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Waitlisted in Round 2? Here’s How You Should Proceed

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In the last week few weeks we saw multiple decision releases from the schools we cover for Round 2. MBA LiveWire has captured a lot of this news and many candidates have already been reporting that they’ve been waitlisted.

We have some guidance for candidates who find themselves placed on a waitlist, but before we get to that, let’s look first at why schools use a waitlist.

First and foremost, while schools now know the quality of their Round 1 matriculants and Round 2 applicants, they do not know how many of the candidates admitted as part of Round 2 will ultimately enroll, nor the number of outstanding candidates in Round 3. Simply put, the waitlist helps schools manage these unknowns to arrive at the strongest possible class come fall. Some schools will be concerned that other schools may need to admit candidates from their waitlists in the next few months, which will have a “knock on” impact, and mean they will have to also go to their waitlists. The goal of the school is, after all, to admit the best overall class, regardless of when someone applies.

Schools also can learn, by placing a candidate on the waitlist, how committed he or she is to attending the school. There is signal value in how a candidate responds to the waitlist decision. Some candidates placed on a waitlist receive offers at other schools they would prefer to attend, in which case they will opt out. Others remain convinced that the school that has waitlisted them is their best choice and will hold out to see if they can ultimately gain admission.

Six Tips for Making the Best of the Waitlist

If you find yourself on the waitlist, don’t lose hope. Some top programs admit a number of individuals from the waitlist in Round 3 and even later. That said, we know that cautious optimism does not make the wait for an answer any easier. To help those in this situation make sure that they’re doing all they can, we do have a few strategic waitlist tips:

  1. Better options, time to move on

Many candidates that are placed on the waitlist for Round 2 have actually received admissions decisions at other schools, some of which may be preferred options. If this is you, then it is an easy decision; alert the school that you are declining their waitlist offer and moving on. While some candidates may be tempted to remain on the waitlist just to see what the final outcome might be, this will only harm your fellow applicants who need a spot from the waitlist.

  1. Know—and follow—the rules

Schools vary in their stances when it comes to interaction with those on the waitlist; some shun communication from applicants and even go so far as to discourage on-the-record campus visits, whereas others welcome correspondence and assign an admissions office liaison to serve the needs of waitlisted candidates.

We know that the natural impulse is to update the adcom that recent promotion or the final grade from that accounting class you took to bolster your academic profile. At first blush, a short letter or quick call to communicate this kind of update might seem harmless. But no matter how exciting the piece of news you want to share may be, ignoring the adcom’s instructions is ultimately going to reflect badly on you. Though policies discouraging communication from waitlisted candidates may seem frustrating or unfair, it’s important to respect and abide by the preferences of each school.

  1. Communicate if you can

For those programs that do permit or encourage contact from waitlisters, it is important to provide an update. In addition to the obvious news items mentioned above, it’s beneficial to read over your essays and reflect on whether there is some piece of your background or interests that you haven’t gotten across yet. Taking the time to write about your relevant recent experiences, positive developments in your candidacy and ways that you’ve enhanced your understanding of the program is a nice sign of your interest in the school and a good strategy for telegraphing your commitment to attending. It is, of course, also in your interest to make sure that the adcom has the most up-to-date information so that it can make an informed decision the next time your file comes up for evaluation.

A quick tip: You can access MBA LiveWire and filter the results by the status “Accepted from the Waitlist” and the school that has placed you on the waitlist. You may learn what other candidates did to move off the waitlist.

  1. Keep in touch

Don’t disappear after an initial note to the adcom or phone call to your waitlist manager (if applicable). If you have plans to be on or near campus, for instance, send a quick email to alert your waitlist manager (or whoever you may have interacted with on the adcom) to this fact. In many cases, you’ll find that the adcom will even invite you to stop by for a friendly chat about your candidacy—something that can go a long way towards helping your case. Beyond a visit, sending a brief update every few weeks or so is another way to reaffirm your interest in the school and keep you fresh in the minds of the adcom—something that could work to your advantage in a discussion of which candidates to admit from the waitlist. In all cases, it is important to remember that there is a fine line between persistence and pestering, so use good judgment!

  1. Letters of support

If, during the admissions process, you have interacted with students or alumni of the program, it may be worth reaching back out to these individuals and updating them on your status. Assuming you have made a positive impression during the admissions cycle, they may be willing to provide an additional letter of support for your candidacy at this stage of the process.

  1. Have a contingency plan

While it’s important to be consistent and enthusiastic when waitlisted and communicate with staff at your target program, it’s also wise to have a backup plan. Many waitlisted candidates will have admissions to other schools to which they might plan to attend if not accepted from the waitlist of their preferred school. Even if you’re waitlisted at the school of your dreams and intend to reapply if not admitted, it’s also never too early to start thinking about the coming year and what steps you might take to enhance your candidacy before next fall.

For valuable guidance about being on the waitlist, check out the Clear Admit Waitlist Guide.  This guide will teach you to understand the ground rules of a program’s waitlist policy, formulate a plan to address weaknesses in your candidacy, craft effective communications to the admissions committee and explore every opportunity to boost your chances of acceptance. This 23-page PDF file, which includes school-specific waitlist policies and sample communication materials, is available for immediate download.

You can also listen to our podcast on the waitlist for additional insights and tactics you can deploy.

Alex Brown
Alex is a co host for Clear Admit's Wire Taps podcast. He has spent 30 years in the MBA admissions industry, and authored the book: Becoming a Clear Admit: The Definitive Guide to MBA Admissions