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Waitlisted at your dream college? Here’s what to do next

Disappointed young woman sit on table at home read bad news eviction notice in paperwork letter, shocked female surprised by unpleasant message warning notification received in paper mail
Disappointed young woman sit on table at home read bad news eviction notice in paperwork letter, shocked female surprised by unpleasant message warning notification received in paper mail

This week, students across the country received admissions decisions from Ivy League institutions. Some students have experienced the joy of acceptance, others the disappointment of rejection. Still, others are facing the agonizing uncertainty of the waitlist.

The admissions landscape at top schools has become more fiercely competitive than ever before. During the 2023–24 early application cycle, Yale announced that it accepted 709 of its 7,856 applicants, amounting to a 9.02% acceptance rate — the lowest in over 20 years, topping the precedent set last cycle.

While the extended waiting process may feel excruciating, students have one final chance to take action and bolster their application — crafting and submitting a letter of continued interest.

RELATED: Deferred from early admission colleges? Here’s what to do next

A well-crafted letter of continued interest (LOCI) serves as an opportunity to reaffirm your commitment, update the admissions committee on any significant developments since submitting your application, and showcase your enthusiasm and fit for the institution. Most importantly, an effective LOCI should convey a student’s unique personality and perspective, so it is essential to avoid boilerplate language, excessive formality, and assumptions about what you may think the admissions committee wants to hear.

As the CEO of Command Education — a boutique college admissions consulting firm — every admissions cycle, I see firsthand how and why a given student gets off the waitlist. My team at Command Education guides deferred and waitlisted students to craft compelling and thoughtful LOCI, resulting in students ultimately earning acceptance to their dream schools.

This is a student’s last critical opportunity to distinguish themselves from other applicants and make a memorable impression on the admissions committee, so it is crucial to approach the letter with strategy and thought.

Based on the extensive expertise and insider insights of my team at Command Education, here are the five most important components of a standout letter.

Make it personal and specific to the institution

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Authenticity is key when writing a LOCI. Take the time to reflect on your experiences, accomplishments, and aspirations, and tailor your letter to highlight what makes you a unique and compelling candidate for the school. Include the value you’ll be able to bring onto the college campus and your eagerness to contribute to its community. Personalize your message by referencing specific aspects of the college or university that resonate with you, such as academic programs, faculty expertise, campus culture, or extracurricular opportunities.

Focus on important updates

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While expressing your continued interest in the school is essential, avoid reiterating information that the admissions committee already learned about you from your initial application. As Yale’s admission blog notes, admissions committees generally have all the information they need about your “on paper” candidacy.

Instead, use the letter as an opportunity to provide meaningful updates or write about your achievements since you submitted your application. This could include academic accomplishments, leadership roles, community service projects, internships, research experiences, or awards and honors. Focus on recent developments that showcase your growth, potential, and readiness to thrive and add value on campus.

Stay positive and express gratitude

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Shutterstock

Maintain a positive and enthusiastic tone throughout your LOCI, even if you feel anxious or uncertain about the admissions decision. Express gratitude to your admissions officers for having taken the time to review and consider your application. If you worked with a specific admissions officer assigned to your region or school, address the letter to that individual and thank them personally for their time and effort in supporting you through the process.

Avoid dwelling on any perceived shortcomings in your application or any disappointment you may feel. Instead, emphasize your excitement about the possibility of attending the institution. A positive attitude and gracious demeanor can leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee and demonstrate your maturity and resilience.

Showcase your personality

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Shutterstock

A LOCI offers the opportunity to showcase your personality, voice, and character beyond your academic achievements and extracurricular activities. Let your genuine enthusiasm, passion, and authenticity shine through in your writing.

Students I have worked with to craft a strong LOCI have exhibited their unique voice and perspective by writing about their infectious laugh, continued volunteer work, or a week-long solo camping trip on the Appalachian Trail, in addition to more traditional academic achievements. Don’t be afraid to inject humor, creativity, or personal anecdotes into your letter (as long as they are appropriate and relevant).

By infusing your personality into your letter, you can leave a memorable and engaging impression that sets you apart from other applicants.

Keep it brief

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Shutterstock

Admissions officers receive a high volume of applications and correspondence, so keeping your LOCI concise and to the point is essential. Aim to convey your message effectively in one page or less, focusing on the most relevant and impactful information.

Avoid rambling or including unnecessary details that detract from the clarity and impact of your message. Be respectful of the admissions committee’s time and attention by presenting your information in a clear, organized manner that is easy to read and understand.

Finally, and perhaps the most challenging part of writing a LOCI, is knowing when the letter is complete and refraining from sending further updates after submitting it. After writing a thoughtful and informative letter, it is time to let the admissions committee make their considerations and trust that you have done all you can to showcase your candidacy.