So you’ve been waitlisted—here are 3 things you should do

Apollo Yong, a 17-year-old student at Washington-Lee High, pictured at his home on Wednessday, April 13, 2016, in Arlington, VA. Yong is among thousands of students who have places on acceptance wait lists for universities around the country. He as been accepted into U-Va., Georgia Tech and UT Dallas, and he was waitlisted by University of C
Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Every year, thousands of applicants are placed on college waitlists, leaving parents and students to wonder — so now what?

About 39 percent of colleges use waitlists as a way to fill vacant spots in case accepted students choose not to matriculate. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), the number of students placed on a waitlist increased by 11 percent between 2015 and 2016, but just 23 percent of students who chose to remain on waitlists were accepted. At highly-selective institutions, the percentage is even lower — last year, Harvard accepted zero students off its waitlist.

Though the odds may not be in your favor, Kat Cohen, CEO and Founder of college guidance company IvyWise, tells CNBC Make It that there are several things students can do to improve their chances.

Here are three things you should do if you have been placed on a waitlist:

These are the top universities in the US
These are the top universities in the US

1. Follow directions

The best thing a waitlisted student can do it follow directions carefully. For instance, many schools will require that students formally accept a place on the waitlist. If so, be sure to meticulously follow directions.

"Following directions is most important. If a college requests that you respond to accept your spot on the waitlist, do that first," says Cohen. "Some schools allow and encourage students to send updates such as recommendation letters, waitlist letters, new test scores and spring semester grades, while other institutions specifically ask for students to refrain from sending additional materials."

Going overboard can make it seem like you do not respect the guidelines provided and that you are unable to follow instruction.

"Don't send the school 10 new recommendation letters if they say they do not accept these documents," she says.

2. Reach out

If you are really passionate about a school that you have been waitlisted at, writing a respectful, genuine and specific letter will help you stand out.

"Waitlisted letters can be a useful tool to reiterate your interest in a specific school, especially if they are crafted properly and include specific and relevant information," explains Cohen.

In this letter, students should express what makes them specifically excited for a school or program and how they plan to contribute to the school academically and socially. If this is your first choice school, be sure to say that.

Cohen says that students should resist the temptation to restate what has already been covered in their original application: "Do not pad your waitlist letter by mentioning accomplishments that you already discussed in your initial application; admissions officers have already read and considered this information."

Kat Cohen
Courtesy of IvyWise

3. Keep it positive

It can be discouraging to get placed on a waitlist, but the most powerful tool that students have at their disposal is positivity.

"Even though a student who is waitlisted may be disappointed with this outcome, it is important to take an upbeat and optimistic tone when writing a waitlist follow up letter," explains Cohen. "Do not question the school's decision or express remorse about your current application status."

Instead, use your time and energy to focus on new accomplishments you've made since your application and talk about what makes you excited about college. Staying positive will not only help bump up your chances of getting in, but it can also help you cope during this stressful time.

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