My application has been put on the wait list at my top choice institution (unfunded masters, about 10% acceptance rate). The Department said they may not be able to let me know the final decision until after April 15 (which I understand). However, I need to know the decision before April 15 to respond to other offers. In order to determine my chance, I have the following questions:

  1. While this may vary depending on the programs, is there a general percentage of applications out of the entire pool being put on wait list? If not what factors determine this?

  2. Are wait listed applicants ranked? if not, how do programs determine which one to accept off wait lists?

  3. Should I let them know that they are my top choice and if accepted I will almost surely attend?

2 Answers 2


The answers to your questions depend on the university/department, but are all reasonable questions to ask. It would be perfectly reasonable to send an email along the lines of

Thank you for letting me know about the wait listing decision. I understand how competitive the admissions process is. I wanted to let you know that XXX is my top choice and if offered a place I would accept it immediately. As I have also received an offer from YYY that I need to respond to by April 15, would you mind if I checked on my status closer to the deadline?

This will hopefully open a dialog and they might say something like "given your place on the wait list it is unlikely we will know anything prior to the deadline" or "given your place in the wait list the picture should be a lot clearer closer to the deadline.


If you want to play it mean, you will accept the second best offer on April 14th. But you will not give up on your first choice. If your waitlist subsequently clears and you get a confirmed place, then you will have to withdraw with regret from your other offer.

Some people would suggest it is ethically unsound to accept firm offers in the knowledge that you may later renounce them. I don't really agree but that is your decision.

  • You should ask a question about if it is ethically unsound to accept and then later renounce. I am not sure how I feel about it.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 14:38
  • If you are interested, go ahead and ask it ;)
    – Calchas
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 15:24
  • I'd also be interested in seeing the answer. Of course, I also think @StrongBad's answer is a better compromise that avoids having to decide whether to take a course that is ethically dubious at best.
    – mako
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 6:09
  • @StrongBad Thank you for your suggestion. So by asking if it is ethical to accept and then later renounce, I am letting the Department know that I may take that course of action. Will that make me less a moral character to them? My second choice is also an unfunded masters program, so I'd not feel as horrible as to accept a Ph.D. offer and then later renounce it.
    – user90593
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 10:54
  • @user90593 NO! That comment was not directed at you. It was a suggestion to ask about the ethics of it on AC.SE. I would not ask the department about it. Sorry for the confusion.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 11:17

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