The MBA Admissions Waitlist: Best Practices for Applicants

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: March 22, 2015)

As MBA programs begin sending out second-round decisions, many candidates will find themselves stuck in the nebulous world of the MBA admissions waitlist.  This can be a tricky place. On the one hand, it’s important to let a school know that, if admitted, you would accept in a heartbeat. On the other, it’s important to demonstrate good judgment and humility. That is, you don’t want to pester members of the admission committee, faculty, or students.

To help navigate the MBA admissions waitlist process, we wanted to share some of our best practices, built partly from our own experience during the admissions process.

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.

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 admissions offer. For example, HBS, Wharton, and MIT have very different instructions for wait list applicants.

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 one is extended. 

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.

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.

Look for improvement opportunities. Ask someone you know to look at your application and help you identify possible areas for improvement. We’re happy to do this as part of our free consultation service, which you can take advantage of by clicking the button on the ride side of this page or emailing us at [email protected]. If the weakness is an area, such as your test score, where it might be possible to demonstrate stronger results quickly, consider strategies for doing so.

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 that asking the admissions committee for some feedback 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.

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 our second tip in this blog post!). 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. Be strategic.

As an illustration, MIT Sloan – one of the few schools that do not discourage candidates from submitting new material (“we encourage waiting list applicants to keep us updated on their situation and intentions. You are welcome to submit via e-mail only any additional information you feel will be helpful to us”) – clearly stated in a past waitlist chat that “all applicants placed on the wait list should send 2-4 updates to show their interest in attending MIT Sloan. Updates should demonstrate evidence of professional success (new projects/results/promotions), updated test scores or additional coursework, and additional unofficial recommendations“.

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.

Withdraw if you’ve accepted elsewhere. If at any point in the process you accept an admissions 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.

If you have additional questions about the waitlist process, our own experiences, or about your application in particular, don’t hesitate to reach out to us via [email protected]. We’ll respond to your questions quickly, and we’re happy to give you our best perspective on why your application may have been waitlisted.

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