I’m Waitlisted… Now What?

Click here to read the intro to this blog series! Send your admissions questions to timeout[at]veritasprep[dot]com.

Dear Trav,
I was waitlisted to my top choice schools. What should I do, if anything, to follow up with these schools?

First, may I offer my congratulations!  I know you may not feel like being congratulated for landing on a waitlist rather than being accepted to your dream school. But you weren’t denied, so the school is clearly interested.  In fact, every person on the waitlist is qualified to be a member of the class. An MBA Admissions Committee will never waitlist a candidate who they think is unqualified, so this certainly deserves congratulations.

Why do schools have a waitlist?

In knowing what you should do to get off the waitlist and onto the “Admitted” list, it’s important to understand why schools have a waitlist at all.  It’s not complicated, and you probably already understand.  Even the highest-ranked schools tell us that 75-80% of applicants are qualified to be a part of their class.  Their statistics fall within the typical range for admitted students, including GPA, GMAT score, years of work experience, and so forth.  However, they only admit 5-20% of applicants.  This means that they must select a small group of candidates from the large pool of applicants to admit, primarily based on subjective factors such as employ-ability,  clarity of the candidate’s vision, how they fit with the program offerings, and what they can uniquely contribute to the program compared to other admitted candidates.

A certain group of these qualified candidates are offered admission. However, every school knows that less than 100% of candidates offered admission will accept the offer.  This is the school’s admission yield.  The yield at Harvard Business School is about 90%.  At many other top programs, it’s somewhere around 60%.  Because this number changes a bit from year to year, the school also adds candidates to its waitlist.  Please note: these candidates are typically just as qualified to attend the school as those who were admitted. There simply isn’t enough room in the class to admit every qualified candidate.

For Round 1, schools will extend a certain number of offers and put several candidates on the waitlist.  At most MBA programs, the waitlisted candidates are considered along with the applicants from Round 2. Some members of the waitlist will be interviewed and accepted, some will be denied, and others will stay on the waitlist until consideration in Round 3.  This is a very frustrating process for the applicant.

Don’t transform into a crazy person!

There’s a careful balance that you need to achieve as a member of the waitlist between staying top-of-mind and becoming annoying.  With the confidence of knowing that the admissions committee has already designated you as someone who they would admit to the current class, don’t be overbearing! It’s a nerve-wracking experience, so some people start to do crazy things like calling the admissions office every day and sending multiple emails to as many email addresses as they can get their hands on.  Take a step back and try to see this from the admissions officer’s perspective. If you go to such lengths, you might only confirm in their minds that you are a certifiable nutcase.  Not ideal for gaining admission to one of the world’s highest respected educational institutions!

Schools with strict waitlist rules:

There are some schools, including Wharton, that specifically ask you NOT to reach out to the committee except to provide very specific updates.  For example, Wharton only will accept updates to your GMAT score, a new job, or additional coursework.  If a school has specifically told you NOT to provide other updates, you should follow their instructions.  There’s nothing more frustrating than giving someone some instructions and then having them disregard them because they think they know better. On the flip side, you certainly want to signal your continuing interest in the program and update the committee on the things you are doing to prepare to hit the ground running as an MBA.

If you really want to get into a school like this with very strict guidelines for the waitlist, then I would recommend that you do everything in your power to get in.  If that means studying three hours a day for the next four weeks to improve your GMAT score, then do it!  If that means enrolling in a Statistics, Micro/Macroeconomics, Calculus or Finance course to freshen up your quantitative skills and be able to hit the ground running on Day 1, then do it! (Although I would not go out and get a new job just to report it to the committee! If you get a promotion in your current job, be sure to let them know.) These programs are looking for driven individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.  Once you have something new to tell them, then be sure to communicate these updates to the admissions committee!

A few more tips for most schools’ waitlists:

Most programs are very willing to receive updates from waitlisted applicants and may even assign you to a Waitlist Advisor who will give you specific things that you can do to improve your chances.  For most programs, you may write an email reiterating your ongoing interest in the program.  If the program is truly your #1 dream school, you could mention that it remains your top choice and that you would be willing to accept an offer the same day it was extended and pay the tuition deposit immediately. If you’ve taken on additional responsibilities or projects at work, you could provide a quick update to your professional experience.  And if there is an area of your application that you know may need some additional support, you may often have an additional recommender write a letter of support to be included in your file.  For example, if you didn’t have an opportunity in your application to discuss extracurricular leadership opportunities outside of work, you could have a supervisor in one of these activities write a letter on your behalf.  Or if your work history jumps all over the place, you could have another professional reference write a letter explaining the strong contributions you’ve made and the clear vision you have for your post-MBA career.

The key is to clearly signal to the admissions committee that you’re still interested in gaining admission to the program, are willing to do what it takes to be admitted, and are willing to abide by the rules and guidelines that have been expressed.  Numerous emails with no substantive updates will not help your cause, and may even hurt it.

If you’re looking for specific guidance on how to craft your communications with the Admissions Committee or specific steps that would be best for your unique situation, please reach out to Veritas Prep!  Waitlist assistance is a key part of our admissions strategy and we would be happy to work with you on this aspect of your application.

Best of luck to you in the coming weeks!

If you have MBA admissions questions, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or email us a question for this blog to timeout@veritasprep.com. As always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.