All About Waiting Lists + Your ILP Semester

Hey! We’re happy to see you got that email from your ILP rep letting you know you’ve been added to the waitlist(s). Congrats on this next part of the process! You’re one step closer to snagging a spot. To help you figure out what comes next and get some answers, we pulled together this page full of the questions we get asked the most:

How do waiting lists work?

Seems like a good place to start, right? In a nutshell, we have waiting lists because we have programs which need a certain number of volunteers. Some countries have room for 20+ volunteers, while others only have room for four. When we get applications for more than that number, we’ll create a waiting list for that program.  

You can be placed on as many waiting lists as you want, and still be assigned to a country. Keep this in mind though —  when you add your name to a waiting list, you are committing to go to that country if a spot opens up.

Many volunteers are hanging out on multiple waiting lists, even if they’ve already gotten an assignment in a country that may not be their first choice. Quick example of that: let’s say you’ve listed six countries in your Orientation that you’re interested in. Remember, you list these in order of preference. You’ve gotten an assignment in your “3rd choice” country but want to see if a spot opens up in your first or second choice country. You’ll still automatically be on the waiting list for those two countries, but you’re no longer on the waiting list for your 4th, 5th, or 6th choice country. See how that works? 

What are my chances of getting a spot in one of the countries I am on the waiting list for?

It’s impossible to predict exactly who will defer or withdraw from any given country or semester, but historically we see tons of movement on our waiting lists. Most times, that’s because volunteers are on multiple waiting lists so once they get a spot in one country, that really shifts the numbers around for the other lists they were a part of.

Other times, plans change and people change their mind which also impacts the waiting list. Especially when people are applying 1 year (or 1.5 years) in advance, things like health and family reasons, relationships, school, or work can cause a lot of movement on those lists. Essentially, if anyone changes their mind or changes plans on any waiting list, it could affect your chances for the better.

I thought there were good chances of being assigned to my preferred country, why was I placed on a waiting list?

Things are changing pretty quickly at our office! It’s very likely that the availability of your preferred country changed between when you started applying and when you were all ready to be assigned. Volunteers are constantly completing their Orientation documents and being assigned to countries and added to waiting lists.

We do our very best to be super clear about this in the Orientation. We require each of our volunteers to put a check mark by this statement:“I understand that if the country I want is full, I can change countries or wait until a month before the semester starts to see if a spot opens. If I don’t wait, or if I decide to cancel before then, I don’t get my deposit back.”

Some volunteers find it helpful to think about what’s most important: to go for a certain semester, or to go to certain countries. Keep your ILP rep updated on what you’re thinking!  If the semester you’re accepted to is the only one that works, we can help you find a different country that you’re excited about so you can spend those specific months adventuring around the world with us. If it’s the country you have your heart set on, your representative can talk to you about deferring to a later semester that works for you and hopefully has better chances of getting into that particular country.   

How can I increase my chances of getting into the semester I want?

If the semester you’re accepted to is the only one that works, we would love to help you find a different country that fits what you’re looking for.  You’ll want to stay open-minded about several different countries to help you get a spot for the semester you are looking at.

We’ll let you in on another little ILP secret:  The more countries you’re willing to go to, the better your chances are of securing a spot in your semester of preference. When people first apply with ILP, they often have an idea of which country they want to volunteer in based on the rad things you can do there (and probably some pretty pictures, too).  In many cases, you can have the same kind of adventures in a few different locations, not just the one you initially applied for. 

We suggest that you stay open-minded and continue working with your rep by updating them on your preferences —  you just may find something even better than you had initially planned on! That actually happens more than you would think: after doing some research about other countries (and getting some info from their rep) quite a few people realize there’s another country or two they would love just as much. We even have volunteers who get so excited about a new country that when they’re offered a spot in their first-preference country, they turn it down to volunteer in another country instead!

How can I increase my chances of getting into the country I want?

There are quite a few factors to this. Most importantly, waiting is going to be a huge advantage for you. Remember how we see a lot of movement on the waiting list? If you’re willing to stick it out, we typically see the biggest turnover closer to departure. We can give you a better idea of what your chances are like 1-2 months (or even closer) to departure. 

Even if you don’t end up getting a spot, waiting things out is to your advantage financially: if we can’t get you a spot in any of those countries you’re on the waiting list for, we can defer you for free, a month before departure (with preferred status, which is another big benefit).

Another big part of that puzzle is updating your country preferences … those preferences tell us the countries that you’d actually be willing to go to.  At any point, your rep can switch you to another country, take you off a waiting list for a country, and answer your questions. Keep your rep in the loop on what you’re thinking: (“Hey, I wanted to hop on the waiting list for this country”, “Just letting you know I’m willing to wait for a spot in that country”, etc). The combo of keeping your rep updated and sticking it out really ups your chances.

If you’re unable to wait things out, keep your rep updated (are you sensing a pattern here?).  If you really wouldn’t be okay going to any other country except that one you have your heart set on, deferring to another future semester is probably going to be your best option. We have a deferment policy you can utilize at any point (and have that info laid out below, so take a peek at that). 

How can I learn a bit more about other countries I may want to volunteer in?

That’s what we’re here for. So many ILP alumni let us know that they loved the country they ended up volunteering in, even though it wasn’t their first choice. Seriously, it’s something we hear all of the time, and really encourage you to learn about all the countries while you’re in this stage of the process. The best way to do that? Talk to your ILP rep!

ILP reps have personal experience with an ILP semester in one (or two or three) of these countries — and it’s their job to know what the program is like in each of our countries. Make sure you use that insider info! At any time, you can call, text, or email your rep with questions so they can help you  match your interests with other ILP countries.  Your rep is also happy to switch you over to another country, so you’ll want their insider scoop and their help if you decide to switch things around. They really are your go-to person throughout this whole process.

Another good spot to learn a little bit more?  Head here. We have an individual page for each of our countries that outlines what living and volunteering there is like (plus more than a few pictures). 

When will I be told if a spot opens up in my preferred country/countries?

It could happen tomorrow, in a week, a month, or even days before departure. In fact, we often see the most movement happen the closer we get to departure. In other words, there’s always hope! If you’re worried about waiting that long to make plans (which we totally understand), we have a few options outlined in this FAQ page and you can always talk to your rep.

What if I don’t ever get into my preferred country?

Don’t stress— we will work with you and let you know what all of your options are. About one month before the latest group’s departure, the Representative Supervisor will reach out to you if a spot never becomes available in any of the countries you listed on your Orientation. At that time, you’ll hear about your options which include deferring to a later semester with preferred status (we’ll also waive that deferment fee) or receiving a full refund.

Remember, we go off the countries you listed on your Orientation. So, if you’d like to edit your preference list, just let your rep know.  Another reminder? You have a better chance of getting into a particular semester if you are interested in going to a few different countries. 

Please call or text us before making any definite decision to defer or withdraw — there are most likely options you don’t know about, and we’re here to help!

Do I get my deposit refunded if I withdraw my application?

No, the only way you can get your deposit back is if a spot doesn’t become available in any of the countries that you have listed as preferences. You’ll be informed about one month before departure if that’s the case. 

If you still want to withdraw your application after you’ve talked to a representative about your other options, you won’t be refunded that $270 deposit (or the $30 application fee). So here’s our advice: if something ever comes up that makes you think “I still want to do ILP, but just can’t right now”,  know that it’s almost always easier and cheaper to defer instead of withdraw. You can defer to a semester up to 18 months in advance, and after you pay the deferment fee, all the rest of the money that you have paid defers with you.

The info about this policy is explained clearly in the Orientation that you’ve completed, but if you have any questions about it, we are more than happy to help explain it —that’s what we’re here for.

I signed up for a payment plan in the Online Orientation — do I still need to make payments on schedule even if I haven’t been assigned yet?

We don’t require any payments other than your application fee and the deposit before you are officially assigned. However, you may still get automated payment reminder emails while you’re on the waiting list because we think it will be helpful for you in the long run.  Most volunteers prefer to stick with their payment schedule (even if they haven’t been assigned anywhere quite yet) so once they are assigned, they don’t have to pay a ton all at once. 

As we mentioned before, you’ll be able to defer for free or get a full refund if none of the countries you want open up before departure — so we definitely recommend saving yourself a future headache and just sticking with your payment plan.

Is there any way to know what number I am on the waiting list?

We don’t give out the specific numbers or order of the waiting list, simply because the number you are on a waiting list doesn’t accurately reflect your chances of going on the program or getting into a specific country. 

Because many volunteers are on several waiting lists, once they receive a spot in a country, it’s a domino effect, impacting all the waitlists they (and maybe you) are a part of. This can happen multiple times every day, and also varies from country to country, so we don’t want to give you information that isn’t a good depiction of your chances.

Can you remind me how deferring works?

Glad you asked! For some volunteers, deferring is their best option because they care more about which country they go to over which semester they go on the program. If you feel like deferring to another semester is best for you, please let us know in an email to our office (, stating your name and which semester you would like to defer to. The email doesn’t need to be fancy, just a one-liner will be fine. 

Remember, submitting your deferment letter doesn’t automatically get you a spot in your preferred country for that new semester. Like we said before, volunteers are constantly turning in documents and being assigned, so we will have to see what the status is at the time of your request. If you don’t get a spot right away, your rep is still here to work with you, so keep talking to them (remember they’re really here to help you out).

To defer, there is a $30 reapplication fee plus possible additional fees that are prorated (the closer you are to departure for the semester you are deferring from, the more expensive the fees are). Basically, the earlier you decide to defer, the cheaper it is, but you’ll want to email your rep before making any final decisions. They’ll be able to resend our deferment policy for you to look over. The deferment fees are almost always cheaper than withdrawal fees, and you still get to go on your amazing semester abroad! 

We’re here to help, but you are making the decisions!

Your preferences are very important to us — we won’t ever defer your account to another semester or change your country assignment unless you ask us to. So let’s stay in touch! Feel free to call our office or email your rep with any questions or concerns you have about this or anything else you’re wondering about.