In the competitive world of MBA admissions, is there anything worse than toiling over the elements of your application for months only to get a rejection from your dream school? It turns out, there may be — the dreaded waitlist. Instead of a congratulations or a polite dismissal, you’re told you…almost made it. Being put on the waitlist leaves you with just enough hope, and as The Shawshank Redemption, the greatest film of our time, tells us, hope is a dangerous thing. One of the many frustrating things in not receiving an immediate decision is not knowing what to do next. Should you activate your Plan B (or C, or D), wait patiently, or fire off a dozen additional applications to hedge your bets?
Working through the waitlist purgatory is a lesson in and of itself, and while we can’t guarantee that your waitlist spot will result in an admission, you can put the odds in your favor by following some straightforward advice.
1. Take a Break
Being relegated to the waitlist can sting, and you don’t want to make emotional decisions, or decisions under duress. The waitlist process is an application part to be managed, and you want to approach it with a clear head and a solid plan. Take a few days off to rethink and reassess before you act. You may feel like you must rush to act or lose your spot, but just like the initial application, you need to approach this with care and strategy.
2. Read and Follow Directions
Why does this need to be said? Ask any admissions director about the liberties that applicants take on the waitlist, assuming that exceptions will be made just for them? Along with your waitlist notice, you will receive explicit instructions on what you can and can’t do to help nudge your application along. Instructions will vary from school to school, and while some schools encourage you to submit additional documents to strengthen your candidacy, others only want to know whether you’d like to be kept on the waitlist or taken off. Trust us and take schools at their word — if they don’t want to hear from you, don’t pester the admissions committee with emails, Fedexed packages, or surprise visits. If you’re asked to wait, just wait.
3. Assess and Address
If you are permitted to submit supporting documents, you’ll need to first comb through your original application and see where you may have been dinged. The good news is that the admissions committee saw enough good in your application to merit consideration, but one thing planted a seed of doubt. If a school offers an application evaluation or feedback, take them up on it.
Honestly evaluate everything from your academic record to your recommendations and essays and see where they might not tell the full story. Now, take proactive steps to address what’s missing. Can you submit a new letter of recommendation from a colleague or supervisor or have an alumni vouch for your fit? Did you receive a promotion or succeed on a complex work project? If you’re asked for specific material, be sure to send only that, and adhere to the timelines provided. But even without express guidelines, time your supplemental material appropriately, and don’t bombard the designated waitlist email address with multiple updates per week. Be judicious in sending only the strongest and most compelling material and err on the side of quality over quantity.
4. Know What to Expect
If you’ve been waitlisted in Round 1, your waitlist decision may come out when Round 2 decisions are released, and so on. If you’re waitlisted in Round 3, your decision may come at any point in late spring or summer. Decision timing can add complications, especially if you have to plan a cross-country or international move to attend school. In the case of visa applications for international students, remaining on the waitlist may not be an option past a certain date. Know that once you’ve submitted the best representation of you as an applicant, there isn’t much more you can do. Admissions committees ask you to trust their process. Remember that how you comport yourself while on the waitlist can greatly affect your odds of being admitted. The last thing you want is to be memorable for the wrong reasons.
Have you been waitlisted? What are you doing to improve your chances of acceptance?