Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

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

December 21, 2013

Waitlisted? Now what?

This is an updated and expanded version of a previous post on what do if you are waitlisted at an MBA program.

As MBA results roll in with  all their joy, pain, and annoyance have more or less emerged, some people will find themselves  admitted, others outright rejected, and others in that netherworld known as waitlist. For some, the wait will actually end relatively quickly, but for others, the wait might very well continue, well, for months and months. For some, the waitlist will ultimately convert into a ding.

While I have no numbers yet, my expectation is that admissions acceptances to top programs like Booth, HBS,  MIT and Wharton will have become lower for fall 2014 entry (Class of 2016) because of  making the essay burden lower (HBS, MIT, Wharton), proactive use of waitlisting to decrease an acceptance rate that is too high given its ranking (Booth)  and increase yield (Booth and Wharton, Haas and others likely), and overall  market effects (If HBS and Wharton become harder to get into, given the large size of their classes, this impacts competition at other schools as well.). Schools waitlist because they actually are uncertain whether their estimated yield- the percentage of admitted applicants who accept an offer of admision, see here for more about it- will be sufficient to fill their class. They waitlist because they don’t want empty seats. They waitlist because they hav e too many qualified applicants for too few slots, but want to reserve the possibility of eventually letting someone in.  They don’t waitlist to make applicants feel better by giving some sort of second prize.  Schools don’t waitlist because 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.


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 love you yet. Now is the time to think clearly and act effectively.

For those waitlisted in the first round, you should, of course, know that adcom likes you, but they really wanted to see the full pool of applicants, before making any decisions. You might be waiting for a quite a while longer, but be patient. Simultaneously, consider other options.

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.

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 Admisssions Blog, Wharton reiterates this policy.  See here  for example.  If you are waitlisted at Wharton, the only thing to really do is just wait. Basically, they don’t recommendations, essays,  professional updates and it is even unclear whether they consider GMAT/GRE and TOEFL/IELTS increases. Still, I would submit test score increases to schools like Wharton that don’t take additional information.

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

If your GMAT or GRE is below the average for those admitted to the program, an improved test score is, many cases, the single best way to improve your chance of admission. On the other hand if your GMAT or GRE score is at or above the average, improved scores are likely to be of increasingly marginal utility.  That said, if you are from a demographic sub-group where scores are particularly high (Indian males who graduated from one of the IITs for example) then a really higher score could be of greater benefit.

For those required to prove their English ability through TOEFL, IELTS, or the other English exams that some schools will accept (but no one seems to take), an improved score here is always worth reporting. MBA programs want class diversity, but they also want those students who are most effective at communicating in English, so if you can show them better potential for that, do it!

Improving your MBA math skills:  If you have strong and objectively demonstrated quantitative skills based on your academic background, professional certifications (CPA, CFA), and/or GMAT or GRE scores, ignore this topic.
As you may have gathered from filling out applications, a number of schools specifically ask applicants to indicate their highest level of math taken or discuss their quantitative skills if not readily apparent.  If you are not strong in math or have no objective facts that demonstrate it (see examples in previous paragraph), that can really hurt especially at programs know for being quantitatively rigorous.   You can certainly take an online or evening course, but that can take quite a while to complete.  I highly recommend the online course,  MBA Math, because many top schools recommend it as preparation to their students.  It is a self-study program and you receive a certificate completion once you are finished with it, which can then be provided to a school you are waitlisted at.  (By the way, I have no connection at all to MBA Math, and this is in no way a compensated endorsement.)

Additional recommendation: If the school 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 is 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 alums or current students, so if you can get one from someone who knows you, it can’t hurt.

WARNING:  Usually the worst recommendations to send are from high level VIPs you don’t know you well and/or who you have not engaged with in some sort of organized purposeful activity (work, volunteer, mentors, academic, etc.). Sometimes applicants know a senator or a CEO or a former prime minister or someone whose family is a major donor at a university (but not the applicant’s family)  and obtain a recommendation that it more like an abstract character reference or a collection of second-hand reported information. This is not a good thing to do and will not help you unless the recommender has real organizational influence at the school.  If they do have such influence, they probably don’t need to write a formal recommendation to have impact.

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) Changes since you applied. Any positive professional or personal changes should be communicated. For instance, success on a project,  passing a professional certification exam, a promotion,  election to the board of a non-profit organization, etc.
(b) If you did not sufficiently discuss your leadership or teamwork abilities, you should most certainly do so.
(c) Write about contributions you can make to the school based on your experience, background, personality, and network.
(d) If your academic potential was not obvious, you should try to demonstrate that.
(e) If you have SUBSTANTIAL personal or professional accomplishments that you did not discuss in your initial application, you should do so.
(f) 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.

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 this, have, in general, been highly charismatic individuals.

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.  To that end, I suggest analyzing your waitlisted application as though you had dinged already:  In order to figure out what you might need to mitigate in your application, analyze it is as though you had been rejected.  I provide a comprehensive way to do that using resources on this blog.  This will also help you figure out what you need to differently with any subsequent applications that you make. 

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 Haas 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 the critical factor for why you are now waitlisted.

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.

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 2013, reapply for 2014, 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 Fall 2013 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
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. 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. 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.

December 16, 2013

London Business School Fall 2014 MBA Application Essay Questions

In this post I analyze the London Business School’s MBA admissions essay questions for the Class of 2016. Thinking about London Business School reminds me of the strength of the alumni network, the quality of its academic research, its core competencies in finance and international business, the intensity of its campus community, and the emphasis that LBS puts on active student involvement within that community.

For my suggestions on how to prepare for LBS interviews, please see here. 

I have worked with a number of clients admitted to LBS. I had a total of 16 admitted since 2008 as well as prior clients from 2001-2007.  You can find testimonials from some of them here.   I do suggest reviewing the interviews I have conducted with my former clients from the Classes of  20102011 2012 and 2014.  They each provide their own unique perspective on LBS.

The Essay Questions
You get the MBA Essays here. LBS has been altering its questions almost every year.
1. What do you want LBS to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were going to tell admissions 1-3 things about you that would not be obvious from rest of the application, what would they be? Why should LBS care?
4.  What could you discuss about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you?

Word Count
LBS is very strict about this:
“You are required to add the word count at the end of each question.
 Please do not write more than the specified word limit for each essay. Any extra words or essays may be disregarded. “ 

Learn about London Business School and figure out how you will contribute: The more you know the better, especially when it comes to contribution questions such as LBS Essay Questions 2 and 3, I think it is important to tell specific stories that highlight specific ways you will add value to your future classmates and the LBS community as a whole.  Fully explore the LBS website, get in touch with alums, and even contact students. WATCH MBA TV! The LBS Japanese student website is ideal for Japanese applicants. Do whatever it takes to become sufficiently informed about the school. Attend events if you can and even better, go visit if that is possible. The school has strengths beyond finance, entrepreneurship, and international business, so explore them. Figure out specifically what parts of the program will most effectively assist you in succeeding at your post-MBA plan.

Question 1
What will your future look like after completing your MBA (500 words)?

This question is focused specifically on your career post-MBA.  You should certainly explain why you need MBA  in order to show how LBS will help achieve your post-MBA goal, but the real focus is on discussing that post-MBA future.  In Questions 2 and 3 you have the opportunity to discuss LBS, so don’t feel like you need to do too much of that here.

A good answer to Essay 1 will:
Provide a specific post-MBA short-term plan. What industry, function, and even company do want to work for?  Why? (What motivates you?).  LBS values clarity in terms of career objectives.  Assume the realism of your post-MBA plans will be seriously scrutinized by the admissions office.  While being ambitious is important, it surely needs to be the case that admissions should feel that you are someone they should take a bet on admitting because your post-MBA prospects are well-thought out. They know you may change your plans, but at least show you can put together a viable plan for your post-MBA future. 

Provide a clear longer-term vision. This might be stated in terms of a specific job, but also could be stated in terms of an overall mission. You can be a more vague here than what you discuss in the short-term. Make sure you explain what motivates you.  Since LBS’ question is focused on the future, some applicants may very well find themselves writing in great detail about what they hope their long-term future will look like. 

If you are having difficulty formulating goals. please see see http://www.adammarkus.com/class-of-2016-stanford-gsb-essay-2-what-do-you-want-to-do-really-and-why-stanford/. There I provide detailed advice on to think about and brainstorm post-MBA goals.

Given that LBS is asking you to consider your future, you could write the essay from that future perspective. Here are two examples of what I mean by that:
Practical Future:  In 2016, after finished my MBA, I imagine joining…. There I hope to… LBS helped prepare me for this role by…
Far Future Looking back on career since graduating from LBS thirty years ago…
Comparative (Now versus post-MBA): Another option would be to write this essay in terms of a comparison between your present self and what you hope to become after you obtain your MBA.  

There are other ways of effectively answering this question, just remember to keep your answer focused on the future. Your past experience can be used to help understand what you want to become, but if you find you are writing more about the past than the future, you most likely have a problem.

Why LBS? Why MBA?
While this question does not specifically require to explain why you need an MBA,  I think most applicants will find it helpful to include such an explanation in the essay.  Just keep in mind that the focus of this question is not on the MBA, but on your future.  Whether you are a career changer or a career enhancer or some combination of the two, I think explaining how an MBA from LBS will make your post-MBA future possible is surely worth including.

Especially for those who choose to structure their essay in terms of  the comparative approach (mentioned above) or who are career changers (Now versus post-MBA), you will find it necessary to include a clear explanation of how an MBA from LBS made your post-MBA future possible.  For those seeking to enhance their current career path, I think explaining what sort of impact you expect from LBS can happen here in Question 1 as well as in Question 3.

Question 2
What value will you add to London Business School (300 words)?

I suggest  writing  about 1-3 specific contributions you will make at LBS.
When it comes to contribution questions, I think it is important to tell specific stories that highlight specific ways you will add value to LBS. You might think of the contributions in terms of  specific clubs or activities, your role in class, your relationship to classmates. and/or the LBS community as a whole.  Focus 1-3 specific stories. For each story highlight how it will be value to LBS.

There are many possible ways to contribute.  Here you should focus on a few ways that really highlight what makes you distinct. In Q3 you might also be discussing what you can contribute but it will be in terms of your responsibility and not just in terms of where you can add the most value (Q2).

Keep in mind that this question is not really very hypothetical because students are expected to get leadership experience through clubs and events. While you should certainly writing about fun clubs and events, you should also consider using this as a way of discussing something that can provide you with valuable opportunities for enhancing your ability to reach your professional objectives. It is reasonable to write on 2-3 different topics here.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
As you can see, these questions would lead to very different kinds of responses. There is no one way to answer this question, but I believe there are right ways for every applicant to do so. The most important thing is that the reader should have a clear understanding of how you will make a distinct positive impact at LBS. 

Question 3
What is the School's responsibility to you and what is your responsibility to the School (400 words)?

Unlike the previous question, which is focused on what you add to LBS, this question is focused on the mutual obligations that will be established between you and LBS.  Consider that you are entering into what will become a lifetime relationship and that LBS is a school that expects both its students and alumni to be actively engaged.   At the same time, it is very reasonable for you to express what you consider to be the school's obligations to you as someone joining this community for your lifetime.

Some possible responsibilities the school has to you include career services, maintaining the brand value and status of the institution over time, effectively selecting your classmates so that you can have the best possible experience (academic, interpersonal, etc), having faculty worth learning from.

Some possible responsibilities you have to the school include being an honest and ethical member of the community as a student or alumnus, contributing back to the community as a student or alumnus, taking leadership in clubs or other activities, active class participation, and contributing to the positive learning experience of your classmates.

I mention these examples above because I think they are really obvious, so the point is to come up with a unique response to this question based on your own experience/goals.  BOTTOM LINE: YOUR OBJECTIVE IS NOT TO JUST MENTION THESE RESPONSIBILITIES IN THE ABSTRACT, BUT TO PERSONALIZE THEM.

The effective answers that I have seen so far for this question have involved the applicant identifying specific responsibilities both for the school and for themselves that become a basis to explain the applicant’s reasons for wanting to attend LBS.

Best of luck with your LBS application.


-Adam Markus
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. 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. 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.
Real Time Web Analytics