Why you should wait out the waitlist

A waitlist with the word "YOU" at the bottom going into Sather Gate, with a waitlisted person waiting at the end of the list
Samantha Patten/Staff

“Dear Emily,

Thank you for applying. Unfortunately we are unable…”

I can remember shutting the computer at the sight of the word “unable” in my UC Berkeley rejection letter. After weeks of what seemed like endless rejections from universities across the country, this letter did not surprise me in the least — which is why I didn’t need to finish reading it because along with so many other colleges, UC Berkeley didn’t have a spot for me either.

But about a week later, I received an email about the deadline to apply for the waitlist. I remember staring at the email in utter confusion. Why was UC Berkeley asking me to apply for the waitlist when I had already been rejected? Out of curiosity and a little coercion from my dad, I reopened my original rejection letter, this time reading a few more words past “unable.”

“Dear Emily,

Thank you applying. Unfortunately we are unable to offer you admission at this time.”

I hadn’t been rejected from UC Berkeley, but waitlisted. To anyone this would seem like a hopeful situation — maybe there was still a chance for me to attend one of the best schools in the country. But, instead of filling out the waitlist application immediately, I sat frustrated in front of my computer. Why would I want to go to a school that didn’t really want me? Why would I want to spend four years at a place that had already established me as their “second pick?”

But through constant remarks like “you’d be silly not to reapply” and “you don’t want to miss this opportunity” from both myself and the people in my life, I threw my name back into the bucket of waitlisted names — names of people like me who had also been casted as UC Berkeley’s “second picks.”

I can remember secretly hoping I wouldn’t be accepted because I had grown so tired of the college search and rejections. And like my classmates, I wanted to have an answer when I was asked where I’d be in the fall. I wanted to walk around my high school hallways proudly wearing my future college’s sweatshirt, and I wanted to add my college’s bumper sticker to the back of my parent’s car. But by throwing my name back into the admission pool once again, I had to wait even longer, once again living in complete ambiguity on where I would be in just four short months.

When I reopened my UC Berkeley admission letter the second time, computerized confetti sprung from the corners of my phone screen. And amid my parents, my friends and my teacher’s excitement, I signed my letter of intent the next day. And with the incessant bragging, new Cal sweatshirt and glossy bumper sticker, I proudly adopted my future Bear status. And I glued the yellow “Berkeley Bound” cardboard star to the top of my graduation cap.

But it wasn’t until my first day of class at UC Berkeley that I was reminded of how I felt when I slammed the computer screen as soon as I saw the word “unable.” And it wasn’t until my first math lecture that I was reminded of how I felt sitting in front of the computer screen that revealed I was on the waitlist. Amid all the freshman excitement, new friends and new city I had somehow forgotten to consider what my academic life at this university would be like. And when I received my first C minus on a math quiz, I began to once again feel like UC Berkeley’s “second pick.” I allowed the weight of being a waitlist student affect my confidence every time I raised my hand to speak up in class. I allowed my waitlist status to cause me to stutter when I tried to speak to my professor in office hours and I allowed this self-proclaimed doubt to explain why I didn’t understand any of the material in my math lecture.

But now, as a third-year student I smile at the insecurity I allowed to govern my freshman year. I can see how the doubt I had adopted before I even got to UC Berkeley made me believe that I didn’t belong at this school. And even though I still constantly walk away from certain lectures without a clue about what was taught and I most definitely still receive Cs on quizzes, I know it’s not a result of the letter I received back in high school.

And three years later, I’ve learned that being UC Berkeley’s “second pick” is a name I only gave myself.  Over time, I’ve learned that every student at this school, regent scholar or formerly placed on the waitlist, belongs here. Because at the end of the day, every person enters this university faced with the same question: What kind of student will you be?

Contact Emily Denny at [email protected].