3 Steps to Getting Admitted Off the MBA Waitlist

by on September 15th, 2015

After waiting for your business school admissions decisions for months, it may feel like a cruel joke to learn that the big decision is: more waiting.

As might be expected, most prospective MBA candidates who get their waitlist notification are sorely disappointed. However, you should remember that being placed on the waitlist is not rejection, it is an opportunity! This is your chance to further demonstrate your commitment to the MBA program, your potential for success, and your ability to continuously improve yourself.

If you are on the MBA waitlist, the admissions committee saw something they liked in your profile and have decided to continue evaluating your candidacy. Give them something to think about—take careful, actionable steps to maximize your chances of being removed from the MBA waitlist, and placed on the “accepted” list.

Step 1: Ask yourself why

The first step in your waitlist strategy is to try to determine why you were placed on your top-choice MBA program’s waitlist, instead of being admitted immediately.

Of course, the admissions process is competitive and sometimes the odds are simply not in your favor—perhaps the school received more applications than usual from people with a profile similar to yours in areas such as professional background, ethnicity, or career goals. For example, over the past several years, white males with finance backgrounds have been up against incredible admissions odds, due to their overrepresentation within the pool of business school applicants.

However, let’s look past circumstances that you cannot control and focus on areas in which you can make concrete improvements to your application.

First, re-read your essays and review your numbers. If you have access to your recommendations, read them. If not, reflect on your relationship with your recommenders. Next, go back to the school’s statistics and admissions criteria. What is the greatest gap in your application? Low GMAT score? Low GPA? Insufficient extracurricular activities? Lack of demonstrated leadership? Whatever the greatest weakness is, there may still be time to do something about it!

Step 2: Fill in the gaps

Whichever weaknesses you have identified in your application, now is the time to work on addressing them.

If your GMAT is low within your dream school’s range, retake it (if you have already broken into the 700’s, retaking might not have been the only factor in your waitlist status, but could still be a consideration). If your GPA is low, take some additional coursework in an analytical area, if you are able to do so, time-wise. Be sure to give any additional classes your full attention—your effort will be wasted if you fail to demonstrate that you are capable of juggling a heavy workload and attaining higher grades than when you were an undergrad.

If you have realized that your community involvement was lacking, get started on a new activity outside of work. Do not just show up–lead the team, recruit new volunteers and spearhead new initiatives! I also recommend managing a new project at work, if possible—you should ask your supervisor about any proposals that may have fallen by the wayside.

Step 3: Keep the communication flowing

After you make changes that could impact the admissions decision, be sure to inform the school. You may do so through an update letter, in which you include your new, higher GMAT score (or your intention to retake the exam), new grades, work achievements such as a promotion, and/or initiatives you have started or joined. You should also reassert your commitment to attending that business school, and mention programs about particularly appeal to you. Be sure to keep the letter succinct and to-the-point. Also, give it some time—do not send a letter immediately after receiving your waitlist notification. At that point, there will not be enough substance to report—instead, wait about a month.

In addition to your own letter, you may ask others to send a letter endorsing your candidacy. For example, you can submit another recommendation letter. If you know an alumnus, it is appropriate to ask them to send a letter on your behalf (but only if they know you well enough to speak in depth regarding your fit for the school environment, and perhaps some details from your background, such as professional excellence and community involvement).

Plan any of your communications so that the admissions office does not receive all updates and endorsements simultaneously. First send an update letter, and then, in another three to five weeks, an additional recommendation. Finally, in another month or so, the alumnus letter can arrive.

Furthermore, be sure to visit campus (and ensure that your visit is recorded with admissions), even if you have visited previously. Request a quick meeting with an admissions officer before you go. Arrive prepared to discuss your updates and ask questions about student life, campus environment, and organizations or clubs you hope to join. Your efforts and dedication will not go unnoticed. Remember, business schools want to accept students who are passionate about them.

Do not worry too much if you find yourself on the MBA waitlist for several months. Business schools continue to consider waitlist applicants into the summer. By following these actionable steps during this timeframe, rather than waiting around, you better position yourself for admittance off the MBA waitlist.

The term waitlist has a negative connotation, and many business school applicants think that even if accepted off the waitlist, they are a second choice or undeserving of the school. This is absolutely not true! You are as qualified as any other student, or else you would not have been accepted. I always tell my clients that once accepted off the waitlist, nobody has to know you were ever on it. It’s not like you arrive on campus with a sign on your forehead that says, “waitlist admit.” Plus, you may be surprised to learn that many of your peers were most likely admitted off the waitlist as well.

What’s your MBA waitlist strategy? Let me know in the comments, email me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @shawnfornh.

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