Colleges may put you on a waiting list if you meet the admissions requirements, but they've already accepted the maximum number of applicants. You'll be offered a place only if space becomes available.
If you get a waiting-list notice, decide whether you really want to attend the school before you agree to remain on the list. If you're eventually accepted, you often get only a few days to decide. Also investigate the conditions attached to being wait-listed; you may lose priority housing or financial aid options.
It's not just a passive waiting game. There are things you can do to boost your chances of being accepted.
Get a better sense of your chances of admission. Colleges sometimes rank waiting lists. The higher you rank on the list the better your chances of being accepted. Contact the admissions office to find out if it ranks wait-listed students or if it has a priority list. Most admissions officers are willing to tell you your status.
Write a letter to the admissions office. Being wait-listed means the school has already determined you have the academic credentials; so nonacademic factors are more likely to sway admissions officials. Offer achievements that you may not have mentioned in your application and send new supplemental information. For example, maybe a terrific recommendation just came in. Emphasize your strong desire to attend the college and make a case for why you're a good fit. You can indicate that if accepted you'll enroll, but such a promise should be made only if you're absolutely certain. You can also enlist the help of an alumnus and your high school counselor.
Study hard. This is no time to slack off. If you're wait-listed, you may be reevaluated based on your third- and fourth-quarter grades.
Stay involved. Show admissions officers you're committed to sports, clubs, and other activities.