is hard to be prescriptive. You will have to judge what is too much or too little contact. My suggestion is to err on the side of too little contact since you do not want to overstep. I would especially refrain from asking for updates. Instead, restrict yourself to major CV additions, i.e. other admissions, publications, professional conference presentations, or awards. I received my waitlist notice in late February/early March, and after I sent my letter of interest, I sent a total of two other emails: the first informing the DGS about two awards I had won, and the second – two weeks before that big April 15th deadline – asking for an update/re-affirming my interest.

4. Update your LOR writers about your waitlist status. You should be keeping them in the loop about your application cycle anyway, but if not, tell them about your waitlist status. When I told them, one of my letter writers was very generous and offered to write to a faculty member on my behalf. Not everyone is going to have that reaction, nor should you ask it or even expect it. (I didn't!) However, informing them gives them the opportunity to take more action if they can. You can also ask them if there are any steps they think you should take. During the application cycle, I ran the suggestions in this list by my letter writers, and they approved of them, giving me more confidence to do them.

5. If you have been admitted to other programs, evaluate those offers. Go ahead and start narrowing down any admittances you have. For now, treat the waitlist as an admittance. As you evaluate your options, you might decide the waitlisted program is not your first choice. If, however, you feel like the waitlisted program is your first choice, then hold on to it and decide which of your current offers is your first choice. Once you have selected your top admitted program, decline your other offers. Then inform the DGS at the top admitted program that you have been waitlisted at another, especially if you plan to wait until the April 15th deadline. When contacting the DGS, I affirmed that I was impressed by their program and would be excited to attend, but that I was waitlisted for a program that was a better fit for me and intended to wait. The DGS appreciated my transparency and that she could prepare for potentially notifying people on their waitlist. Remember, you are not the only one on a waitlist!

6. Be patient. The hardest thing to do on this list! In order to offer admission to students on the waitlist, the program has to wait for enough admitted students to decline their offers. Programs often admit more students than they expect to take, so even if one or two students decline their offers, the program may already have a fully realized cohort. Programs usually see major movement in late March/early April when students admitted to multiple programs have attended their open houses and have reflected on their experiences. Then, the DGS will begin sending out other acceptances. You could receive an offer of admission before then! You could also receive your acceptance after April 15th. I did not receive my acceptance until the day before the April 15th deadline. In the moment, it was nerve-wracking. However, because I had not officially accepted another offer, things went more smoothly for me and the two DGSs. If push comes to shove on April 15th and you still have not heard from the waitlisted program, you have to make a choice. It is your choice, but if you are seeking advice, I would strongly recommend taking the admission you already have. You truly do not know if you will be admitted until you get an official letter.

7. In short, always be passionate, courteous, and brief. Each email you send matters and reflects what it would be like to work with you. Now that I am on the other side, I know at least one reason I was admitted was because I was determined and respectful. Proofread everything you send. Keep your emails short. Sound enthusiastic and professional.

Good luck, my fellow waitlist survivors!

Edited by bpilgrim89
A PhD student in English, and I still struggle with subject-verb agreement!

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THANK YOU FOR THIS. I just reached out to my POI at Rice, and depending on how things shake out with Stanford, it may become my top choice. I will certainly be returning to this page throughout the spring.

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4 minutes ago, dilby said:

THANK YOU FOR THIS. I just reached out to my POI at Rice, and depending on how things shake out with Stanford, it may become my top choice. I will certainly be returning to this page throughout the spring.

I also reached out to a POI at the university I was waitlisted, but I was unsure whether I considered that a universal recommendation. (I had met my POI for coffee before I submitted my application, so that didn't feel awkward to me.) Glad you feel comfortable doing it! 

If others feel like that is not overstepping, go for it! Or, if you are unsure, ask your letter writers!

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My advisor has encouraged me to reach out to POI at UNL and OSU.  I was also thinking of emailing the DGS to see if they could put me in contact with a current graduate student so I could ask some questions about the campus, classes, and things to do locally.  Do you think it's too much to send both?  If so, which should I send?  I especially want to alert the DGS at OSU that I have an acceptance at UNL, in a polite and professional way, of course.  Help!  The idea of reaching out to POI is intimidating but I've read each of their work and would like to make some sort of connection to it and my own research interests, as well as just make connections in general.

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Thank you so much for this! I just thought that being waitlisted meant you sat on your ass and waited...apparently not! 

Question #1: is it unreasonable for me to ask if the waitlist is ranked? and if so, can i ask where i am within that list? I don't want to get my hopes up if I'm like 4th or 5th in line. 

Question #2: lets say there are rumors floating around that there will be a new hire within the school (that perfectly matches my research interests and is the ONLY one in that field within the department) I'm applying to. would it be just out of pocket for me to include the fact that they are hiring that person within my email reaffirming my interest??

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Hi waitlisters!  

First off, congrats! When I got waitlisted at a number of programs during my application season, I felt like I wasn't quite good enough.  However, I now realize that is silly and if you are competitive enough to get on a waitlist, then you are competitive enough to be accepted.  There are so many other factors that can define that fine line between acceptance and waitlist, so you shouldn't feel at all lesser.

Second, while I commend bpilgrim89 on this effort and am happy to hear that it ended up working out so well, I just wanted to say that I indeed sat on my ass and waited and got off the waitlist at more than one top 10 program.  This is not to denigrate that effort, especially if you know that your number one program is somewhere that you are waitlisted, but to assert that it is very possible to get off a waitlist without this type of follow up.

Last, if you can, still go to the visit weekend(s).  If you haven't been offered an invitation, ask if you can still attend or even visit another time (and definitely ask for funding for the visit, but if at all possible, I'd recommend trying to visit even if the money doesn't come through--though I totally recognize that this will often not be possible).  A visit weekend is a great way to track down things like the rumors about hires/folks leaving/what it is like to work with a certain advisor/etc., assert your interest in the program and learn about the waitlist, and just get a feel for the positives and negatives of being a student in certain program and in a certain area.  While this might not be true for everybody, I found the visits very helpful and ended up changing where I thought I wanted to go.

Best of luck to all of you!  While it obviously won't always work out, many schools--even top programs--end up drawing from their waitlists, so keep the hope alive!

 

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hi everyone! i have 2 questions:

1. the DGS has asked me at what part of my process i'm at. I'm assuming that means she wants to know if i've had other acceptances/ funding offers, yes? 

2. i'm unable to attend the prospective students open house at the school i've been waitlisted at (due to a work event). i'd still love to visit the school on my own, do you think i should mention to the DGS? or is it best to just bop around the campus on my own??

thank you for any insight!! 

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6 hours ago, screamingacrossthesky said:

Second, while I commend bpilgrim89 on this effort and am happy to hear that it ended up working out so well, I just wanted to say that I indeed sat on my ass and waited and got off the waitlist at more than one top 10 program.  This is not to denigrate that effort, especially if you know that your number one program is somewhere that you are waitlisted, but to assert that it is very possible to get off a waitlist without this type of follow up.

Last, if you can, still go to the visit weekend(s).  If you haven't been offered an invitation, ask if you can still attend or even visit another time (and definitely ask for funding for the visit, but if at all possible, I'd recommend trying to visit even if the money doesn't come through--though I totally recognize that this will often not be possible).  A visit weekend is a great way to track down things like the rumors about hires/folks leaving/what it is like to work with a certain advisor/etc., assert your interest in the program and learn about the waitlist, and just get a feel for the positives and negatives of being a student in certain program and in a certain area.  While this might not be true for everybody, I found the visits very helpful and ended up changing where I thought I wanted to go.

I think attending visit weekends is not quite the same thing as doing nothing. It seems like an incredible show of interest to me, especially if travel funds were not provided. I’m not sure if you were waitlisted at multiple programs and did get off a waitlist at one where you didn’t talk to anyone (which I am sure is both possible and plausible!), but it seems like you showed a lot of initiative otherwise. 

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49 minutes ago, sugilite said:

I think attending visit weekends is not quite the same thing as doing nothing. It seems like an incredible show of interest to me, especially if travel funds were not provided. I’m not sure if you were waitlisted at multiple programs and did get off a waitlist at one where you didn’t talk to anyone (which I am sure is both possible and plausible!), but it seems like you showed a lot of initiative otherwise. 

Fair point, sugilite.  All I was trying to say was simply that I didn't do any of bpilgrim's excellent suggestions and I was still accepted off of waitlists.  Based on my admittedly anecdotal evidence, I just wanted to reassure people that it wasn't absolutely necessary (though I'm sure it could be helpful!) to send updates and further expressions of interest in order to be accepted.  Not to discourage any from following that strategy, but just to reassure those who might not feel comfortable reaching out directly (as I know I would not have been).

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On 2/11/2019 at 3:39 PM, kendalldinniene said:

My advisor has encouraged me to reach out to POI at UNL and OSU.  I was also thinking of emailing the DGS to see if they could put me in contact with a current graduate student so I could ask some questions about the campus, classes, and things to do locally.  Do you think it's too much to send both?  If so, which should I send?  I especially want to alert the DGS at OSU that I have an acceptance at UNL, in a polite and professional way, of course.  Help!  The idea of reaching out to POI is intimidating but I've read each of their work and would like to make some sort of connection to it and my own research interests, as well as just make connections in general.

I think these are all things you should do, especially if your advisor is encouraging it. Requesting to be put in contact with current graduate students is something all applicants should do anyway, even before getting waitlisted! Just make sure you maintain the same level of enthusiasm/professionalism with the graduate students in case the DGS asks them what they think about you.

I am less certain how to reach out to a POI post-waitlisting. I would ask your advisor for potential things to say. If it were me, I would probably mention that you're waitlisted, that you love their work and that it intersects with your own research in X, Y, and Z ways, and that you would like to speak with them about their work and the department in general. Emails take a long time to write, so offer them the opportunity to speak over the phone or to send them more specific questions via email.

Edited by bpilgrim89

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1 minute ago, bpilgrim89 said:

I think these are all things you should do, especially if your advisor is encouraging it. Requesting to be put in contact with current graduate students is something all applicants should do anyway, even before getting waitlisted! Just make sure you maintain the same level of enthusiasm/professionalism with the graduate students in case the DGS asks them what they think about you.

I am less certain how to reach out to a POI post-waitlisting. I would ask your advisor for potential things to say. If it were me, I would probably mention of that you're waitlisted, that you love their work and that it intersects with your own research in X, Y, and Z ways, and that you would like to speak with them about their work and the department in general. Emails take a long time to write, so offer them the opportunity to speak over the phone or to send them more specific questions via email.

Thank you!

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11 hours ago, screamingacrossthesky said:

All I was trying to say was simply that I didn't do any of bpilgrim's excellent suggestions and I was still accepted off of waitlists.  Based on my admittedly anecdotal evidence, I just wanted to reassure people that it wasn't absolutely necessary (though I'm sure it could be helpful!) to send updates and further expressions of interest in order to be accepted.  Not to discourage any from following that strategy, but just to reassure those who might not feel comfortable reaching out directly (as I know I would not have been).

I also want to assert that yes, you can do literally none of the things I did and still get off of a waitlist. No adcom is expecting you to do anything except wait on the list. In fact, I would hazard that most applicants do not do any of these things. My suggestions are geared for those who are on the waitlist for THE program of their choice, and they want options to follow up on what is a nebulous application status.

Edited by bpilgrim89

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18 hours ago, screamingacrossthesky said:

Last, if you can, still go to the visit weekend(s).  If you haven't been offered an invitation, ask if you can still attend or even visit another time (and definitely ask for funding for the visit, but if at all possible, I'd recommend trying to visit even if the money doesn't come through--though I totally recognize that this will often not be possible).  A visit weekend is a great way to track down things like the rumors about hires/folks leaving/what it is like to work with a certain advisor/etc., assert your interest in the program and learn about the waitlist, and just get a feel for the positives and negatives of being a student in certain program and in a certain area.  While this might not be true for everybody, I found the visits very helpful and ended up changing where I thought I wanted to go.

Also, re: visit weekends, if the department will fund your travel, GO. If they do not, it is up to you whether this is feasible. At the time of my application cycle, my wages were well below the poverty line, and since the department did not offer funding to waitlisted students, it was not financially feasible for me to attend. So, even if you cannot afford to go to the visit weekend, you can still get off of a waitlist.

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12 hours ago, rr732 said:

hi everyone! i have 2 questions:

1. the DGS has asked me at what part of my process i'm at. I'm assuming that means she wants to know if i've had other acceptances/ funding offers, yes? 

2. i'm unable to attend the prospective students open house at the school i've been waitlisted at (due to a work event). i'd still love to visit the school on my own, do you think i should mention to the DGS? or is it best to just bop around the campus on my own??

thank you for any insight!! 

1. That's what it sounds like to me. So, be honest, including mentioning how many programs you have yet to hear from.

2. Mention it to the DGS because, ultimately, that is who you would want to talk to.

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2 minutes ago, bpilgrim89 said:

Also, re: visit weekends, if the department will fund your travel, GO. If they do not, it is up to you whether this is feasible. At the time of my application cycle, my wages were well below the poverty line, and since the department did not offer funding to waitlisted students, it was not financially feasible for me to attend. So, even if you cannot afford to go to the visit weekend, you can still get off of a waitlist.

I don’t even think my schools do a visit weekend for MA candidates...which is disappointing because I’d love to actually check out Lincoln. It’s a way smaller city than I was hoping to end up in.

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2 minutes ago, kendalldinniene said:

I don’t even think my schools do a visit weekend for MA candidates...which is disappointing because I’d love to actually check out Lincoln. It’s a way smaller city than I was hoping to end up in.

While they don't do a visit weekend, I asked if I could visit and the dgs said that "she would work it out if I really wanted to attend". I assume this means that if someone was going to accept the offer, they could get funding for a visit.

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3 minutes ago, illcounsel said:

While they don't do a visit weekend, I asked if I could visit and the dgs said that "she would work it out if I really wanted to attend". I assume this means that if someone was going to accept the offer, they could get funding for a visit.

That is very good to know, thank you!

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@bpilgrim89

I've been waitlisted at Michigan this morning and they are definitely a top choice for me. However, the email said to respond to the graduate program manager rather than the DGS. Do you have any advice on how to handle this? Should I respond in the same way I would to the DGS? I've emailed my advisors to ask them as well but thought you might have some additional information. 

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19 minutes ago, Sav said:

I've been waitlisted at Michigan this morning and they are definitely a top choice for me. However, the email said to respond to the graduate program manager rather than the DGS. Do you have any advice on how to handle this? Should I respond in the same way I would to the DGS? I've emailed my advisors to ask them as well but thought you might have some additional information. 

No idea! As a general rule, always follow the program's instructions, but I do not know what the graduate program manager's role is in admissions. If you still want to send follow-up updates, I guess I would send it to the program manager? Hopefully your advisors have more insight here than I do!

Edited by bpilgrim89

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got my first waitlisted notification today and VERY grateful for this thread and all the advice in it. this question is probably born from overthinking, but... should i ask questions like those mentioned ("how does the committee select students for admission from the waitlist?" and "are waitlisted students able to visit the department?") in an initial affirming-my-interest email, or are those questions more appropriate for a second formal letter of interest like that described above? very curious about both of those questions, but paranoid about overstepping at this delicate-seeming point in the process!

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25 minutes ago, amphilanthus said:

got my first waitlisted notification today and VERY grateful for this thread and all the advice in it. this question is probably born from overthinking, but... should i ask questions like those mentioned ("how does the committee select students for admission from the waitlist?" and "are waitlisted students able to visit the department?") in an initial affirming-my-interest email, or are those questions more appropriate for a second formal letter of interest like that described above? very curious about both of those questions, but paranoid about overstepping at this delicate-seeming point in the process!

I did it in the second, mainly because I was feeling a whole lot of varied feelings, and wanted to give myself time to process a bit before saying much more than “thanks for the good news, I remain very interested in the program!”

However, I see no reason why those questions would be inappropriate in your initial email. I think you should do what your gut tells you!

Truth is I think we have a lot less control/impact on these waitlist decisions than we’d like to think ;)

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28 minutes ago, kendalldinniene said:

I did it in the second, mainly because I was feeling a whole lot of varied feelings, and wanted to give myself time to process a bit before saying much more than “thanks for the good news, I remain very interested in the program!”

However, I see no reason why those questions would be inappropriate in your initial email. I think you should do what your gut tells you!

Truth is I think we have a lot less control/impact on these waitlist decisions than we’d like to think ;)

awesome, thank you - needed some outside validation before i could get myself to send the email! went ahead and asked questions in a way that hopefully falls on the side of enthusiastic rather than obnoxious. i know it all comes down to outside factors anyway but feeling like there's something i can do here might be what keeps me sane!

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I am so so SO confused about writing an e-mail to Michigan. In my mind, I am either thinking “getting off of the waitlist will happen whether you do something or not if the list moves, so let it be” or “are you stupid, of course you should do whatever you can?!?!?”

Why every single step of this process has to be so full of anxiety? :(

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1 hour ago, reluctanthuman said:

I am so so SO confused about writing an e-mail to Michigan. In my mind, I am either thinking “getting off of the waitlist will happen whether you do something or not if the list moves, so let it be” or “are you stupid, of course you should do whatever you can?!?!?”

Why every single step of this process has to be so full of anxiety? :(

I am WITH YOU ON THIS. I even had my 3 LOR writers tell me 3 vastly different things about contacting. I ultimately contacted to request a phone conversation about the program and to update my CV with them, but ffs it was pain trying to figure out what i should do.

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