The George Mason University dance program waitlists about 15 percent of applicants. Photo by Tim Coburn, Courtesy GMU

What To Do If You're Waitlisted By Your Dream School

When it comes to college admissions, there's perhaps nothing more confusing than being waitlisted. It sends a mixed message, the middle ground between a "yes" and a "no." You may be elated that you still have a shot at your dream program, or discouraged that you weren't a school's first choice. But is it worth sticking it out, or are you better off accepting another school on your list? We asked program directors for candid advice.


Why Was I Waitlisted?

Susan Shields, director of George Mason University's School of Dance:

"It means we have some concern that you might not get as much opportunity as another person here. Sometimes it's fear that you might not be physically strong enough—we don't want anyone coming who might get injured. Basically we try to say, 'Would this dancer be competitive within the pool we have right now to be able to get parts?' "

Students in the Alonzo King Lines Ballet | BFA at Dominican University program

Rapt, Courtesy Dominican

Marina Hotchkiss, director of dance at Dominican University of California:

"We're a pretty small program, so I'm looking to find a group that can be very cohesive, so that nobody's drowning and nobody's twiddling their thumbs. I'm also looking for a good mix within the group so that they'll stimulate each other. I just recently waitlisted a student because I didn't have enough of a feel yet for who the group would be to see where she would fit in."

Michael Bearden, director of University of Oklahoma's School of Dance:

"We strive to keep our class sizes small and thus our acceptance rate has dropped from 30 to 25 percent over the last year. This means more dancers will be placed on our waiting list who may get in if accepted students decline."

Alonzo King Lines Ballet | BFA at Dominican University program

Rapt, Courtesy Dominican University

Why Stay on the Waitlist—and How to Get Off

When Chiara Ruff stepped onto the University of Oklahoma's campus, something clicked. Though she had already auditioned at several other dance programs, it was her first choice. Getting waitlisted didn't deter her. "There was a glimmer of hope," she says. She knew she hadn't had as much training as some of her peers (she started dance on the later side, at age 11), but still had a strong feeling that the program was the right place for her.

Ruff made sure to stay in touch with the school. After receiving positive feedback, she emailed periodically to let them know she was still interested and to express her enthusiasm. According to both Shields and Hotchkiss, this is essential information for dance programs when they're making final decisions. Hotchkiss finds that, while her reasons for waitlisting a dancer often have to do with technique, her reasons for taking someone off the waitlist have more to do with personality. "Often it'll be something about their character that is really attractive to me," she says, "where I feel like they're incredibly enthusiastic, they're curious." This was the case for Ruff, whose persistence paid off. "Because I made the effort of really trying to make the human connection, to show that I'm a hard worker and I'll get there, it kind of opened their mind," she says. Today, she's in her senior year at the University of Oklahoma.

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Yvonne Montoya with her son Buddy at home. Photo by Dominic A Bonuccelli, Courtesy Montoya

The Challenges of Dancing While Parenting While Going Through a Pandemic

When Yvonne Montoya climbs all over the piano while her 12-year-old son Buddy tries to practice on it, we might guess that she is either having a parental meltdown or making a dance. Turns out, it's both. "It's been wild, and completely overwhelming," says Montoya from her Tucson, Arizona home, where she lives with Buddy and her husband.

Montoya, a 23rd-generation Nuevomexicana and founding director of Safos Dance Theatre, is one of many dance artists navigating motherhood during COVID-19. Choreographers, educators, artistic directors and dancers are not only trying to keep their careers afloat by creating digital work, but some have also been dealing with their now homebound children in the wobbly world of the Zoom school room, which is about to crank up again in most of the U.S. Doing that while managing a company, a studio or a freelance career can sometimes generate a type of artful chaos.

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