This happens every year. You have invested a significant amount of time and effort into your MBA applications, have done well at your interview, and are now waiting eagerly to get that coveted admit offer. Instead, you receive that discouraging letter that you have been ‘waitlisted.’ Being on the waitlist is understandably a tricky situation that is good news as well as bad news. The bad news is that you will have to wait a bit longer to get in, and the good news is that the ‘waitlist’ is not the end of your MBA dreams. There is a bright side to it as well. It gives you confidence that you have reached this far, and there is still hope of getting off the waitlist if you work hard. You have not been denied but are given another chance to prove to the admissions committee that you are a deserving candidate.
Please note that business schools put only qualified candidates on the waitlist. Sometimes, the schools put you on the waitlist because of something you did. Sometimes you are on the waitlist because you belong to a highly competitive pool, such as the pool of Indian foreign national male engineers. In this case, the volume of qualified applicants with strong applications is high, and the Admissions Committee finds other candidates more compelling, for some reason. Oftentimes, it is simply a numbers game, and schools have to wait and see how students from your demographic are accepting or not accepting their admission offers.
So if you end up on the waitlist, don’t lose heart. Here are some steps that you can take to get off the waitlist.
- Briefly Thank the School:
After you get over your initial disappointment, go ahead, and take your first step. Thank the school for continuing to consider your application and mention how the school’s resources and motto fit your educational preferences and goals. Be positive and do not mention your disappointment in not being offered the letter of admission.
- Read the Waitlist Letter and Follow the Instructions:
Applicants should follow the waitlist instructions provided by each school. Some schools make it clear that they will reach out to you when the time comes. For example, Wharton and Harvard Business School ask candidates not to provide additional material. Wharton only accepts updates to your GMAT score, a new job, or other coursework. So follow the instructions. However, some schools provide the applicant with feedback on weak areas and accept new pieces of information. Some schools want you to follow up with additional information, such as a new recommender, update on your job, or progress report on classes you might be taking. Whatever they say, please do it.
- Discuss Recent Achievements:
Review your application again, or have an expert do it for you. Have you missed anything good? Has there been any significant improvement since you submitted your application? Have you led a project or organization? Have you volunteered or have taken a leadership role in a non- profit? Have you taken your department, business, or club in a new direction? Have you published an article or earned a patent? Have you launched a business? Have you recently received a promotion or assumed additional responsibility? Have you succeeded in an incredibly demanding class or project? In short, you should bring out any recent accomplishments not discussed in your application and, if possible, tie them back to some of the themes or experiences you have discussed in your essay(s).
- Discuss How You Have Addressed Shortcomings:
In order to show to the Ad Com that you are serious, you should directly address the shortcomings of your application. For instance, if your GMAT score is lower than ideal, consider retaking the GMAT and show improvement. If you have a low quant score on the GMAT, make sure to take some stats classes at your local community college. If you lack an analytical background, take a Math class at a community college and earn an ‘A.’ The admissions committee will appreciate that you are committed to improving your qualifications and are addressing shortfalls in your application. If your GPA is low and you didn’t create an alternate transcript, now might be a good time to do something in that direction. GMAT and GPA are the two key reasons why candidates are waitlisted.
- Submit an Additional LOR:
An additional LOR can go a long way, especially if you missed something elsewhere in your application. Approach someone for another reference. And again, ask a third party to read your materials with a fresh set of eyes to identify any gap. Seek an additional letter of recommendation from someone who can attest to your leadership and character. You can ask someone senior at your work or a key leader at a non -profit organization where you are handling leadership roles. You can also consider securing a recommendation from an alumni member of the school in question, mainly if the alumni member has achieved notable success. The ideal additional recommendation letters will shed light on a new dimension to your profile that was not evident in your previous letters. An additional LOR will help if your earlier LORS were not as strong as you had expected them to me.
- Visit the School:
Visiting the school can also show the admissions committee that you are serious about attending the program. In your letter, explain how the visit demonstrated that you were a good fit for the school, how the specific program would help you achieve your long-term goals, and contribute to the school community. Some admission committee members feel more strongly about visits than others. But they understand that if you are an international candidate, it’s not always a realistic expectation. However, if the school is conducting info sessions in your city or your country, it’s a good idea to attend that.
- Elaborate Short-Term and Long-Term Goals:
If you think that you have not articulated or communicated your goals with enough details, then this is the time to work in that area. The schools want to know that you have a clear idea of what your post-MBA goals are and how you plan to progress from short term to long term goals. Do more research, talk to students and alumni, and reach out to the people in the industry you are targeting.
- Write a Letter Restating Your Interest:
If the school is your first choice and you are confident that you would attend this school, make it clear to the admissions committee that you will be willing to accept an offer the same day it was extended and pay the tuition deposit immediately. Making clear how passionate you are about the school would help the school look at your application positively.
Whatever additional information you are giving, keep your essay/email crisp and to the point 500-750 words. Don’t rewrite or even summarize your life history or essays. Stay focused on what you have accomplished since you submitted your application.
- Have a Plan B:
Be realistic and have a Plan-B because waitlists don’t always translate into admit offers. Now is the time to build and put into action a backup plan. Make up your mind if you would like to apply to more schools or decide to stay at your job for another year. Whatever you choose, you must have a viable option. Personally, I have seen applicants applying to more schools while simultaneously taking the necessary steps to get off the waitlist.
- Be Patient:
Lastly, and most importantly, be patient. Do not panic and jeopardize your application by sending daily emails to the admission committee members or making constant calls to the admissions office. Instead, focus on other applications you might be working on and remain positive. I recommend that you stay in touch with the school every 3 to 4 weeks with an exciting update and notify them of the steps you are taking to strengthen your application. But reach out to them only if you have something to say. Do not contact them to say that you are still interested, as this might work against you.
If you have taken all the necessary steps, rest assured you have done your best to get to the finish line. All you can do now is stay strong and positive as you wait on this last leg of the MBA admissions process.