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MBA Applicant Waitlisted?!# Now What?

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Welcome back to our 10-part series, in which we share an excerpt from the recently published book Becoming a Clear Admit: The Definitive Guide to MBA Admissions, with added commentary from its author, Alex Brown.

In this ninth part of the series, we look at what you can do if you end up on a school’s waitlist.

Book Excerpt:

What to Do if You Are Waitlisted

You should follow the rules provided by the school about how to follow up. A very few schools, like Harvard and Wharton, ask for no follow up other than a signal that you accept your place on the waitlist. If you are waitlisted by one of these schools and want to attend, you should simply let them know you accept the place. That being said, if you have a substantial change that is relevant to your candidacy, like a significant promotion, you might forward that information along. You might also choose to notify your advocates at the school. While it is technically not in keeping with the stated rules, there are cases where candidates have done this and been successful. Frankly, this is unfair to other candidates who are waitlisted at these schools, as it does create a great deal of uncertainty. (See additional notes in Chapter 8 for more discussion.)

If you are waitlisted at a school that encourages you to follow up, then you should be proactive and develop a strategy that helps you stand out from other candidates on the waitlist. Principle to your strategy is making sure that the school knows that you will attend if offered admission. A few schools will actually call waitlist candidates to confirm their commitment to attend before making an admissions offer. Other things to convey in your waitlist correspondence include any improvements in your candidacy since you first applied, as well as any new realizations about the school and its fit with your goals. Visiting the school (again) and adding a couple of additional letters of support would also be appropriate.

The reality is that if you are waitlisted in Round 1, getting off the waitlist for Round 2 is quite doable with a good strategy. If you are waitlisted in Round 2 or later, then your success will be more dependent on yield numbers and your overall profile.

Waitlist decisions are typically revisited during the following round, at which time you could be re-waitlisted. Once the final round is over, further waitlist decisions can occur at any time during the summer, right up until the first day of class.

Author’s Commentary:

The waitlist process causes those candidates who are waitlisted the most anxiety, and for good reason. Their final decision is now based on how a school’s class is shaping up, and whether its yield (percentage of admits who decide to attend) is similar to previous years, or not. If a school’s yield is lower than usual, it may need to accept more candidates from its waitlist, and if its yield is higher, then it will need to accept fewer.

Schools also have to react to other schools’ admissions decisions; some candidates gain admission to multiple schools, and some of those admissions decisions come in later rounds. This means that a candidate may decide to join a school that admits him later in the admissions cycle, after already submitting a deposit at another school. All these factors weigh into whether a school then decides to turn to its waitlist and make more admissions decisions.

So while being on the waitlist at your top choice is not ideal, it doesn’t by any mean signify that you’re done for, especially if yours was a waitlist decision from an early round.