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Fridays from the Frontline: “How I’m Handling the Wharton Waitlist”

whartonWelcome back to Fridays From the Frontline, the column in which we highlight the experiences of MBA bloggers. The following is a guest post from TopDogMBA with valuable advice for other applicants about handling business school waitlists that originally appeared on his blog. TopDogMBA has 12 years of experience in corporate investment banking, and he was admitted to MIT Sloan and INSEAD and waitlisted at Wharton. Follow TopDogMBA for more top-notch advice, MBA application stories, and photos of TopDogMBA’s adorable dog Beatrice. 

I’ve thought a long time about whether to post this since it puts me way out there, but I tried real hard to think how a Wharton student would deal with it. My conclusion is that the collaborative Wharton spirit would prevail and they’d share their insight with others in the same situation so here goes…

As you probably know, I got waitlisted by Wharton in R1 and, despite getting admitted by the two other schools I applied to, Wharton remains my top choice. Being on the waitlist is a strange existence though, where you know you came within a hair’s breadth of being admitted yet didn’t quite make the cut.

Admissionado estimates your odds of being admitted from the waitlist (at any school) at somewhere between 15% and 30%. (See this presentation for some waitlist strategy advice from Jon Frank. I also found recent articles from Clear Admit and Veritas Prep very helpful.) Those aren’t great odds. It can also be a very long process so you’ll have to be prepared to deal with it mentally for a few months, but you definitely still have a shot!

Now, all the admissions strategy books and consultants articles I read had one common theme: obey the rules! That sounds simple enough, right? The trouble is that Wharton specifically says they’re “unable to accept additional materials” from waitlisted candidates. So, how do you improve your odds if you aren’t technically allowed to send Admissions anything?

I asked this question to a lot of current students (who got in off the waitlist or knew people who had) as well as my consultants of course. The consistent response was that to get admitted from the waitlist you have to stay in contact with Admissions and, while they don’t take additional materials, an update email doesn’t really count 😉

Slowly my waitlist plan came together. It’s dead simple actually.

Step 1: Reply to the email sent by the waitlist coordinator. This is a no-brainer to say thank you, that the result brought mixed feelings but ultimately I’m dead excited to still be considered for a place at Wharton which is my number one choice.

Step 2: Chill the heck out for the next 1-2 months while working on Step 3. A common mistake is to bombard Admissions – patience is the key here.

Step 3: Send an update email with recent “big wins” closer to the next admissions milestone, which in my case was the date R1 deposits were due (on the assumption that some places might become available around that date).

‘Big wins’ might constitute recent and significant professional developments and/or involvement in social projects or charities and subsequent results. If you don’t have any obvious big wins (and they have to be big to make it relevant to sending an update) then think about what was potentially weak about your application and how you could fix it. I considered retaking the GMAT, doing a relevant quant course, and even doing a Wharton MOOC.

The crafting of this email has to be perfect: 2-3 paragraphs which are deftly dropped into a ‘thank you for remembering me’ message to Admissions.

Step 4: Ask Wharton students or alums who knew me well to write a strong endorsement for me. As a rule of thumb, the best alums to write for you are those who have big names and/or have given money. Those aren’t easy to find, so any alum will do; but the bigger the title and/or the company brand they’re associated with, the better.

And there it is! Not rocket science when you think about it, so please don’t be afraid to stay in touch with the school you’re waitlisted at if it remains your top choice and they have a zero additional materials policy like Wharton. I read so many posts and comments from people who literally interpreted Wharton’s instructions and didn’t even send them a thank you note for being included on the waitlist. That just seems like a big lost opportunity to me!

Like I said at the beginning of this post sharing this puts me way out there and chances are that I’ll still not get an offer, but I totally think that my waitlist plan will help me or, in the worst case, not do me any harm.

Finally, I’d just like to thank all the students, alums and fellow applicants who’ve given me support during the waitlist process. Will keep y’all posted!

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