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

January 19, 2012

Waitlisted? Now what?

This is an updated and expanded version of a previous post. For Chicago Booth's Waitlist Video see here, but read the post below first.

Waitlisted MBA applicants most common question: "Why me?"

Schools waitlist because....
...they actually are uncertain whether their estimated yield- the percentage of admitted applicants who accept an offer of admision will be sufficient to fill their class. It is the admissions office's job to make sure they don't have any empty seats.
...they have too many qualified applicants for too few slots, but want to reserve the possibility of eventually letting someone in. This is especially true of those whose apply and are waitlisted in R1 (or, in a few cases, whose applications are deferred from R1 to R2).
...the applicant comes from a demographic group that is over-represented (Think "White American Male Finance Industry" and "Indian Male IT" as being the most over-represented profiles for US programs) and the school wants to admit the applicant if space permits.
...they like but don't love an applicant.  I think actually this is more rare than is the case with the previous reasons.  In my experience, when schools are willing to give feedback to waitlisted applicants (Kellogg does an exceptional job of this), there are rarely significant problems and it is not usually because of something specifically wrong with the applicant.

Schools don't waitlist because...
...to make applicants feel better by giving some sort of second prize.
...their are sadistic fiends, but from a waitlisted applicant's perspective, it might feel that way.

In the rest of this post, I will provide advice on what do if you are waitlisted by an MBA program.


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

2. For those waitlisted in the first 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.

3. For those waitlisted in the second or third round, adcom also likes you, but they are not yet convinced that it would be right to give you a spot because there were simply too many qualified applicants. Your wait could go on for months. Consider other alternatives, but don't give up because it is possible to get off the waitlist.

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

Also, keep in mind that some schools, simply do not accept any additional materials.  Wharton, for example, has the following policy:
"Candidates can expect to remain on the waitlist until the following round of decisions are released. There is no rank order to the waitlist. We are unable to offer feedback to candidates while they remain on the list. We are also unable to accept additional materials for inclusion in a waitlisted applicant's file. This policy is designed to create an admissions process that is fair and equitable for all candidates."
On their Admissions Blog, Wharton reiterates this policy.  See here for example.  If you are waitlisted at Wharton, the only thing to really do is just wait. 

5. GMAT and TOEFL: If you can take it again, do it if your scores are less than stellar, if your score goes up report it. Higher scores are always helpful for any school that will take additional information.

6. Additional recommendation: If they will take one, provide it. It is fine to send more than one recommendation if the school allows it. Think very strategically about your selection(s). You don't want a recommendation that will not add something substantially different from what your previous recommendations stated. Try to use a recommender (or recommenders) who will do one or more of the following:
(a) A recommender who will provide support to help you overcome any areas of professional and/or academic 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. This is especially important if your iBT TOEFL or IELTS score is not that high or if you think your interview was not so strong because of your speaking skills.

Additionally, many schools will also take informal recommendations from alumni or current students, 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 in your initial application, you should do so.
(e) If you did not focus very much on non-professional content in your application, focus on it here, at least to some extent.
(f) If you were waitlisted without an interview, remember to ask for the opportunity to interview.

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 have not visited the school and can visit the school, do so. Make a point of letting admissions know this, either in your waitlist essay or through contact with them.  VISITING (or even visiting again) CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  For schools where you can actually meet with admissions, making a personal appeal is worth the effort.  Showing your commitment to a school that is open to such an appeal can result in a positive outcome.  Note:  The personal appeal approach does not work at all schools.  It is especially does not work if admissions has told you that they cannot meet with you.  It also does not work if you are simply not good at selling yourself.  My clients who have succeeded at using a personal approach with admissions, have, in general, been highly charismatic individuals.

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. If you had an interview, how did it go? While it might not be easy for you to fully remember or assess it, think critically about your interview experience.  If you have done well on other interviews, did this one go as well?  While it is obviously too late to do anything about any interview that was not ideal, thinking about your interview experience might very well help you figure out where the problem was and consider how to approach future interviews.  Unless you are certain that your interview went well, assume the interview was at least part if not the entire problem.  Schools seemingly place a different level of value on interviews.  At HBS and MIT, for example, interviews are conducted by admissions staff who have taken the time to review your application completely, so assume a waitlist there, at least partially reflects the fact that compared to other candidates you were good, but others received an overall higher evaluation.  For schools like Wharton or Columbia, where interviews are conducted blind,  assume the interview is just one factor.  For schools that put a huge emphasis and have intensive interviews, such as  IMD, HEC, and LBS, assume the interview was certainly a critical factor for why you are now waitlisted.

11. 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 waitlist, reapplication, interview, and comprehensive consulting services.

12. 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 2012, reapply for 2013, or expand your career in some other way. Whatever the case, you need a Plan B in place. If you are thinking about applying to more schools for 2012 or just reconsidering school selection in general, please see here.

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

-Adam Markus
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I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on google docs here, and then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com.  You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. See here for why. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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