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MBA Admissions Tip: Five Tips for Making the Best of the Waitlist

For better or for worse, waitlisting is rather popular with top schools in the first round of admissions. As such, this admissions tip offers guidance for candidates who find themselves placed on a waitlist. Before we get to that, let’s look first at why schools use a waitlist.

Why Schools Use the Waitlist

First and foremost, while schools now know the quality of their Round 1 pool, they don’t yet know how strong the remainder of their applicants for this admissions season will prove, nor can they predict how many of the candidates admitted as part of Round 1 will ultimately enroll. Simply put, the waitlist helps schools manage these unknowns to arrive at the strongest possible class come fall. Some schools will “under admit” Round 1 candidates in case there is a flood of quality applicants in Round 2 or a higher yield of Round 1 candidates than predicted. The goal of the school is, after all, to admit the best overall class, regardless of when someone applies. They also do not want to over admit during an early round, which will limit their opportunities to admit strong candidates later, thus the push to “under admit,” and place significant quantities of candidates on the waitlist who may very well gain admission in later rounds. Chicago Booth explains this well on their website:

“The waitlist at Chicago Booth is used to gauge the pool of candidates in a subsequent round before offering a final decision to those candidates placed on the waitlist.”

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.

Five Tips for Making the Best of the Waitlist

If you find yourself on the waitlist, don’t lose hope. Top programs admit a fair number of individuals from the waitlist in Round 2 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. 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.

2. Communicate if you can. 

For those programs that do permit or encourage contact from waitlisters—Booth, for example, has traditionally invited waitlisted candidates to submit an additional 300-word essay—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.

3. 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!

4. 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.

5. 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. With the Round 2 deadlines for several top programs a little over a month away, there’s still time to put together a solid application to another 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 32-page PDF file, which includes school-specific waitlist policies and sample communication materials, is available for immediate download.

Good luck to everyone waiting to receive decisions over the next few weeks!

Posted in: Admissions Tips, Application Tips, Feature Small, Planning Tips

About the Author

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal

Lauren Wakal is the Editor-in-Chief of Clear Admit, responsible for overseeing content creation for the site. Lauren has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.

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