How to Get Off a Business School’s Waitlist if You Already Have a Strong Application

SAT/ACTThe business school waitlist is, for most applicants, a confusing place to be. Many MBA candidates go into the application process aware of where their profile lands in relation to other candidates – especially when it comes to the publically available data points such as GPA and GMAT scores – so when these candidates land on the waitlist, although they are disappointed, they at least have a general idea on what they should do to address holes in their application in the future.

In a strange twist, the more complete a candidate’s profile appears on paper, the harder it is to develop a strategy to get off the waitlist. This oddity exists because without an obviously low GMAT score, shaky GPA, or unimpressive work experience, it can be challenging to put those waitlist updates to work.

Most programs will encourage waitlisted candidates to submit application updates to the Admissions Office or to a specific waitlist manager, so the more proactive a candidate is with sharing these updates, the better their chances of eventual admission. It may be sometimes difficult to identify these problem areas, but looking critically at every aspect of your submitted application is a good place to start.

Let’s explore a few issues that are common in the type of profiles referenced above:

Are you sure you effectively showcased your fit with the program? With admission into top programs becoming increasingly more difficult, it is critical to show a wild enthusiasm for the program you are applying to. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but if the Admissions Committee does not feel your eagerness to join their student community, it can make your application feel pretty ordinary. Sharing a minor update that clarify your fit can address concerns in this area for admissions.

Have you expressed a strong enough interest in your target program? I know this question may seem fairly obvious, considering you submitted an application, but Admissions Committees are looking for candidates that really showcase a strong attention to their particular program both on paper and in person. Connecting with current students and even alumni of relevant clubs on campus while on the waitlist can be a strong sign of interest, especially if you are able to secure a letter of support from one of those students or alumni.

Career Goals
Were the career goals you communicated clear and achievable? Maybe even more importantly, were you effectively able to share how this particular program would be able to help you reach these goals? A major element of how Admissions Committees will review your career goals is based on the belief that their program will be able to help you succeed in the future. If your goals are not clearly articulated or feel unrealistic, then this could be the source of your waitlist placement. Providing the Admissions Office with updates that showcase your progression towards your career goals, along with a re-clarification of these goals if necessary, is a good approach to proactively getting off of the waitlist.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

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. You can find more of his articles here.

What to Do if You Are Waitlisted

Letter of RecommendationYou’ve made it through the admissions process, completed your interview, and think you have a good shot at being admitted. Instead, you get that discouraging letter that you aren’t in – at least, not yet. There is good news and bad news when it comes to being put on the waitlist for the business school of your dreams. The bad news is that you’ll have to wait a bit longer to get in. The good news is that the waitlist is not the death of your MBA admissions campaign.

Think of it as a new beginning, another chance to prove to the admissions committee why you are deserving of admittance to their school. Remember, business schools only put people on the waitlist who they think are good candidates and have the chance to be admitted. Very often it simply becomes a numbers game, and schools have to wait and see how students from your demographic are accepting or not accepting their admission offers. If you do end up on the waitlist, here are some tips for how you can help improve your situation:

Read the Waitlist Letter and Follow Its Instructions
Some schools will want you to follow up your waitlist letter with additional information, such as a new recommender, update on your job, or a progress report on classes you might be taking. However, some schools make it clear that they will reach out to you when the time comes, and do not want any further materials sent to them. Whatever they say, do it. Don’t think you’ll be able to get on the good side of the committee by reaching out to the admissions director with a “question” about your status. Follow the instructions that are given to you.

Asked for Additional Information?
If the waitlist letter does give you the chance to provide additional information, consider the following:

  • Providing an update on recent projects at work or sharing a recent promotion or achievement award.
  • Making clear how passionate you are about the school.
  • Showing how you have, or are addressing, shortfalls in your application. For example, do you know you have a low Quant score on the GMAT? Make sure you are taking some stats classes at your local community college to supplement this aspect of your application.

Have a Backup Plan
Now is the time to build a backup plan and put it into action. Whether that is applying to more schools, retaking the GMAT, or staying at your job for another year, you never want to leave yourself with no options.

Be Patient
No one likes being told “no,” and our first instinct is to make that person change his or her mind. However, Admissions Committees have been reviewing thousands of candidates for a long time – they know what they are looking for. Now is not the time to panic and risk embarrassing yourself with constant calls to the admissions office. Instead, focus on other applications you might be working on, maintain a high work output, and try to remain positive. Worst case scenario, you will be able to reapply next year.

Good luck, and if it’s meant to be, don’t hold the fact that you were put on the waitlist against the school. Just remember, your future MBA diploma won’t say anything about your previous waitlist status.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

How to “Double Down” on Your Admissions Waitlist Situation

When you’re on the waitlist at a top business school, law school, or medical school, you can’t help but want to reach out and grab the admissions officers and shout, “Why won’t you put me out of my misery??”

Last Friday our own Brian Galvin, Veritas Prep’s Director of Academic Programs and the head honcho for all things related to GMAT prep around here, decided to try KFC’s new Double Down sandwich. (We’ll give you his take on the sandwich later!) KFC’s thinking behind “doubling down?” If some chicken is good, then twice as much chicken (and no bun) must be way better. Makes sense, if you like chicken. But how can you “double down” on your admissions waitlist status and improve your chances?

Except for instances where schools explicitly say, “Don’t contact us, no matter what” (and even in some of those cases), erring on the side of thoughtful, succinct outreach can only help your chances. What frustrates many applicants is that it may not do anything to improve their chances (and they’re Type A people… they can’t take the fact that they may have no influence on their own fates!), but proactive outreach will almost always leave you better off than will doing nothing.

How to go about it? Here are four things to do (or not do):

Don’t just try to shore up weaknesses. Emphasize strengths!
When you’re on the waitlist, it’s only natural to say “I didn’t get the outcome I wanted, so I must fix whatever is wrong,” but being waitlisted — as opposed to being denied admission altogether — means you did something right. Find out what made you so attractive through admissions officers (if possible), or other admissions experts, and play to those strengths in your waitlist outreach.

Skip additional letters of support…from current students.
Normally, letters from current students do nothing more than communicate enthusiasm (“He’s a great guy and he really wants to come here”), which the admissions office probably already knows. While you should certainly emphasize your enthusiasm when reaching out to the admissions office, avoid submitting new letters of support unless they a) bolster key themes in your application, b) shore up any perceived weaknesses and c) come from a new source, preferably a manager or direct supervisor who can speak to progress since you crafted your original application.

Communicate your intention to enroll, if accepted — if it’s true.
Top business schools are notoriously concerned with managing their yield — the number of admitted students that matriculate. Assuming you really, truly want to attend the school, and have a deposit ready should they be accepted, be sure to communicate that intent in their waitlist outreach. Now that’s doubling down!

If possible, execute these strategies in-person.
If possible, visit the school, go to the admissions office, ask to meet with an admissions representative and make your care. Explain your strengths and addressing weaknesses, introduce new letters of support, and communicate excitement and intent to enroll if accepted — face-to-face.

As for Brian, who opted for the grilled variety of the Double Down sandwich, he had this to say: “It was good, maybe not totally deserving of the hype, but I’m glad that I got to eat something sort of like chicken cordon bleu with my hands.”

For help in creating your own successful business school, medical school, or law school application, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with an admissions expert today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

The MBA Waitlist: Additional Letters of Support

Business School AdmissionsWaiting is not everyone’s strong suit. Especially for “Type A” applicants dreaming of getting into the world’s most competitive business schools, the idea of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” just doesn’t sit well. At this time of year, we get lots of questions from waitlisted applicants about whether or not they should solicit additional letters of support from their past supervisors and co-workers. Assuming that your target school welcomes additional input, such letters can help, but only if they meet certain criteria.

Just last week we spoke with an applicant who was ready to get two former co-workers, both of whom are current students at Fuqua (the applicant’s target MBA program), to write letters of recommendation for him. While it can certainly seem like knowing someone “on the inside” has got to help, that’s not necessarily the case.

In general, we do advise waitlisted MBA applicants to be fairly aggressive in communicating with the admissions office, especially with programs (like Fuqua) that are open to hearing from you. However, as was the case with this applicant, many applicants tend to overestimate the effectiveness of letters from current students. These letters often say nothing more than, “He’s a really good guy and he REALLY wants to come to Fuqua,” which the admissions office probably already knows. It’s nice to communicate your enthusiasm (and you should certainly do that), but a current student probably can’t add much to your application.

What matters more is what a new letter of support can say about the applicant to bolster themes in his application and/or shore up any perceived weaknesses in his profile. Perhaps he hasn’t held any official management roles yet, but an additional letter of support could highlight new examples of how he displayed leadership skills, got a team organized to tackle a problem, etc. (Of course, ideally his original letters of recommendation did this, but they may not have done it enough, or he may have significant new examples to talk about in the three months since he applied.) This is what matters to MBA admissions officers, not that he knows current Fuqua students and therefore is probably Fuqua material by association.

When it’s possible to do so, there’s certainly merit to having a supervisor-type (maybe an alumnus, but doesn’t have to be) write an additional letter of support. This needs to be someone who hasn’t already written a reco for you, for that school. If that person can say, “I’ve worked with this applicant for the last few years, and I can confidently say he’s a strong performer with a great deal of potential,” that certainly helps. At worst, it doesn’t hurt you. That letter can also emphasize your enthusiasm for the school, but “enthusiasm” by itself won’t be enough… You need to give them another reason to consider you when they start to select applicants from the waitlist.

More generally, as far as giving the school significant updates goes, don’t underestimate this. If you’re able to get your waitlist contact on the phone (Kellogg, for instance, gives waitlisted applicants specific feedback), see if there’s anything specific that would help, such as a higher GMAT score or some additional college coursework. Frequently the conversation will tend towards very obvious weaknesses — e.g., a relatively low undergraduate GPA — but use this conversation to learn as much as you can about why they waitlisted you and (perhaps even more importantly) why they DIDN’T reject you despite the weaknesses in your application. (We’ll cover this latter idea in more detail in another post soon.)

For more help in getting admitted off of the waitlist or for more general MBA admissions advice, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with an admissions expert today. We have specialized services built just for helping waitlisted applicants get admitted to business school. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Veritas Prep Gives Forbes Readers Some Waitlist Advice

Earlier this month, Forbes reporter Tara Weiss wrote a piece about how applicants can navigate the business school waitlist. For advice she turned to Veritas Prep’s own Scott Shrum for what applicants can do — and what they shouldn’t do — to maximize their chances of success.

As the article states, being on the waitlist is not a comfortable experience. The lack of knowing a firm outcome can be very unsettling, especially when you’re waiting on making big decisions such as leaving your current job, moving to a new place, and selling your home. However, you can take solace in the fact that the school must want you if it’s waitlisted you — the admissions office just can’t find room for you in the class, at least not yet.

Your time on the waitlist also gives you an opportunity to address an weaknesses in your application. Writes Weiss:

There are several reasons candidates get relegated to the wait list. If you can find out which reason applies to you, you can try to address the problem. Among the most common: a low score on the Graduate Management Admission Test; insufficient community service or leadership experience; low grades in college math classes; unclear career goals. However, “They won’t wait list anybody unless they’re willing to admit them,” says Scott Shrum, director of M.B.A. admissions research at Veritas Prep, an M.B.A. application consulting firm in Los Angeles.

Shrum suggests that you show your application to someone who knows about the process and together figure out what your weaknesses are. At some schools, including Northwestern, they say it’s acceptable to reach out to the admissions office and ask if there’s anything about your candidacy they found wanting.

The article also makes an important point about demonstrating enthusiasm for the program in question: It helps your chances, but only so much. If the school that has waitlisted you is your #1 choice, then you’re missing an opportunity to improve your chances if you don’t let the school know. After all, what school wants to admit a waitlisted candidate who only might attend? However, that is only one piece of the puzzle:

“Some people believe that convincing us they’re really, really interested will get them off the wait list. That’s just not true,” says Peter Johnson, executive director of admissions for the full-time M.B.A. program at the Haas School. “What gets them off the wait list is strengthening one of these weaknesses.”

Finally, Weiss writes that a policy of “pester early and often” will NOT get you in! Communicating with the school per its guidelines, and showing both enthusiasm and restraint, will help you the most.

At the end of the day, to some extent you can control how attractive you are as a waitlisted candidate. What you can’t control, however, if how many applicants the school will take from the waitlist. You might do everything right, but if the school doesn’t need anyone from the waitlist (or, doesn’t need anyone from your particular background), then unfortunately you won’t get in. Being smart about how to approach the waitlist and maximize your candidacy is all you can do, but it’s better than being rejected!

For more help on getting off of a business school’s waitlist, take a look at Veritas Prep’s Waitlist Assistance package.

HBS Waitlist Update

Last week Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold posted a brief update on the HBS blog, providing some news for waitlisted applicants as well as some advice for those who may apply in 2009-2010. Whether you’re anxiously awaiting news on your HBS waitlist status or your business school applications are just a twinkle in your eye right now, this brief post was especially useful.

In her update, Dee wrote:

  • Our Round 1 deadline for the next application season will be earlier in October, BEFORE fall class visits are open. We encourage those of you who are thinking of applying in Round 1 to consider a class visit this spring — class visits are available until May 8. Visiting an HBS class has absolutely no impact on the application process – we just want everyone to know that you are welcome.
  • We will be making more offers from the waitlist this year, and we hope to make the majority of these decisions as soon as we can – definitely before the end of May.
  • International students will have access to loans without needing a U.S. co-signer. We will release details/terms on specific programs as they are finalized.

That first point is very interesting. If you apply in Round 1 this coming fall, you won’t have a chance to sit in on an HBS class before you submit your application. Therefore, even if you’re not sure that you’ll apply to HBS, if you can get to Boston this spring, it’s a good idea to schedule your visit now. Doing so — and being able to write about it in your HBS admissions essays — may give you a small but important leg up vs. other applicants next year.

Understanding the Admissions Waitlist

It is that time of year, when letters start pouring in from graduate school programs: acceptance letters, rejection letters (“dings”), and, yes, waitlist letters.

In tomorrow’s post, we will be detailing a process whereby applicants can create a plan of attack for taking full advantage of any waitlist scenarios and leaving as little to chance as humanly possible. First though, we need to explore what the waitlist is and how it works. Understanding the waitlist is critical, because you need to know the rules before you can win the game.

What is a waitlist? The waitlist is a device used by schools to hedge their admissions results. Every program starts the admissions cycle with two critical projected numbers: applications and enrollments. These two “start and finish” numbers inform all of the key pieces of data for that program: acceptance rate, yield rate, financial aid metrics, and so on.

Even when those key numbers become solid (when the enrollment management committee sets an enrollment number and the application pool is finalized), there are still moving parts, because the admissions committee must project what the yield rate (the number of admitted students who ultimately enroll) will look like in order to ascertain how many students to accept. If the yield projection is too low, the school will over-enroll in the fall. On the other hand, if the yield projection is too high, the admissions office will be scrambling to fill the class.

This is where the waitlist comes into play. Obviously, if a program needs to add students at the late stages of the admissions process, they need to have “hot” leads. So when the committee makes decisions on students, they are always sure to keep a number of students in the mix, just in case they need to go and recruit from that pool anew. Therefore, the waitlist is – in its simplest form – a hedge against a bad yield projection.

The waitlist can also be a “soft deny” (a way to let people down easy), a built-in part of the process (winnowing down hundreds of second tier candidates to determine which fifty really want to get in), or even just the fulfillment of the status quo (after all, everyone has a waitlist), but the purest use is as a mechanism for the admissions office to course correct. It’s as simple as that.

What is the timing like? Once you know how a waitlist works, the next step is understanding when it will work. At some schools, there may be internal, telltale signs early in the process that they aren’t going to hit their enrollment numbers and an aggressive waitlist admissions campaign might begin early. Other programs will think they are golden until the last minute, when the big wave of enrollments never comes. Those are the schools that have to really scramble. Either way, you want to get on the record early and often, expressing your continued interest in the program. If and when the school starts to reach out to waitlisted students, you want to be at the top of the queue.

How can you tell if a school will be going to its waitlist? Sometimes you don’t know right way (at least not until waitlisted candidates start chattering on message boards), but there are other times when you can forecast a school going deep into its waitlist. For starters, you can look at recent trends and see how schools have done yielding a class. In particular, look to the previous year and then make an educated guess based on the inverse of that prior year. Schools are very reactionary, so if they yielded tremendously well for the incoming fall 2008 class, you can bet that they were aggressive in building their yield projection for this current cycle. Could be a good waitlist bet. On the contrary, a school that hit the waitlist hard last year is not very likely to admit a lot of students off the waitlist this year, because their reaction is the complete opposite – to get conservative and shrink the projected rate.

Another way you can anticipate a big waitlist push is to figure out which schools are getting leveraged in the financial aid game. What that means is to pay close attention on forums and message boards to get an idea of where the big scholarship awards are coming from … and which schools are often the “other” choice in the inevitable “where should I go?” scenarios. Several years ago, the money was coming from Penn Law and the most common question was “take money at Penn or go to Chicago without aid?” Several months later, Chicago Law School was going to the waitlist, while Penn had its best class ever. This year, Michigan’s law school seems to be flooding the market with cash, putting the screws to NYU, among others. Just looking at the money game, it stands to reason that Michigan will enroll a big class without much waitlist activity, while NYU might have to scramble a bit. So if you got waitlisted at NYU and love the school, get very aggressive about letting them know that. You might just help out both parties immensely.

What is the one thing the school wants to know most about me as a waitlist candidate? Pure and simple, they want to know if you will enroll should they accept you. It sounds a bit crude, but the time for high level matchmaking is largely over – at this stage, the admissions committee simply wants to figure out whether you will be a “one-for-one” conversion. A “one-for-one” refers to the idea that each admitted student off the waitlist will enroll in the program. This is extremely important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the impact it has on the admissions numbers that the school must report at the end of the process. Each additional acceptance letter raises the ever-important acceptance rate and each admitted student that does not enroll further drops the yield rate. Once a program goes to the waitlist (especially if it is unplanned), they are already fully engaged in damage mitigation. Therefore, their primary concern is identifying qualified students (again, this is the value of the waitlist – you can stock a pool of candidates who are all qualified) who will enroll if given the chance.

Many schools will determine this solely by reviewing the materials on file, but others will reach out and try to take the temperature of their waitlisted students. We’ll spend some time tomorrow sorting out the best way to communicate your continued interest, but if you express only one thing, make sure it is this: “If you admit me, I will show up.”

Tomorrow: How to put together a waitlist plan of attack.

MBA Admissions: Waitlist Advice

Being waitlisted by your target business school can feel a lot like flipping a coin and seeing it end up on its edge; this lack of a final answer after months of anticipation can almost feel more frustrating than receiving a firm “yes” or “no.” But take heart in the fact that you’re still in the MBA admissions game, and there may be more that you can do to ultimately get accepted.

First of all, know that a waitlist decision is much more similar to an acceptance than a rejection. The admissions office clearly saw something in your application that it liked, but for some reason — perhaps you have a weaker undergrad transcript than they’d like to see, or there are simply too many other applicants who look just like you — just couldn’t pull the trigger and offer you a seat. While this can be very frustrating, in many cases (depending on the school) you have at least one more chance to show that you have what your target school looks for in its candidates.

Before you do anything, you will need to determine your school’s policy for handling waitlisted candidates. Some schools readily welcome updates and additional correspondence, while others will allow only certain kinds of contact, such as messages sent to a specific email address. Some business schools, however, explicitly forbid you from contacting the admissions office under any circumstances. If this describes your target school, do yourself a favor and obey this policy — not doing so makes admissions officers’ jobs easy (i.e., it’s easy for them to remove you from further consideration). It’s frustrating, we know, but you won’t help your cause by ignoring the rules.

Assuming that your target MBA program does allow you to contact the admissions office, then think about what potential weaknesses in your candidacy you may be able to bolster. Ask yourself:

  • Did I clearly define my career goals?
  • Was it clear how earning an MBA will help me achieve these goals?
  • In what ways did I demonstrate fit with my target school?
  • How did I showcase my leadership, intellect, maturity, and teamwork abilities?
  • Did my GMAT score, undergraduate transcript, and professional experience prove my ability to succeed in the business school classroom?
  • What about my application made me stand out vs. applicants with a similar profile?
  • Did I do enough to demonstrate my enthusiasm for the school, including visiting the school and speaking with current students?

Once you have identified some potential weaknesses, draft a letter (paper is better, although email may be required) highlighting new information that offsets these weaknesses. Outside of these weaknesses, any big news in your life — such as a job promotion, a significant achievement at work, or a notable new contribution to your community — also makes for a good reason to contact the admissions office.

Once you do this, your job is not done. Assuming the MBA admissions office welcomes this contact, plan on making contact with a short and professional note every few weeks to remind them that you still exist and to reiterate your interest. If you can manage a trip to campus, great, but don’t expect an admissions officer to officially meet with you. Still, short and relevant notes like these can be the difference between getting lost in the waitlist and getting into your target business school.

Visit Veritas Prep for more information on navigating the waitlist and for help in crafting your own waitlist letter.