I understand the definition of waitlisted, but what does it mean about me as an applicant? Am I closer to acceptance or rejection from comparable schools? I know it's a hard question to answer, I just am curious as to whether people have insight from college admissions officers or personal experience on being waitlisted, especially at MIT.
It also means it's time to focus and put all your energy into your "Plan B" schools. Nothing about getting off the waitlist is in your control. MIT, like any school, will look to see who accepts admission by May 1st. Then it will selectively pick and choose off it's waitlist to round out the diversity for the class it's trying to build.
Do work on your plan B. The waitlist is a way for MIT to fill their seats if the number of students that accept their offers of admission is lower than expected (i.e. their "yield").
MIT's yield is usually pretty good from what I know. So, the admits from the waitlist isn't usually very many. From MIT's web site, the number of students last year that accepted a place on their wait list was 766. The number actually admitted was 0. Not a good year for the waitlisted.
1) There were more qualified applicants than you, but if they have room (not enough kids accept), then you might be offered a spot.
2) You have to keep selling yourself to them, in the event there are more spots available. Thank them for their careful consideration and for waitlisting you. then tell them about recent achievements. They can offer you admissions all through the summer. Tell them you finished your Senior Year with all A's (yep, you still have to keep working). Tell them your AP scores when you get them. Tell them that the team you are on did ...
The most positive outlook you can have is to love the college that loved you enough to offer you a spot. Be cognizant that a "waitlist" means the coveted college loved you too, but didn't have enough space for everyone it wanted.
And a cautionary tale, I was once livid that a strong candidate I interviewed was declined, but I had information that outsiders don't have - which is those who are declined are also agonizing decisions for the Adcoms. Someone probably advocated for you but there are many people involved in picking the final list and there has to be consensus. Those candidates that stayed in touch went on to be extremely successful at another university.
Life is what you make of it. If you really want MIT, let them know, stay in touch until the waitlist is used or released due to lack of space. If no space is available, you can always apply to grad school.
But go love the school you got, rather than mourn the one you didn't. Life is too short and how you approach it - or don't - may be an indicator of why decisions happen the way they do.
@OperaDad: I don't think "more qualified" is the right way to phrase the difference between an accepted student and waitlisted one. I read the MIT admissions blogs and think this one: Diversity or Merit? | MIT Admissions might be of particular help on this question. Since every waitlisted students is, theoretically, a candidate for admission (some schools will waitlist based on school or alumni relations, but since MIT does not take legacy into account or even know about it, I don't think this is the case), each one of them is "qualified" according to the yes/no threshold of "able to do the work at MIT." Chris also says that ~ half of the applicant pool is prepared - some of these people will even be rejected. That means waitlisted candidates may offer something special to MIT, but not something unique - they've admitted someone else who can do that thing/fill that opening.
Although the article talks about diversity (not directly relevant to this question), I think it helps a lot and ought to be read.