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!