There’s nothing quite so bittersweet as finally getting a response from your MBA application – only to find out that you’ve landed on the waitlist. But while you might feel like you’re in limbo, there’s actually quite a bit you can still do to strengthen your candidacy.
Many schools review waitlisted applications on a rolling basis as they go through additional admission rounds, so early action should be a key component of your waitlist strategy. Take a deep breath, read the article, and get an action plan in place for improving your chances of getting in.
1. Don’t panic
It can absolutely feel disappointing to go through the whole admissions process only to end up without a clear answer. But as cliché as it can be to hear, the truth is that landing on the waitlist isn’t a rejection, it’s an opportunity. Give yourself a moment to feel however you feel about the news – then get to work.
2. Check the school’s waitlist info
The worst thing you could do after landing on the waitlist would be to disregard the school’s instructions about how and when you should follow up with them. The admissions committee will most likely communicate their instructions to you directly, either by email or letter, but it doesn’t hurt to check the school’s website as well.
In most cases, you’ll need to confirm your spot on the waitlist with the school, or risk losing your spot. For example, Berkeley Haas asks applicants to confirm their spot by responding to the waitlist notification email, while MIT Sloan requires waitlisted applicants to fill out a form on their application status page. Both schools accept updates from applicants, but Sloan accepts updates by email only, while Haas will consider updates via mail or fax as well.
3. Evaluate your application honestly
There are two key words when it comes to this step: “evaluate” and “honestly”. That doesn’t mean to beat yourself up about your application not being good enough, or to hide your head in the sand and pretend everything was perfectly fine.
Remember: being waitlisted doesn’t mean your application was weak! It just means that it wasn’t quite as strong as the students who were admitted immediately. If you want to get admitted to b-school from the waitlist, you need to do an honest self-assessment and determine where you can make improvements.
4. Identify improvements
According to the Berkeley Haas admissions department, there are five main avenues for improvement that MBA applicants should consider: interview, test scores, quantitative skills, a personal statement, and additional letters of recommendation. These don’t apply equally to every student or every school, but they’re a good place to start when it comes to taking action:
– Improved test scores can be a big plus for waitlisted candidates. If you weren’t happy with your initial score, and think you can do better if you re-take the GMAT or GRE, it may be worth it to sit the test again.
– If your undergraduate background and/ or work history don’t indicate strong quantitative skills, enrolling in a separate math class (Haas recommends statistics or calculus) can help you demonstrate to the admissions committee that you’ll be prepared for MBA-level quantitative courses.
– Whether it’s a formal Personal Statement or just an update on improvements to your application, you should reach out to the admissions committee as soon as possible with any additional information (promotions, job changes, improved test scores, etc.) that could impact your admissions chances.
– Additional Letters of Recommendation can come from people who you initially considered but were not available or not your top choice for a recommender, or they can come from a new supervisor or mentor who has come to know your work well since you initially submitted your application.
5. Make time for a visit
Business schools vary widely in their views about campus visits. They certainly recognize that in-person visits aren’t possible for every single MBA candidate. That being said, there are definitely schools (like Stern, Tuck and Haas) that have a clear preference for applicants to make a visit. If you’re on the waitlist at a school that likes to have applicants visit the campus, now’s the time to re-evaluate whether it would be a possibility for you.
6. Use your network
Many schools allow applicants to send in not just additional material and information about their candidacy, but additional letters of support and letters of recommendation. This is an excellent opportunity – be strategic!
You don’t want to inundate the adcom with letters from alumni or students who you met once or twice; what you want is strong, focused recommendations from people who know you well and can speak to your strengths. Pay particular attention to how strongly students or alumni figure in the admissions process, and tailor your support letters accordingly.
7. Have a plan B
While there is a lot you can do to improve your chances of getting admitted off of the waitlist, ultimately, there are no guarantees. It’s important to think through what you’ll do if you don’t get admitted to this particular MBA programs.
Will you try a late-round application at another school? Commit to one of your second-choice schools if they offer you an acceptance? Wait to find out if you’ve made it off of the waitlist at your top choice school (even if that means potentially not getting in to b-school at all this year)? There isn’t necessarily a right answer to this question – just the answer that’s best for you.