College Counseling Corner: Zen and the Art of Being Waitlisted


So you’ve taken standardized tests, secured faculty recommendations, written a stellar personal essay, and submitted your completed college application materials. What if the response you receive from the school of your choice is neither an admission or rejection? What if, like thousands of students each year, you find yourself in collegiate purgatory: on the waitlist? While many resources offer students tips on the best chance at getting off the waitlist (links included at the end of this post), this article focuses specifically on coping with act of waiting.

Since the beginning of time, humans have been hardwired to respond negatively to uncertainty as a way of staying vigilant in the face of potential dangers. We don’t have to worry about saber-toothed cats lying in wait to make us into dinner, so we need to find healthy ways to cope with fear of the unknown. Ross School seniors may be surprised to find that they’ve already been exposed to the answer during their mandatory Eastern wellness coursework. These classes, rooted in Eastern philosophy, include yoga, tai chi, and meditation. The principles of yoga and Taoism, which was founded upon the writings of ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, offer useful lenses through which to consider patience and enduring uncertainty. Below are some useful tips for making the most of your wait time.

First Things First: Let Go Once you’ve alerted your choice school that you wish to accept a position on their waitlist, unless new academic information arises, there’s really nothing left you can do to influence the admissions committee’s decision. While it can be unpleasant to relinquish control, it’s equally liberating. Regardless of what happens next, you’ve put forth your best effort in your application materials. Take pride in your work, and let the process unfold naturally, waiting, as Lao Tzu wrote, until the mud has settled and the water is clear.

Practice Self-Reflection Self-reflection is a recurring theme in yoga and Taoism. “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom,” Lao Tzu wrote. “Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” Use this wait time to learn more about yourself. Consider your strengths, goals, pain points, and even your expectations for your college experience. You may come to find that, although you love the school that waitlisted you, another on your list is the best fit.

Embrace Change Regardless of whether you are admitted to your dream school, change is coming. The end of high school marks the beginning of your life’s next stage. Many additional transitions will surely follow throughout your lifetime. If yielding to change is a skill you struggle with, use this time to sit with and grow from that discomfort. The sooner you master it, the smoother your adjustments to life’s inevitable twists and turns will be.

Additional resources:
Waitlisted? Here’s What to Do Next: Princeton Review
What to Do When on a College Wait List: NPR