Guest Blogger Jenny: Loitering On The Wait-List

I know, I know. You thought that once the private elementary school letters came out, you’d be off the hook. You’d know the score. You’d pick a school from those that accepted your child and write that fat check and that would be the end of it.

Until your child was wait-listed.

The wait-list feels a bit like private school purgatory. Your child hasn’t been accepted, yet. Perhaps there isn’t enough room at the school. Perhaps there’s some other, inexplicable reason for the wait-list status. You just don’t know. When my daughter was wait-listed at both the schools she applied to (Mirman and John Thomas Dye), I was confused. What did it mean? Was it all over? Should I just accept the fate of another year at public school and forget about the whole thing, regarding the admissions process as some bad dream now receding into memory?

My stepsister, who attended Archer and Windward, filled me in. “Wait-list is good,” she explained. “Many people just get rejected outright. The wait-list means they’re still interested.” It turns out that she was right. I got the call from Mirman in late June that there was a space, she took it, and the rest is history.

In the meanwhile, though, there were many awkward moments. After all, while you’re going through the surreal private school admissions process, you’re usually blabbing all about it. Your friends, family, acquaintances, mailmen, and the guy at the dry cleaner have all heard something, in excruciating detail. And now, it’s just limbo. There’s a feeling of inadequacy as you try to explain the situation, rationalizing it to anyone who will listen (this is an excellent time to have a shrink). Wait-listing implies second choice, second best, second rate, and you just know that’s not true about your child. You feel like, at any moment, you could be given a ticket for private school wait-list loitering.

Of course, a parent whose child does get in everywhere faces some unfair scrutiny, too. I know someone whose daughter was accepted everywhere she applied. She’s a wonderful student and a great kid. Someone had the nerve to imply it was because she was black. Pretty nasty and spiteful, isn’t it?  Hint: she writes this blog. Maybe there’s no winning here.

Anyway, some advice to those who have been wait-listed. Don’t stop contact with the schools. Call them every month or so, just to check in and remind them you’re still interested. If there’s a function, you might want to attend it, again to display your willingness to participate and be a good sport. Besides, even if your child doesn’t get in off the wait-list, if you love the school, you might want to reapply next year. If that’s the case, you definitely want to keep a good relationship going. You certainly don’t want to burn any bridges.

In any case, pay no mind to the doubters and insulters. Those people are not your real friends (like you needed me to tell you that). Be a proud loiterer! Hang in there, and you might get a surprise phone call, too. And if you do get that phone call, CALL THEM BACK IMMEDIATELY. Because it’s called a “list” for a reason, and there’s more kids on it. Swipe up the space on the spot and don’t think too hard about it. If you’ve worked this hard and come this far to get your child into the right school, the decision should be a done deal. Then, take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy the moment.

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.
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Christina Simon: Los Angeles, California, United States I'm the mom of two kids who attended The Willows School in Culver City and Viewpoint School in Calabasas. My daughter is a graduate of Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism ('23) and my son is a sophomore at UPenn/Wharton ('26). I live in Coldwater Canyon with my husband, Barry, and our dogs. Contact me at

8 thoughts to “Guest Blogger Jenny: Loitering On The Wait-List”

  1. Thanks for writing this article. I just received our letters this past Saturday and though my son got accepted to our 2nd and 3rd choice schools, he was waitlisted for our top choice school – Mirman. Mirman seems like a great school for my son so I want to remain hopeful that we will get a call. Any recommendations on how soon I should contact them? Would you recommend email or phone?

  2. Hey Anonymous, I say call Mirman immediately! They want to know you're interested. That's what I did, and my daughter did get in. Showing enthusiastic interest is always a good thing where the private schools are concerned. And, if you do get the magic call, call them back immediately and accept. Like, within hours. Good luck to you, and congratulations on your existing acceptance letters as well.

  3. In Brooklyn it's a hard core race to even get a spot in preschool! Our son was waitlisted so I know of what you speak and that is such fabulous advice; definitely keep in contact with the school!! I wrote long email to the owner of the preschool where we really wanted to go and just told thanks for putting us on the list and her school was our first choice because of reasons A,B, and C and said I really hoped he would get to go there. It could be chance but she called me the next week and offered me a slot! He loves it!
    Thanks for this though. It's so helpful to know that so many others are going through this ordeal.

  4. Why didn't I find your blog when I needed a shoulder to cry on?! This is extremely helpful and supportive. The admissions process can really test your resilience and emotions. We, too, are waitlisted at Mirman and at another school. I can only say that I WISH we had even been accepted to one of the many schools we applied to! What a stressful time. I know a couple of kids who were accepted to our top choice schools and it is hard not to compare our child and our family with them — even though we know it is ridiculous to do so! Our kid seems as smart, sweet, polite and creative as the others…we consider ourselves a warm, loving and involved family. it is futile trying to figure out what went in to the selection process. It also stings to hear the on-going buzz among parents as to who got in where. It is brutal, no other way to describe it. I have also called to express our interest — we have done the best we can, now we'll just have to wait and see. Mind you, I was the parent who was not going to get caught up in all this!

  5. Hey, Anonymous, hang tough. Sit back, take a deep breath, and wait. The wait listing isn't personal; private school admissions is an inexplicable numbers game that has absolutely nothing to do with your family or child. You've done all the right things and made all the right gestures. The acceptance/refusal game has just begun, and will continue for some time. Odds are it will all work out. I wish you and your family some peace, happiness and a lot of good luck.

  6. Hi Anonymous, I agree with Jenny. This feels so incredibly personal, but wait-listing can have to do with many factors like too many boys or too many siblings. That isn't personal, but that's little consolation. Still, there are families that get in off the waitlist at all the schools. Jenny's family did just that. Hang in there!!!

  7. Hello Christina,
    Your blog is so helpful and an amazing source of information for me as I stress and obsess over this process! I was just reading your book again tonight, and was curious about the 34% acceptance rate. Where did you get that figure? Is that @34% of families who apply to private school get in? Or schools accept roughly 34% of families who apply?
    Thanks for your answer. 🙂

  8. Hi D, the 34 percent acceptance rate number is from the California Association of Indep. Schools and was quoted by the LA Times in an article we refer to in the book. See footnote in book for more detail.

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