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Deferred or Waitlisted? How to Write a Great Letter of Continued Interest | 2021-22

School Supplements
Brad Schiller
Brad Schiller
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This is an article for students who pick themselves back up when they fall down. We all fall down. What matters is if we get up again. When it comes to college admissions, here’s how to get back on your feet.

As college essay coaches, we know that being waitlisted doesn’t make you unworthy — instead, it means the college does think you’re competitive enough to be in their incoming class.

Unfortunately, we’re at the height of a waitlisting wave, with gap-year students taking a big bite out of available incoming class seats, and a surge in applicants from test-optional policies and Covid worries. All of that is outside your control. 

But a continued interest letter is within your control and can be powerful. In addition, because colleges have waitlisted more (way more) applicants than usual, they’ll generally also be admitting more applicants off their waitlist than usual. 

(Great news: if you’ve been working with a Prompt essay coach, you can get feedback on your letter of continued interest at no extra charge. Take advantage!)

Step 1: Emotions are ok;Step 2: Do things > Write things;Step 3: What is the school asking?;Step 4: Look into your odds (optional);Step 5: Use our simple structure to write a great letter;Finally: Get feedback
Step 1: Emotions are ok;Step 2: Do things > Write things;Step 3: What is the school asking?;Step 4: Look into your odds (optional);Step 5: Use our simple structure to write a great letter;Finally: Get feedback

    Step 1: Emotions are ok 

    Some basics: You are a human. Humans have emotions. 

    While we led with the “pick yourself up” part, and while you’re probably there already if you’re reading this, and while the “picking yourself up” part is indeed very important, still: you can cry. You can shout. You can sulk. You can rant for a long, long while to any friend who will listen. Give yourself permission to have emotions — even if those emotions lead you to waste some time. 

    The college application process is a beast and none of this stuff is easy. 

    Step 2: Do things > Write things 

    Are you still here? If Step 1 inspired you to hide under your bed for a little while or go have a good cry, no problem. We’ll wait for you to be done!

    Now, if you’re ready to get cracking, here’s the crux of it: the best way to increase your chances of getting in is to have new and exciting information to share with the school. 

    Those things can include a great final set of grades, so do what you need to do to stay academically focused.

    In addition, what did you do since submitting your original application that could make your case now even more compelling? 

    • Is there an activity you’ve taken more initiative in?
    • Is there an interest you’ve learned more about or dived more deeply into? 
    • Is there anything you’ve worked on that could demonstrate any of the 5 traits (ex: drive, intellectual curiosity)?

    If you’re on the school paper, did you get a big story published? If you love tech, did you work toward a free, meaningful certificate, maybe in coding or marketing

    So many things could make for strong “continued interest” fodder. Make sure you take a moment to account for everything you’ve done (or could still do) since submitting - no matter how small or unusual - as it could be just the thing to mention in your letter. 

    Step 3: What is the school asking? 

    Colleges are very different when it comes to letters of continued interest. Here’s a very important chart of the common requests they make:

    It’s always a good idea to improve your qualifications (as we described in Step 2 above). But it’s a terrible idea to waste time writing an essay the college doesn’t want. So make sure you know what’s expected. 

    Step 4: Look into your odds (optional) 

    It’s not possible to know your odds of getting accepted off the waitlist. It’s never possible, actually. But with Covid upending normal college admissions policies, it’s harder than ever. 

    Nevertheless, it’s only human to want to know your chances. (And, as we said in Step 1, being human is okay.)

    One place you can look for waitlist data is from the Common Data Set project — bearing in mind that waitlist numbers change from year to year, and have been wildly different than past years before Covid. (You can also Google the school’s name and the word “waitlist” or “deferral” to see if any articles come up - usually from the school’s student paper.)

    Covid has upended many families’ finances, their health calculations, and students’ potential willingness to travel far from home. As we mentioned earlier, in terms of college admissions, this has often translated into many schools admitting far fewer students than usual — and sometimes that has meant that they are more likely to take students off the waitlist than usual. Sometimes. 

    Step 5: Use our simple structure to write a great letter   

    Before you get into an overly literary mode — dreaming up clever metaphors and such for this essay — make sure you know what the college wants to hear.

    All of these letters should be straightforwardly written.

    Moreover, some schools explicitly ask for updates only. MIT is an example of a school like that. In that case, your letter should follow this simple structure:

    1. Dear [admission officer name who wrote to you with your decision],
    2. Thank you for allowing me to submit these updates on what I’ve been doing since applying this fall. [Or words to that effect.]
    3. [List of updates.]
    4. Thank you again for your consideration. 
    5. [Your name]

    To write strong updates, bear in mind the rules we shared in our Activities List article

    • Focus on the impact you had. (How was the activity different than it would have been had you not been there?)
    • Quantify your achievement whenever you can.
    • Emphasize new traits, skills, or interests you've gained since submitting your original application. 

    For most other letters of continued interest, you should still write up all the impressive updates you can. You’ll also want to add a mini “why us” essay — a quick love letter to the school. 

    Side note: the “Why Us” essay is all about demonstrating your interest in actually attending (ie: your ability to improve the school’s yield numbers). Take a quick look at this article on Demonstrated Interest to understand how colleges evaluate your interest and how much this matters to them. 

    Structure for updates with a mini “why us”:

    Your first paragraph should include:

    • A statement that you remain interested in the school. If it’s true: state that the school is your top choice, and you're excited to enroll if admitted. 
    • [As in the structure above, some variation on this sentence]: Thank you for taking the time to read my letter of continued interest. 

    In your second paragraph, lead with what’s most compelling. If you have great updates, put them first. If you don’t really have much to say update-wise, go straight into your mini-love letter. 

    If you didn’t already submit a formal Why Us essay, take this opportunity to write a short, informal one. Read our Why Us article for tips on how to do this. 

    In a nutshell, it involves writing about your ambitions and interests and showing the specific opportunities at the college that match those interests (ex: courses, research opportunities, professors, etc. …). The reader should be left thinking you will have a worse life outcome if you don’t go to their school. Dramatic? Maybe, but getting off the “maybe” list and into the “yes” list is a great time for a little drama.

    If you did submit a formal Why Us essay, here are some informal ways to write your love letter to the school.

    • They’ll be missing out. Think about what the students at the college will miss out on if you don’t go there. Talk about what you’ll bring to campus life and why you think you’ll be a great classmate and contributor.
    • Your unique contributions. Another way to get at the same material is to think about what you’ll uniquely bring to this campus. What perspective, ideas, or skills do you have that few others do? 
    • Love letter. If you’re contemplating writing yet another essay, you must be in love with this school. Tell them why. Make a list of all the things you’ve loved about the college and why they resonated with you.

    Connect your updates to your desire to attend that college, if you can. Show a connection between what you do now and where you want to be in a few months. 

    For example, if your update was about a class in which you more deeply developed your coding skills, you might mention a class or club at the college you’re writing where you could develop those skills even further. (It’s a great strategy for waitlist essays that have an especially tight word limit.)

    Finally: Get feedback 

    Last but not least, seek out a second opinion from someone who understands what colleges are looking for in essays. You want to make sure what you’ve written is not only grammatically correct but, more importantly, that it shows off your potential to the fullest extent. 

    More articles on Prompt.com’s admissions-boosting methods:

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