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10 Tips to Get Off the Waitlist

So you’re waitlisted at your dream school. It might feel like you’ve won the prize that no one really wanted: an indefinite extension of the MBA admissions season.

But the good news is that you’ve still got a real shot at admissions, even if the odds are stacked against you. Here are 10 steps to maximize your chances of moving off the waitlist and into next year’s MBA class. 

1. Understand the process

Every top B-school likes to think of themselves as unique, right down to how they manage the waitlist. Be sure to read the details of the waitlist process at your school of choice.

First and foremost is the question of how to claim your spot on the waitlist – at many schools, you must opt in. Also important to note is what new materials the school is willing to accept from waitlisted candidates. Basically, make sure you know the rules of the game before you start playing.

2. Find the holes in your application

This may not be news, but it’s worth saying out loud: if you got waitlisted, your MBA application wasn’t perfect. You likely turned in a strong application overall but with one or two areas that gave the adcom pause.

At this point, your strategy hinges on identifying what those areas are. You can do that by taking a critical look at your own application and by asking others for their thoughts. 

Some schools are willing to provide admissions feedback to waitlisted candidates. See if this opportunity is available, but if the school explicitly says that they won’t offer such feedback, be sure to respect that too.

Common application weaknesses include GMAT scores, mediocre grades, a lack of leadership experiences, and letters of recommendation that didn’t impress. Do everything you can to understand what prevented your application from being an outright admit. 

3. Create a strategy

When you’re sitting on the waitlist, a few targeted actions are much more effective than a desperate, scattershot attempt to improve your application.

You don’t need to recruit ten new recommendation writers, write the school with daily updates on your professional development, and retake the GMAT. Getting the admissions director to think “not this person again” when your name pops up in their inbox is not your ticket off the waitlist.

Rather, you want to identify a few steps you take that will be significant in the context of your application. That means identifying actions that will speak directly to the most prominent shortcomings in your application.

So what should those actions be? More on this below.

4. Retake the GMAT

If your GMAT score is weighing down your chances at admission, the most straightforward solution is to retake the GMAT and do well. See if the school will accept a new GMAT score, and if so, retake the GMAT.

Of course, this step is more effective if you have time to study intensively and sign up for GMAT tutoring before sitting down again for the test. 

5. Seek out leadership opportunities 

If you need to boost your leadership credentials, now is the time to look for new responsibilities you can take on at work or in other organizations you’re involved with. Doing so can send the message that you’ve gone out of your way to gain more leadership experience before starting B-school. 

6. Enroll in a class

For many applicants, questionable grades sow doubt in the minds of admissions officers. If you don’t have a great quantitative GMAT score, that will only compound any uncertainty.

Sign up for a quantitative class. It’ll show the adcom that you’re more likely to be ready for the academic challenges of a top MBA program. And if you get an A, all the better! 

7. Get a letter of support

When you’re on the waitlist, a supplementary letter of recommendation from someone with a connection to the school, such as an alum or current student, can boost your standing.

This is doubly true if you identify letters of recommendation as one of the primary weaknesses in your original application. In this case, it’s worth asking for an additional letter of recommendation from someone who you didn’t know you as well before or who you should’ve asked but didn’t. 

8. Provide updates

Many schools are open to resume updates from waitlisted candidates. Given the timeline of the admissions process, it’s quite possible that there have been significant changes in your life since you submitted your application, and you should let the school know of any that are relevant. 

These might include taking on a new position at work or a leadership role in another organization. As you remain on the waitlist, it’s also perfectly acceptable to provide updates to your updates as new developments in your professional life make you a more compelling candidate.

9. Visit

Visiting a school in person is a great way to show that you’re still interested, especially if you didn’t visit before.

You don’t need to make the school’s admissions office your second home, but showing your face and taking advantage of any opportunities the school provides for waitlisted students will likely only help your cause. 

10. Have a plan B

Even if you do everything right, there’s still no guarantee of getting off the waitlist. Sometimes you’re waitlisted for factors outside of your control, and sometimes there are just too few spots to go around.

You need to know what your game plan is if things don’t work out. Will you reapply to the same school and use the intervening time to strengthen your application? Reapply to schools and cast a wider net?

We can help you come up with a plan of action and identify changes that will up your odds of admission the next time around.

We also provide personalized waitlist assistance to help candidates find opportunities to improve their waitlist positions – see our list of services for more information!