10 Steps to Navigating the Waitlist Process
1. Be positive. Admissions committees only invite candidates to join the waitlist if they think they might extend you an admissions offer. It is an honest demonstration by the admissions committee of their interest in you. So, be positive about your status. Schools ultimately hand out dozens of invitations to waitlisted candidates, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be one of them.
2. Follow the school’s instructions. Every school will provide waitlisted candidates with a set of instructions. Read them carefully, and follow them unwaveringly. Ignoring the school’s instructions is a surefire way to blow your chance at an offer.
3. Contact your waitlist manager. Many schools, although certainly not all, will provide you with the name of a waitlist manager that you can contact throughout the process. Get in touch with that contact early, and make sure to emphasize your enthusiasm for the program. It’s important to let the school know that you would accept an admissions offer if extended.
4. Understand the next steps. Being on the waitlist can be an anxiety-ridden process. One of the best tools for mitigating that anxiety is understanding how the school’s process works. Most schools are good about providing this information, but if it’s unclear, make sure to ask the appropriate contact for clarification. Then set your expectations appropriately so they are calibrated to the process the school laid out.
5. Convey your timeline. Admissions committees understand that applicants often apply to multiple programs. If you have offers from other schools that expire, make sure to convey those deadlines to your waitlist contact. Admissions committees will often (although not always) try to be respectful of your timeline. However, don’t use deadlines to try to force the school to make a decision. Be polite, respectful, and informative.
6. Look for improvement opportunities. Ask someone you know to look at your application and help you identify possible areas for improvement. If it’s an area, such as your test score, where it might be possible to demonstrate stronger results quickly, consider strategies for doing so.
7. But don’t pester the school for feedback. Most of the time, an invitation to join the waitlist will not be accompanied by feedback. When that’s the case, it’s unlikely asking for some will help your cause. The admissions committee will reach out to you if there’s something they feel they need to inform their decision. Nagging them outside of that can demonstrate impatience and poor judgment.
8. Provide updates only if they are meaningful. As you’re looking for areas to improve, keep in mind that more is not always better. In fact, it can often be worse. Some schools don’t accept additional materials at all (in which case, see step number two in this guide!). Be strategic about any updates you provide to the admissions committee. A higher test score, for example, can be helpful. A promotion or a job change can be significant. A really solid additional letter of recommendation can benefit you if it truly provides new perspective. But don’t send in a whole new application or start drafting new essays. Be selective.
9. Make a trip to campus. It can be helpful, especially if you didn’t interview on campus, to make time to visit the school. However, keep in mind the golden rule of waitlist management: don’t pester the admissions committee. If you do visit campus, don’t stage a sit-in or drop by the admissions office unexpectedly. With that said, visiting campus can help demonstrate your interest in the program and show you are committed to the application process.
10. Withdraw if you’ve accepted elsewhere. If at any point in the process you accept an admission offer elsewhere, withdraw your application from the waitlist promptly. Not only is it the right thing to do, but maintaining a professional relationship with all of the business schools that you apply to – regardless of the outcome – is just smart.
Our Experience – From the Founders
Vincent’s Experience: I was wait-listed at a top U.S. business school and did a few things to secure a spot. First, I reiterated my interest in joining the program and explained over email why I thought it was a top choice for me to get my MBA. I also stated that if taken off the wait-list, I would accept the offer on the spot. I really meant it. Additionally, an alumna (and colleague) offered to write a recommendation via email to the adcom, explaining how extensively we had discussed my MBA options and why she thought I was a great fit for that school. We had worked regularly together, so she wrote a meaningful recommendation email. Finally, as an international student, I had interviewed abroad; after being put on the waitlist, I made the trip to the school’s campus, attended classes, and met with students. It gave me a chance to truly demonstrate my interest for the school. Eventually I was admitted to HBS and therefore decided to withdraw from the waitlist at that other school (an important thing to do as a sign of respect to other waitlisted applicants).