See How to Get Off the Nursing School Waitlist

Your dream nursing degree program has just wait-listed you. What do you do next? We can guide you through what to do in the meantime and even get you off the waitlist and into your career.

Written By

Rebecca Newman

- Bio

Rebecca (MSW, LCS) is a psychotherapist and writer in Philadelphia, specializing in working with and content about eating disorders, anxiety, depression, infertility, substance abuse, grief and loss, gender and sexuality, trauma, and adjustment to life changes. She earned a BA in Creative Writing from Oberlin College and an MSW from the University of Pennsylvania, where she received the John Hope Franklin Award for Combating American Racism.

last updated

05/02/2022

Nursing is calling you, and you’ve applied to your dream nursing degree programs. Unfortunately, the one you’re keeping an eye on, the one you’ve really been hoping for has wait-listed you. What do you do?


You’re not alone. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), more than 80,000 applicants were turned down by U.S. nursing degree programs in 2020. With the current nursing shortage and projected need for an additional 200,000 nurses by 2029, the educational side of nursing can’t keep up with the demand. The main reason is that the standards set forth to accredit a nursing program have requirements for faculty and preceptor to student ratios and limited resources for clinical-based learning.

As a result, many institutions resort to an admissions lottery system to narrow their merit-based acceptances.

Instead of waiting for a call that may never come, you can be proactive and pursue other avenues to get into nursing school. Our guide gives you some solid advice to help you get off the waitlist.

Why am I on the Nursing School Waitlist?

Being on the waitlist is confusing and makes your next steps less clear. It raises several questions, most of which boil down to a perplexing feeling of “Why?”

One reason is that while you may meet the admission requirements, the college has accepted its maximum number of qualified applicants. Most schools admit slightly more students than they have spots for and assume that only a percentage of accepted students will enroll. These numbers are typically based on data from prior admission cycles and trends in the number of applications the college receives.

Once acceptances notices arrive, students choose where to attend and often must turn down acceptance into one or more programs, leaving a vacant place for a wait-listed student. Sometimes, students also commit to a college but later decide not to attend. There is often more waitlist movement earlier in the admissions process than later after students have paid deposits.

Why are there waitlists when there is such a high need for nurses in the first place? Waitlists exist because schools are limited in the number of students, they can accept because of three significant factors.

  1. Faculty shortages

With the increased demands of nurses, some preceptors decide to focus on their nursing responsibilities rather than being instructors. With fewer preceptors or faculty to teach courses, providing appropriate classroom and clinical instruction becomes more difficult.

  1. Nursing shortages

There is a massive shortage of nurses in both local and travel positions, with travel positions offering lucrative contracts in areas of high need. If nurses leave their local jobs in favor of travel nursing, fewer nurses are on shifts at various hospitals. This means less oversight for student nurses.

  1. Brick-and-mortar limits

As requirements change and vary significantly among states and the toggling between in-person and virtual learning, schools are figuring out the sustainable numbers of students for the changing landscape. Many institutions prefer to be cautious instead of having too many students for whom they can’t provide appropriate instruction.

Public versus Private Nursing Programs

Your waitlist status also depends on the nursing program to which you applied. Public institutions may have semesters-long waitlists, some as long as 18 months. It is especially true for community colleges, which are often some of the most accessible nursing programs financially and for course scheduling. These programs are highly desirable since they will likely leave you in the least debt and may offer the ability to take courses while you fulfill other life responsibilities.

Private institutions may not have waitlists, but you’ll almost certainly pay more in tuition. They do, however, tend to be generous with scholarships and financial aid options. Another option is earning admission to an associate degree nursing program, which may be easier since there are more of them.

Should You Stay on the Nursing Program Waitlist?

If you are interested in attending a particular institution, it makes sense to stay on the waitlist. However, several factors contribute to that decision, some of which are personal to you and others more objective, like the sunk-cost fallacy. As you consider this decision, look critically at your reasons for committing to a particular institution, and ask:

  • Do they have better clinical placements?
  • What is their post-graduation hiring rates?
  • What are the rates of alumni who pursue advanced nursing degrees?
  • Do their graduates have higher median salaries?

These are some considerations when looking into whether you should stay on the waitlist and whether it would be worth it for you in the end. Continue reading for additional considerations.

Worth It to Keep Waiting?

Is it worth it for you to wait it out? Several factors go into answering this question, including how long you may remain on the waitlist in addition to the time spent in school. Once you’ve received notification that you are a waitlist candidate, contact the admission office to learn more. Some appropriate questions include:

  • How many students are currently on your waitlist for this admission cycle? Are there students from previous admission cycles who are waiting too?
  • What are the shortest and most extended waits for students who ultimately enroll at your institution?
  • What number am I on the waitlist?
  • How many students typically are accepted off the waitlist each year?
  • What is the latest I might receive notification that I am admitted for this upcoming semester/year?
  • If I am admitted off the waitlist, am I obligated this year, or can I defer my admission to next year?

Next, calculate the cost of that scenario versus if you were to go somewhere else right away. Look at what you’d be making if you graduated according to your projected timeline. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a registered nurse in 2020 was $75,330. How does this number compare to your current earning potential?

Additional considerations include if you can wait another year or more at your existing earnings or if beginning school sooner is better financially. Learning more from your desired institution can provide some clarity.

Fewer Options

Being admitted off a waitlist can feel like a huge relief, not to mention exciting. However, this status may give you fewer options than those admitted earlier in the cycle. Factors to consider include:

  • What are your housing options?The cost of housing can vary wildly, particularly in high population density areas. There’s also your proximity to your school/clinical rotations, transit/fuel costs, and commute times to consider. The ability to take advantage of affordable student (or local) housing may make it worth it to defer your admission to the next year if you’re able.
  • Will are your financial aid options? Many merit-based scholarships may have already been awarded to other members of the incoming class, leaving fewer opportunities to offset the cost of education with institutional grants and scholarships. Federal aid amounts should remain consistent, as it’s based on your current financial picture, but other funding sources may no longer be available.
  • What about course registration? Will you register for courses with your cohort or wait and only have access to courses still open after the initial registration rush? Having limited course options may make your first semester more challenging for you logistically and academically.

Deposits and Fees

Suppose you end up accepting an offer at another program. Are you going to lose any deposits, additional fees, or even tuition payments if you get your dream nursing program’s offer? It can be tricky to do the math for yourself and make the decision that makes the most sense for you.

Ultimately, the sunk-cost fallacy can play a role here. The idea is that once you have already invested a lot of resources into something, you are less likely to walk away. The resource can be time, money, hope, or some other valuable commodity to you.

Consider if and how this principle might apply to your pursuit of nursing school. While you wait out your dream program but hold your place in one or two other schools, consider if you are missing out on a commensurate program where you will receive an equally excellent education. Decide if it’s financially worth it, based on the deposits and fees you already have invested, to delay your career’s start by waiting for one program in particular. Application fees are nonrefundable. If you’ve made any enrollment deposits at another institution to secure your place, these are also usually nonrefundable.

Start The Application Process Again

Being on the waitlist, particularly with multi-semester waitlists, often necessitates reapplication in the next cycle. Consider any costs for reapplication, including application fees. You may decide that repeating the process simply isn’t worth your time, money, and energy. If this is the case, moving along to another choice may be a smarter option.

Boost Your Chances to Get In

Many people view a waitlist as a static state, where you must standby until you are admitted or told you must reapply. This does not have to be fallow time, and you can improve your chances of moving from the waitlist by taking the following steps.

What Are Your Chances

Understanding the odds is crucial at this stage. Reach out to the admissions counselor to express your preference for their institution. Ask if they can shed any light on the waitlist process. Their waitlist may be purely numerical, or it may be achievement-based. Asking for more transparency in the process may reveal essential information regarding your current rank or status, typical wait times, or the number of students who typically accept offers at other schools. Some schools are more likely than others to share this information.

Write a Letter to the Admission Office

Once you’re an applicant on a waitlist, a letter can help distinguish your zeal for the school and your passion for nursing. Use this letter to discuss any awards or achievements, add any supplemental information, not in your application, and reiterate how hopeful you are for the opportunity to be a part of their community.

In addition to communicating your interest in their program, writing a letter with updates can bolster an application even before admissions decisions are released. If you have a substantial update to your application, consider sharing it since it could affect your admissions decision.

Continue to Work Hard

Receiving an admissions decision that is anything other than a resounding “YES!” can feel demoralizing – you put in so much work already, and the outcome is far from the result you had hoped or wanted. While it’s always OK to take a minute to lick your wounds and regroup, a waitlist decision is not a reason to slack off. Remain focused on your current studies and stay involved in sports or other commitments, especially those that keep you connected to your community. This is both for your mental health as you navigate disappointing news and for showing your consistency as an applicant. Remember, schools can rescind admissions offers if your final grades leading up to enrollment decline, so continue to work hard and be the type of applicant any school would want to admit.

Request an Interview

If you have never completed an admissions interview and have the option to do so, now is the time. Reach out to the admissions office to make or expand on any personal connections. If you have been interviewed before, request to meet with an admissions staff member to discuss your dedicated interest in this program specifically. This connection may be able to offer advice about the waitlist process or insight into your application status. If you sense resistance, back off a little. You don’t want to stand out as an overly presumptuous applicant but instead as one eager to begin your nursing career.

While being on the waitlist might be agonizing, understand that you weren’t outright rejected. Admissions officers are trained to discern the difference between students likely to succeed in their program and those who may flourish better in a different environment. Perhaps you were qualified to attend the program, but there wasn’t space for you because of other circumstances. Plenty of excellent applicants endure the same experience. There is undoubtedly a path ahead that results in becoming a nurse. While you wait for clarity on what that path is, the following suggestions can help you make the most of your waiting time.

What to Do While Waiting for Nursing School

Fortunately, you don’t have to just sit around and wait for admission into a program. Below are some proactive steps to help you move forward while waiting for your acceptance letter.

Consider Other Nursing Schools

First, as hard as it can be to consider other possibilities when you only have eyes for Dream University, apply for other nursing programs if you have not done so already. Especially if you need to enroll promptly, make beginning your nursing training a priority over waiting for admission into your dream school. Reconsider the colleges that have already accepted you. Other programs likely offer you a quality education, and one of them may be the best path for you to become a nursing professional. At the end of the day, if you receive robust and accredited training, you will grow into a competent, confident nurse. Where you received your degree may not essentially matter in the long run.

What to Look for in a Degree Program

When evaluating other programs, consider some of the following components:

  • Is it accredited? Without accreditation, attending that school is like writing your term paper and not pressing “save.” Accreditation is completed by an independent external body, like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), that works to ensure established standards across institutions and ensure integrity and quality curriculum. Without earning a degree from an accredited institution, you may not be able to sit for licensing exams and be unable to practice as a nurse. Accreditation information should be displayed on an institution’s website.
  • What are the faculty’s credentials? Are the instructors and faculty practicing nurses with advanced academic degrees? Is there a difference between lecturers, preceptors, and faculty? What type of academic support does the school offer?
  • Compare the curriculum with the wait-listed school with the ones you are considering Most nursing curricula are fairly uniform across different institutions. If the curriculum at your dream school is consistent with others where you have been admitted, consider that your learning will probably be about the same regardless of the program.
  • What are the job rates after graduation? This information tells you if the school has a good reputation in its area for producing solid nurses. Most schools have data for employment rates at least six months after graduation.
  • Can you speak with a current student or visit the campus? Often, a school can connect you with a current student for you to ask questions. You might even be able to visit campus to see the nursing facilities and get a feel for the program’s atmosphere.
  • Does the school provide career assistance and job placement? In addition to nursing training, find out if a school also offers career assistance or job placement. These resources can be a big help in your success.
  • Access to financial aid or scholarship Look into financial assistance information and scholarships. Find out how awards are decided. This information is a good predictor of affordability.

Take Your Prerequisites

Most nursing programs have some general education courses you may be able to take before entering nursing school and even at another institution. Before enrolling, though, make sure your desired institution accepts transfer credits. If they do, make sure the specific ones you’re considering meet their standards.

This may also be an excellent opportunity to take classes that cost less per credit than at your desired institution. Taking prerequisites early may also reduce your time in the nursing program. Additionally, you may be able to take some prerequisites virtually, freeing up some time for working or other commitments you may not be able to keep while in nursing school.

Up-to-Date Admission Requirements

If you need to apply in the next cycle, make sure your coursework and test scores required for admission are up-to-date and complete. If they expire before the next admission cycle, retake them and possibly earn a higher score. Consider investing time and money in professional test prep services to help you achieve the highest score possible on your entrance exams, thus bolstering your strength as a candidate.

Take a Healthcare Job

Once you have the itch to work in healthcare, it can feel frustrating to wait until you earn a degree. However, several healthcare positions require less training than nursing and are just as crucial to healthcare delivery. They’ll also give you valuable experience and show your genuine interest in healthcare to the admissions committee. Taking a certificate program where you can work as a certified nursing assistant or a technician to assist other providers or even working as a medical scribe taking notes during patient visits for providers are examples of such positions.

Can I Avoid Being Wait-listed?

Ultimately, you may have to complete a solid nursing education at a school that was not your first choice rather than wait indefinitely for a place at your dream school. While the admissions process can be somewhat murky, the following tips can help you avoid being wait-listed.

  1. Look for schools without a waitlist

If the waitlist doesn’t exist, you can’t be placed on it! Being glib aside, a school that only accepts or rejects applicants gives you a clearer picture of what to expect when you apply for admission. There is no guessing or waiting. However, it may mean that you could be a qualified candidate who receives a rejection simply because the school cannot place you.

  1. Get the highest scores on your entrance exams

While nursing as a profession tends to favor holistic admissions, strong scores on entrance exams communicate your diligence as a student and commitment to your studies. Invest in test prep, even if you do some online research on test-taking tips and strategies. Enlist the help of your friends and loved ones to help you review flashcards and other concepts, and even try explaining some of them to a layperson to see if they can grasp them based on your explanation.

  1. Check out the least competitive schools

A competitive school doesn’t necessarily produce a higher-quality nurse, though they may have more resources and extensive networks for supporting student nurses. Programs that have multiple start times throughout the year or rolling admissions may not be as competitive according to college/university rankings, but they can still meet your needs and adequately prepare you for a nursing career.

  1. Consider other avenues

One example is pursuing an LPN before earning a BSN. This may shorten your course time substantially, not to mention give you valuable skills while working hands-on with patients. If you are turning to nursing as a career change or are looking to earn a BSN as a second bachelor’s degree, consider accelerated programs geared towards this group.