What to Do When You’re Waitlisted by Your Dream School

What should you do while you’re hovering in that space between rejection and acceptance, holding the notoriously nerve-wracking waitlist letter from your dream b-school? First of all, see the silver lining in this situation! You’re still under consideration and may still pursue study at your top choice program. Of course, that doesn’t help quell the restlessness you’re experiencing right now. Here’s what you can do to beat the waitlist blues and earn your spot:

1) Don’t Take It Personally

There are several reasons b-schools waitlist students, and most have nothing to do with your credentials; in fact, you must be qualified since you didn’t get outright rejected. Perhaps the school wants to diversify its incoming cohort, and the applicant pool was saturated with students of your background (college major, professional interests, etc.). Whatever the reason, it’s likely something you can’t control. So, focus less on the reason you were waitlisted and more on giving them reasons to admit you.

2) Know Where You Stand

Some schools tell you where you rank on the waitlist or indicate that you’re likely to be admitted or that you should probably consider other programs. If you still have a fair shot, continue showing interest using the advice below. If the school has less confidence in your prospects, take that information at face value and redirect your efforts elsewhere. This is not a situation where you want to place your bets on good luck or a marginal possibility; you don’t need to remove yourself from the waitlist, but actively pursue your Plan B possibilities so you aren’t scrambling later.

If the school sends you a generic note that reveals little more than that you are waitlisted, reach out and ask politely where you stand. They might not be able to tell you (especially because they cannot predict who will decline and open spots for candidates of your background), but if they do, the information can help guide your efforts. Also, don’t be afraid to mention that you have offers from other b-schools with upcoming deadlines and are inquiring so you can make a timely decision. They are people, too, and may be more honest if they know you are under pressure to commit elsewhere.

3) Respect the Directions

If a school instructs you to take certain steps to increase your chances of getting off the waitlist, do those things. If you’re told not to contact admissions or send additional information, don’t do it! You want to show interest while still following guidelines. If those guidelines are not addressed or unclear, ask for clarification on what you can do to demonstrate your interest.

4) Be Proactive and Demonstrate Interest

Once you understand what the school expects you to do and have established that it’s okay to do more than the minimum, take those extra steps to show how badly you want this! Start with a letter that reiterates your qualifications and interest. Thank the school for their consideration, address recent qualifications or experiences that have made you an even stronger candidate, show how you have overcome any application weaknesses (ex. by increasing your GPA or taking additional coursework), and reinforce your compatibility with the program. If it’s truly your top choice school, emphasize that you would accept if admitted.

If additional materials are not off-limits—and especially if they are encouraged—submit materials that strengthen your application. Sending in stronger GMAT scores and thoughtful additional essays will show your commitment to getting in. You can also submit additional letters of recommendation, but DO NOT have alumni or important figures recommend you just for the association; they should add something valuable. Also, continue showing interest regularly—not so often that you irritate the committee, but enough to reiterate that you are still interested and haven’t committed elsewhere.

5) Keep the Ball Rolling

It’s easy to get stuck on the fact that you’ve been waitlisted at your dream school and to forget about other moving parts in the process—don’t let that happen! Continue communicating with your Plan B schools; if you end up attending one of them, you don’t want to be the candidate that took weeks to respond to emails. Also research your financial aid and housing options, both at the school you’re waiting on and at other prospective schools. If you must make an immediate decision, you want to be prepared for its financial implications. As a courtesy, decline at schools you know you will not attend; this helps waitlisted students waiting on their dream schools (and karma might send you a favor).

Contrary to how it seems, being waitlisted is a huge honor—your dream b-school has deemed you qualified enough to attend should the opportunity arise. Now, take the initiative to make that opportunity a reality!

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