Wait! Wait! The Incredible Value of a Waitlist Explained

by Monique Bouchard, CourseStorm

Imagine for a moment that you’ve found a great looking class —maybe it’s an essential piece of professional development training you’ve been waiting to take or perhaps it’s an improv class. You’ve seen it in the class catalog, and you’re about to register and just as you begin you discover —oh no! It’s already full. What now?

What Does Happen Now? 

What happens next is an integral part of your registration process, and it’s universal. No matter what kind of program you’re running, your customer’s experience when their chosen class is sold out shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Depending on how you’ve set your program up, your prospective student may take one of several actions: 

  • They’ll look to see if you’re offering any other sessions of the class they could take since this one is full.
  • They’ll glance through the catalog to see if something else interests them.
  • They’ll give up entirely and not register for anything.
  • They’ll heave a sigh, click on the search bar, and start looking elsewhere
  • They’ll see your option to register and join a waitlist to try to take take the class they want. 

Your Waitlist Improves Your Customer Experience

A waitlist provides your students with options and improves the customer experience. Generally, people tend to be supportive of a waitlist and will not immediately make other choices. They’ll wait and see, which allows you to reach out when you have space or if you have another offer that might be of interest. It’s a much better outcome than having them leave empty-handed and looking elsewhere. 

Reaching Out With Options

Because you have your student’s information, you can reach out with other options that may be of interest. Perhaps you are adding classes regularly. Maybe there are drops in a class that meets at a different time. Having a waitlist enables you to easily reach out to your waitlisted students and market other suitable courses to them, either individually or as a group. If they can’t get into the class initially, you can help sign them up early for the next session in advance (this is where hidden class listings are helpful!) Or you could provide them with a promo code for a different class, keeping them attached to your program while attending to their needs in a customer-focused way.

If you can’t offer other options to your students, you may also consider a reciprocal partnership agreement or collaboration with another organization that offers something similar and assist your waitlisted students in connecting with each other’s classes. 

Your Waitlist is a Financial Asset

A waitlist is an incredible asset not only to your student, who has a better chance of taking the class they wanted to take, but it also provides benefits to your bottom line.

Here’s why: a waiting list allows you to see what’s of real interest to your audience and consider how to capitalize on the popularity of the class or subject. The great news is that you already know the original course is full, which is vital for a successful program, and you now have data about what’s most desirable for your students.

You can choose to add a second session of the class —especially since you already have students committed before you run it. You can also adjust your pricing. A consistently long waitlist is an indication that you can likely increase your class price, fill your class, and still have people waiting to get in. It’s important to regularly adjust your prices to ensure that you’re getting the right payment for the value you offer. (You can read more about pricing in this blog post!) 

Waitlists Are Learning Tools

We mentioned class data above, and waitlists provide a concrete way to learn from your students. Understanding what is popular with your students (and why!) can help you optimize your class offerings. Building up your program based on classes your students want to take may seem obvious. Still, sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded that adding classes people love is going to be easier than managing classes you’re always working extra hard to fill.

And speaking of those low-performing classes —your waitlist also allows you to offer an interested audience an incentive to take a class that might otherwise cancel. Alternatively, could you reallocate resources for a low-performing class to hold an additional session of the sellout class? 

Students who are on a waitlist may not make other choices immediately while they wait for their preferred class, ensuring that you have their attention (and maybe even their customer loyalty.) That’s an important relationship indicator, worth treating as such. 

Building a Successful Waitlist

There are a few things that help build and manage a waitlist.

  • Having an online registration system that includes a waitlist option (like CourseStorm, ahem) is the easiest way to manage your waitlists. You can enter the data into a spreadsheet or even a paper form, but the more you can automate the process, the easier it will be.
  • Interested students should go through the whole registration process up to payment, so the registration can be finalized quickly when a space is available.
  • You should be able to review your waitlist roster for any given class and be able to contact them about other opportunities.
  • Have a clear waitlist policy that explains how the waiting list works. It might be a simple “first-come-first-served” policy, or it may be more detailed, for example, if there’s a family member already in the class, they may get priority over someone else. Transparency is the best policy. (It doesn’t have to be complicated – York Adult Education, for example, is very clear: “All waiting lists are handled on a “first come – first serve” basis and each class is filled in the order people were placed on the waiting list.”)

Start Small and Grow

Having a waitlist for your classes provides an excellent customer experience, gives you information to make your program more successful, and can even increase your profits! Even if you start small, it’s worth starting. There’s no reason to —wait. 


Interested in learning more about CourseStorm’s waiting list and other features? We’d be delighted to chat with you. Send us a note to connect.