06 Jan

How to Write a Vanderbilt Waitlist or Deferral Letter


Craft a detailed letter highlighting your commitments and sharing new information to address inadequacies from your original application.


The Biggest Misconception About Fit at Vanderbilt:

With the unofficial motto “work hard, play hard,” Vanderbilt students are known for their personalities. Additionally, Vanderbilt’s Dean of Admissions shared in an interview that the Admissions Office is seeking insight into “the student’s depth and breadth as an individual, not just as a student.” He went on to say it is a fatal mistake “when a student fabricates the details of his/her involvement and leadership in extracurricular activities.”

This messaging often creates the mistaken perception that applicants should place a greater emphasis on their personality, letting their grades and accomplishments simply and modestly speak for themselves. However, there is a difference between bragging and authentically sharing the way you’ve transcended the norm in your roles, experiences, and activities. Accomplishing the latter is a must for demonstrating the value you’d contribute to the Vanderbilt community, thereby maximizing your odds of admission.

Fit at Vanderbilt:

Vanderbilt isn’t just seeking to fill its class with personalities; it’s seeking to admit students who have developed their personalities through extracurricular spikes. It’s seeking both. Reinterpret their unofficial motto as “work hard [while] playing hard.”

Re-evaluating Your Application:

First, look back through your application and check whether you left out any valuable information that contextualizes the extent of your achievements and contributions. Oftentimes, out of modesty or fear of sounding braggadocious, students under-report the extra effort they invested into their involvement. Review your application to ensure you didn’t undersell yourself. If you did, your waitlist letter is an ideal place to correct that.

Vanderbilt (like other top-ranked schools) has thousands of applicants with perfect GPAs, SATs, and/or ACTs. Knowing that, you were waitlisted not because your academics were the issue. While many counselors and application “experts” recommend you talk about “learning for learning’s sake,” this advice can still steer students down the misguided path of upping their personality quirks in an attempt to sound unique, which in itself is a college admissions cliche. In your letter, you should directly demonstrate your intellectual drive through tangible actions and how you’ve artfully woven inventiveness into your activities. Remember “work hard [while] playing hard.” Your personality and hard work shouldn’t exist in two separate dimensions. Successful Vanderbilt admits can express the simultaneous duality of their unique personalities expressed through their hard work. These differentiating factors will set your hard work apart from the rest of the waitlist pool.

Oftentimes, when we help a student, we find old information and “make it new,” adding context to cast past experiences in a better, more compelling light. By more fully explaining your unique contributions (and an accurate account of the full effort you dedicated), you can clarify how much you bring to the table, without bragging, thus appropriately conveying your fit for admission.



Extenuating Circumstances:

While we’re focusing on fit in this article, there may be critical topics that may need to be prioritized just as equally in your letter, for example: extenuating low grades and/or test scores can make you appear to be an even stronger applicant.

Share Relevant Updates:

Don’t forget, you should also report relevant life updates since you submitted. This can include new awards/honors you’ve won, activities you’ve started pursuing, or recent passions you’ve developed—anything that enhances your demonstrated ambitions and follow through. The key to writing a standout waitlist letter is specificity. Most candidates will either waste space expressing how badly they want to attend Vanderbilt, or talk about Vanderbilt-focused details that attracted them to apply. Don’t make either of those mistakes! Your waitlist letter is your chance to change the admissions officers’ perception of your deservingness, not construct a love letter or fawn over Vandy information they already know about themselves.

Edit, Edit, Edit:

The difference between a good waitlist letter and a great one is meticulous editing. Careful attention to diction, sentence structure, and specificity will grab your reader’s attention and make a more compelling case for why you deserve admission over the rest of the Vanderbilt waitlist pool.  

The Specifics:

Contact Vanderbilt’s Admissions Office to discover to whom specifically you should address your waitlist letter. While Vanderbilt has no length limit, the key is to convey as much new and compelling information as possible through professional, concise writing so you don’t exhaust your readers’ attention span. Skimming eyes are more likely to inadvertently miss crucial details you hid in the middle of a paragraph.

We Can Help!

A College Zoom counselor can walk you step-by-step through articulating your strongest waitlist letter. In the first meeting, we’ll analyze your original application with you, live and 1-on-1, to answer your questions and identify deficiencies and missed opportunities. Meanwhile, we'll cross-examine you with deep lines of questioning to uncover new and compelling information together. We'll find specific substantiating details and show you how to articulate them. Often, the better information found is larger in volume than what can fit in your letter. Therefore, once everything is laid out, we'll help you prioritize and package your argument in the most compelling way. This first session is sold as a 1.5-hour meeting (costing $525). However, for students whose major required a portfolio, a 1 hour and 45 minute meeting is necessary to include a review of the portfolio (for a total cost of $612.50). By the end of Meeting #1, you’ll have a finished and detailed outline, so detailed that it'll resemble more of a first draft. By this point, most students who are at least decently strong writers will feel very confident polishing their letter on their own. Struggling writers, or surprisingly, students who are excellent writers yet are prone to overanalyze and get stuck in analysis paralysis, often benefit from a second meeting.

If another meeting to polish is desired, a 1.5 hours is usually appropriate, but the second meeting can vary in length relative to the student's actual need. In this second meeting, our focus is on word-smithing to achieve the maximum impact in the smallest amount of space. For example, we'll aim to help you engineer a statement that contains more detail, and has better flow and potency, than a version 2 to 3 times its length. The focus is on condensing potent arguments with minimal loss of detail, allowing you to squeeze as many wow factors as is effectively possible into your allotted space. Then, we'll polish. When we’re done, you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll know that you’re submitting the absolute strongest case you can make.

Contact us to find out more about how we can help you. We are committed to keeping your dream alive. Additionally, your letter can be re-used for most other colleges that accept appeals and waitlist letters. It just needs to be adjusted to fit each college's word limit.

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