You’ve taken the GMAT, polished up your essays, and secured that final recommendation and finally submitted what you thought was the perfect application. Unfortunately when decision day came around you did not receive that highly coveted “ADMITTED” message or even the dreaded “DENIED” message. So did the admissions team forget to give you a decision? No, you are in the b-school applicant’s version of purgatory, you’ve been WAITLISTED.
Now, being waitlisted is of course not the desired outcome when you submit an application but look on the brighter side, your application is still in play. Now what do you do next? Generally, a spot on the waitlist is a positive reflection of your candidacy by the admissions team but there was something in your application that made the committee reluctant to admit you outright. I’ve seen candidates with fantastic work experience, sterling recommendations, and top GMAT scores be placed on the waitlist. Schools are generally very tight-lipped when it comes to sharing details but issues can range from unclear career goals, to lack of impact at work to a weaker academic profile.
The first step is to decide whether you even want to remain on the waitlist. Each school has a different protocol when it comes to how they handle their waitlist so the first step is determining what rules apply. So if you have received admission elsewhere with a pending decision timeline or simply do not want to wait around for an answer, follow the relevant directions that apply to your situation. Now, assuming you want to remain on the waitlist, review the application you have submitted and take inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of your submission. Some schools will provide feedback but many will not so this review may fall upon you, the applicant.
Once you have determined potential weaknesses in your application it is time to see what you can change in the limited time you may have before a final decision is rendered. Let’s look at the different levers you can push to improve your profile.
Does your GMAT not fit comfortably in the school range? Is it below the average score? If so, it may be time to take the GMAT again. Set a timeline and determine whether you will have enough time to prep and take the exam.
Low GPAs and lack of analytical coursework (or within your work experience) can be seen as red flags on your profile. Identifying additional coursework at local universities, community colleges, or even online schools may help address concerns about your academic readiness.
Have you received a promotion or new and increased responsibilities since submitting your application? If so, this is a great addition to your profile. Show the admissions committee that you have the requisite leadership and teamwork skills they are looking for and that you are making an impact at your organization.
Does the school know how much you want to be there? Make sure your interest is clear. Engage with the school to highlight your desire to matriculate. Many schools will provide a point of contact in the department for waitlist candidates, use this person as your personal champion to help get you off the waitlist. Reach out to personal contacts who are students, alums, or professors who may be able to send letters of support in your favor.
However, make sure to follow the directions provided by the school. Certain schools want to limit contact with candidates and are only truly looking for substantive updates so please keep this in mind as you activate your waitlist strategy.
Leverage all of these additions to your profile to enhance your application and escape the waitlist.
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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants.