Why Me? Coping with the Waitlist

Posted on November 10, 2007 | Filed in Admissions, MBA

Some applicants receive a letter stating that they have been put on the waitlist. You too may have received such a letter. This letter means that you have the qualifications that the school is looking for, but due to other factors you have not been admitted. These factors might include you being too young, or being too experienced, or being less unique than desired, or having inconsistent track record, or not demonstrating compelling reasons for a great fit with the school. All in all, the admissions committee is not entirely convinced about your candidacy, but is willing to give you a chance.

If you have been put on waitlist by more than one school, then you should consider re-examining/strengthening your application. You should also consider applying for other schools who might take a different view on certain unchangeable elements of your application, such as you not being in the work force long enough. There are schools which may take prudent risks with young yet ambitious individuals who have a less proven track record.

To be put on the waitlist does NOT mean that you have been rejected. All programs have a limited number of applicants that they can accept each term. With the number of MBA applicants growing, the competition for admission is very intense. There are steps that you can take to improve your chances for admission.

Different Schools, Different Years, Different Policies

Some schools place an applicant on the waitlist early on in the admission process. The reason for this is that the school wishes to wait and see how the class composition is developing before making a final decision. Many times an individual who makes it to the second round of the process is competing not only against new applicants, but also against those on the waitlist. So being on the waitlist early on is not a bad thing at all. It is more like a deferment of admission. Other schools, especially those who are highly selective, rarely move people from the waitlist. This makes sense because very few people who are admitted to the top tier schools decline the offer to attend. Still other schools admit students from the waitlist who have shown improvement in their application. So each school has its own policy and procedure for the waitlist. Depending on each year’s application numbers and quality, each school may also adjust its waitlist policy a bit to better serve its admissions objective. Simply put, the “wait” for being taken off a waitlist might carry a different probability, depending on the school and the year.

Don’t Give Up!

The process is not over. You have not been rejected. There are many steps you can take to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist and being admitted. You have put so much effort into your business school application – from getting recommendation letters, to taking the GMAT and maybe the TOEFL, to writing great essays. Why would you want to give up now?

First Step – Follow instructions!

What should you do first? Follow instructions. Some schools have a strict policy against unsolicited materials from waitlist applicants. If the school specifically says that they don’t want to receive supplemental materials, then do not send them. The schools look unfavorably upon waitlist applicants who do not follow directions. What can you do if you are waitlisted at a school like this? Just wait.

If you have applied to a school that does not have such a strict policy, there are quite a few things you can do to improve your chances.

If you have applied to a school that does not have such a strict policy, there are quite a few things you can do to improve your chances:

Determine Weaknesses

The school you applied to may suggest a weakness in your application. If they have done so then take every step you can to improve your candidacy. The school may not specifically say what area you need improvement on. If you have good test scores and a strong essay, then maybe your recommendation letters were weak. Whatever your weakness may be, show the school that you have taken actions to improve.

Take Action

A school may suggest that you retake the GMAT, or maybe the TOEFL. If so then you should retake the test. Applicants who do not make effort to improve their application as instructed, show the school that they are not completely dedicated to being admitted – not a good thing. If your recommendation letters were just OK, then send in a stronger recommendation letter or a letter of support from a friend or coworker who can speak on why you would be a good fit for the school. Another thing you can do is visit the school if you have not done so already.

Follow Up

Then write a letter describing your experience and explaining how the visit has increased your interest in their program. Make sure to stay on the school’s radar. You may want to write to the school to emphasize new relevant extracurricular activities. A school would want to see improvements such as a promotion at work, a conference, or an event you organized that was successful.

Focus of the Waitlist Letter

Let the admissions committee know that you are excited to be on the waitlist and you are very interested in the school. The focus of your correspondence should be on your improvements and qualifications. You should also address steps you have taken to ameliorate any weaknesses. Demonstrate to the school how your qualifications are a perfect fit for their school. If you know that you will attend if moved from the waitlist, then let the school know that.

If you don’t hear anything in 3-5 weeks, then write again. Follow up with the school on a regular basis, but do not overdo it. Schools do not want to be bothered by waitlist applicants. Write frequently enough to keep them informed of your interest and improvements, but not so frequently that they see you as a nuisance. What you want to do is demonstrate to the school that you are making improvements since you first applied.

If you have received acceptance into a rival school, then write and clearly outline why this school should move you into the acceptance pool, and if they do so why you will definitely consider them over the rival school. The reasons need to be compelling, not just a change of heart. If the improvement in your situation is substantial, consider making a call to the admissions committee to draw prompt attention to your newly submitted Waitlist Letter.

Again, if you have nothing to add or think that by speaking to an admissions person you will talk your way in, do not contact the school. Only provide important and relevant experiences or a new perspective from supporters. You are not guaranteed to move from the waitlist, but staying in regular contact with the school to inform them of improvements and simply being perseverant will, most likely, put you closer to the front of the line.

Summary of Special Follow-up Tips

  1. Thank the school for their consideration and show them that you are excited to be on the waitlist for admission. Express that the school’s philosophy and methods fit your own educational goals.
  2. Demonstrate any improvements to your candidacy. (i.e. updated GMAT scores, promotions, additional responsibilities)
  3. If you have not had an interview, then if you are available request an interview or campus visit.
  4. If this school is your first choice, then let the school know that they are your first choice and that you will attend if admitted.
  5. Let the school know of any acceptance to other rival schools. Let them know why they should move you off the list and why you would accept their school over the rival.
  6. If the improvement in your situation is substantial, consider making a call to the admissions committee to draw prompt attention to your newly submitted Waitlist Letter. Remember your point of contact and try to follow up with the same person so that his/her impression about you is reinforced each time you submit additional supporting evidence.
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