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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

March 04, 2008

Waitlisted? Now what?

You can find an updated version of this post here.

This seems to be a very tough year to get admitted. I think we can assume next year will be even worse because more Americans will be applying to graduate school in lieu of being unemployed or underemployed. When the US economy goes bad, applications rise and the reverse is also true. Like every year, applicants find themselves getting waitlisted. While this post will focus on MBA, it also applies in general to other kinds of graduate programs. Here are my suggestions for how to proceed if you are waitlisted at B-School:

1. Don't panic or become depressed. The reason you were waitlisted is because there were too many qualified applicants and adcom likes, but don't know that they love you yet. Now is the time to think clearly and act effectively.

2. There are many reasons for getting waitlisted, but one I would like to immediately mention is yield control. That is to say, waitlisting highly qualified candidates who are applying to other top schools, is one way to further maximize yield (the percentage of admitted applicants who attend). Adcom directors want higher yield rates, not lower ones. After all, a higher yield indicates that more admits are choosing their school over other schools the applicants were admitted to. Consider the following yield rates ("Admitted applicants who enrolled in the newest class") taken from Businessweek:
HBS 89%
Stanford GSB 80%
CBS 77%
Wharton 67%
NYU 57%
Chicago GSB ?????

What does this tell you? As we could expect HBS and Stanford have very high rates, probably with double admits declining one for the other. Columbia which typically loses admits to HBS and Stanford, comes next, but as I stated in an earlier post, their numbers are somewhat inflated because of Early Decision. Wharton is next and it loses to HBS and Stanford consistently, and sometimes to Columbia (LOCATION!). NYU is next and it clearly loses to the rest of these schools as well as some others I did not list. Chicago GSB does not indicate what their yield is. Do they have something to hide? In my experience, they do because they consistently lose to HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, and perhaps MIT as well. The University of Chicago, for all of its association with free markets, does not seem to believe that MBA applicants should be able to make purchasing decisions on the basis of good data.

Waitlisting is a highly reasonable tactic for admissions to take to see who really wants to attend after the 2nd round decisions come out. Therefore you may have been waitlisted because they think you will go elsewhere and they can afford to bet on it.

Keeping yield control in mind, one clear objective of communicating with adcom after you get waitlisted is to show your strong commitment to attend.

3. For those waitlisted from 1st round, you should, of course, know that adcom likes you, but they really wanted to see the main pool of applicants, before making any decisions. You might be waiting for a quite a while longer, but be patient.

4. Be proactive, but not aggressively annoying, with admissions. Adcom will let you know what additional materials they will accept and you should most certainly provide them. That said, the worst thing you can do is send a continuous stream of correspondence or otherwise annoy the admissions office. If you turn yourself into an annoying freak, you can assume you will not get admitted.

5. GMAT & TOEFL: If you can take it again, do it, if your score goes up report it. Higher scores always help.

6. Additional recommendation: If they will take one, provide it. Think very strategically about your selection. You don't want a recommendation that will not add something substantially different from what your previous recommendations stated. Try to use a recommender who will do one more of the following:
(a) A recommender who will provide support for any areas of professional weakness in your background.
(b) A recommender who will provide a perspective on different part of your background.
(c) A recommender who will provide support for earlier or more recent period of your life.
(d) If academic recommendations are acceptable and your GPA is not great, consider getting an academic recommendation if you can get a strong one.
(e) If your English ability maybe the issue, consider getting a recommendation from someone who can speak positively about your English communication skills.

Additionally, many schools will also take informal recommendations from alums, so if you can get one from someone who knows you, it can't hurt.

7. Waitlist essay. Write one! The typical components:
-Additional reasons why you want to attend to show your real commitment and passion for the school. Think classes, school's culture, or any other reason that would make the school ideal for you.
-Discussion of changes that have taken place in your professional career after your applied. If anything new and great has happened, you should most certainly write about it.
- New content that was not emphasized in your application. Use some combination of the following possible topics:
(a) If you did not sufficiently discuss your leadership or teamwork abilities, you should most certainly do so.
(b) Write about contributions you can make to the school based on your experience, background, personality, and network.
(c) If your academic potential was not obvious, you should try to demonstrate that.
(d) If you have SUBSTANTIAL personal or professional accomplishments that you did not discuss, you should do so.
(e) If you did not focus very much on non-professional content in your application, focus on it here.

If the length is not stated, I would try to keep it to between 500 and 1000 words. More is not inherently better, quality is, so don't write about everything you can think of. This essay is quite important, so make sure that the content is at least as good as that of your original application.

8. If you can visit the school, do so.

9. Get a fresh perspective on your application by rereading it now. By doing so, you will probably have a good idea about what kind of recommendation to get and waitlist essay to write.

10. Consider seeking the advice of an admissions consultant. If you have already worked with one, you can go back to that person if you are otherwise pleased with their work. They know you and they could help you put something together that caught admissions' eye. On the other hand, you might want to pay for a fresh perspective. I offer both waitlist and reapplication counseling in addition to interview and comprehensive consulting services.

11. Do you need a PLAN B? If you are waitlisted and/or dinged everywhere you applied, it is now time to start thinking about whether you are going to apply for more schools for Fall 2008, reapply for 2009, or give up. Whichever the case, you need Plan B in place. See my earlier post on getting dinged first round for some suggestions on how to proceed as what I wrote there applies to your situation.

Best of luck and may your wait be short and culminate in admission!

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
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