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MBA Waitlist Strategy: How To Get Off The List

May 21, 2024 :: Admissionado Team

mba waitlist

“Oh no, I’ve been waitlisted!”

This is a natural first reaction, but you should change your outlook to “Oh yes! I’ve been waitlisted!” because being waitlisted is actually a great scenario to be in. It means the school you applied to is interested in you, your profile is strong, and your essays were appealing. Poets&Quants may have put it best when they said, “getting waitlisted is a far cry from being accepted, but it’s even farther from being rejected.”

That’s right. Turn that frown upside down, friend. Maybe the admissions committee is just looking for a little bit more from you. Maybe the competition was particularly tough this year and they’ve had to make some tough choices. Regardless, you were so awesome that they couldn’t reject you!

Now that I’ve been waitlisted, what should I do?

Assuming you still want to go to the school that waitlisted you, the first thing you should do is let them know you want to remain on the waitlist! Yep, it’s that simple.

But that’s not the only thing you can do. Each school has its own rules and regulations, but most schools are open to waitlisted applicants submitting additional information for consideration before a final decision is made. You can send in many different types of additional materials, but the most common things are:

An Additional Letter/Essay

A fantastic additional letter is the foundation of any good MBA waitlist strategy. However, you have to have something to say. The content of the letter is usually comprised of two things:

1) Love for the school – Yes, this works! You have been waitlisted along with a whole bunch of other people, and now the school has to decide between candidates they had difficulty deciding on in the first place. One of the reasons why MBA waitlists exist is that they allow MBA programs to preserve their yield ratios (which are important for rankings). By not extending an admit, they allow those candidates who aren’t really that interested in the school to drop out without rejecting an offer and therefore affecting their yield. Great! But you still want to get in, so now is the time to show the adcom some love. What does this mean?

  • Telling the school they are your first choice (if this is true).
  • Reassuring the school of your plans to attend if accepted.
  • Reaching out to students/alumni/professors and making an effort to get connected to the school. Taking this concrete step helps prove the depth of your interest.
  • Deepening your knowledge about the program and showing why it is PERFECT specifically for you and your goals.
  • If possible, visiting the campus and writing about your visit in the essay. This will show that you are willing to go the extra mile.

2) Show progress – If the school didn’t accept you off the bat, it’s probably because there are one or two things that could have been a little bit better. So show them that they ARE better. Show them that in the months since you applied, you have advanced, you have learned a lot, you have gained more leadership experience, and you have come closer to your goals. You can write about any new MBA-relevant achievement, but here is a short list of ideas to get you revved up:

  • New leadership responsibilities.
  • New accomplishments at work.
  • Additional community service achievements.
  • Promotions/raises/bonuses/awards.
  • New successes in your entrepreneurial ventures.
  • New extracurricular activities.
  • More coursework completed.
  • New certificates obtained (CPA, CFA, etc.)
  • Higher test scores (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, etc.)

But to show progress, it’s not enough to simply plop down a list of new stuff on a piece of paper. To make a really effective MBA waitlist essay, you need to INTROSPECT, to give CONTEXT. Show that you understand your weaknesses, and have actively sought to address them. Show how your progress is not arbitrary, but towards a specific goal (preferably the one you mentioned in your original essays). Do that and the essay will move you up the waitlist.

Provide An Additional Recommendation

Just like you can send an additional essay to most schools, you can also often send an additional recommendation. But you should only do this if it is really ADDING something to your profile. Getting a third recommendation from yet another boss at the same workplace won’t necessarily boost your profile enough to be of use. Instead, if you decide to send an additional recommendation, it should be because it is a) strong and b) adds a new perspective. So think hard about who that might be.

The additional recommendation doesn’t necessarily have to be from a recommender in your workplace. It can be from any boss anywhere where you might have had impact or shown leadership (so volunteer work and extracurricular activities are also options). Whomever you choose, make sure they add a fresh perspective. You’re asking the adcom to spend extra time on your application, so it’s important to make the letter worth their while.

Show Off Your Improved Test Scores

If you have the time, there are few things more convincing to an adcom than a candidate who comes back with 30 or 40 more points on their GMAT. This will always help. Not many candidates go his route (understandably, since it requires a huge effort), but if you feel like you can pull it off, the effort is often worth it.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

You are going to send in all the best materials you can, but it is possible that ultimately the school will decide to offer admission to someone else. Don’t let this take you by surprise! Waitlist acceptance rates are dependent on an enormous number of factors, including waitlist acceptance rates at other schools, particularly elite programs like Harvard Business School, University of Chicago Booth or INSEAD. They’re very difficulty to accurately predict. Make sure you have a ‘Plan B’ in your strategy, and that you know what your options are should the admit not materialize.

All that being said, showing the school that you are truly dedicated to their program and that you are a better candidate than the one they saw at application time often makes the difference. 

What NOT to do While on the Waitlist

Procrastinate and Wallow in Despair

Don’t just sit on your couch eating takeout and watching Netflix until you hear back. Similarly and equally as ineffective, don’t curl up in the fetal position with a tub of frosting and a bottle of wine. Stay proactive and positive.

Go Against Their Instructions
The biggest mistake you can make is ignoring the school’s instructions. They are assessing your judgment. If they say “Don’t contact us,” then don’t contact them. If they say, “Don’t send more recommendations,” respect that. Schools like Wharton are particularly strict about this. Always follow their directions.

Reaching out too often is a surefire way to annoy the admissions committee. Just like the “How soon after a date can I call?” rule, you should space out your communications. A good rule of thumb is to reach out every 2-3 weeks, but only if you have something meaningful to share. Don’t just say, “Hey, remember me?”

Ignore Them Completely
While you don’t want to be a pest, you also don’t want to disappear entirely. Show that you are still interested by providing updates, sending new letters of recommendation (if allowed), and keeping in touch appropriately. Balance is key.

Be Overzealous
Visiting the campus can be a great way to show your interest, but don’t overdo it. A visit should be a positive expression of your interest, not a desperate plea for attention.

Navigating the MBA waitlist can be a challenging and stressful experience, but with the right strategy, you can enhance your chances of acceptance. Remember, the key is to balance persistence with respect for the admissions committee’s guidelines. Follow their instructions meticulously to demonstrate your judgment and reliability. Communicate strategically by providing meaningful updates that highlight your ongoing achievements and commitment to the program. Show your interest through appropriate gestures like campus visits, but avoid overzealous actions that could come across as desperate or unprofessional.