So close, and yet so far.
That’s the frustrating, even agonizing feeling you can have after receiving a waitlist notification from a b-school. You’re in no-man’s land, neither here nor there. They liked you enough to say, “Maybe in six months, we’ll see,” but they didn’t fall in love with you at first sight. Now what do you do? I
n this blog post, I’ll show you the most common mistakes I regularly see made by people on a waitlist, and explain why these missteps can cost you a potential acceptance. Yes, I’ll also tell you what to do instead, but I’ll mostly be focusing on what not to do. My advice is based on long experience (25 years and counting) as a grad school admissions consultant and president of Accepted. We have worked with thousands of MBA applicants who gained admittance to the schools of their dreams. But naturally, many qualified candidates were waitlisted. To better understand why some applicants get waitlisted and how to maximize their chances for an eventual acceptance, I have also hosted several hundred chats and podcast interviews with admissions staff and asked many of them about their waitlist policies. All of this experience, research, and networking has shown me that yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about turning that “maybe” of a waitlist into a decided “yes.” Unfortunately, too often I have watched as applicants made needless, costly mistakes while on a waitlist. Since I don’t want you to make the same errors, I have written The 9 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make on a Business School Waitlist. In this article, I’ll show you how to avoid the kinds of mistakes that waitlisted candidates make – even among the best and the brightest applicants at some of the most prestigious MBA programs worldwide.
The 9 MBA waitlist mistakes
- Fail to demonstrate your genuine interest in the school or why you’re a good match for the school’s culture.
- Failure to seek letters that support your candidacy.
- Flood them with your correspondence.
- Assume that your candidacy was strong enough for an immediate acceptance and fail to reevaluate any possible weaknesses in your profile.
- Share your grief and embarrassment about your waitlist status with the adcom.
- Send profuse yet ineffective apologies for errors or weaknesses in your application.
- Bragging to the adcom about other school acceptances.
Before we dive deeper into the mistakes, let’s first identify the category of the school that waitlisted you.
The 3 categories of waitlisting schools
Schools tend to employ three types of approaches in how they handle waitlisted applicants. Our advice is to first identify the type of approach the school has taken, rather than focusing on the schools themselves. This is because the approach toward waitlisted applicants is less likely to change, but school policies are fluid and can change. And the categories are:
- Group 1: Cool and aloof
Your contact with the school is unwelcome as they make clear. All they want to hear from you is whether they should keep you on the waitlist or not. Even if you have a significant career update, they’re not interested in hearing about it, unless perhaps it comes from another source. If you decide to visit the school or attend an online event, it’s off the record and there are no brownie points for doing so. Don’t try to introduce yourself to anyone in the admissions office. They don’t want face time. They want to be left alone.
- Group 2: Warm and welcoming – within reason
Fortunately, many programs welcome your efforts to maintain a connection and illustrate your ongoing commitment to their program. They are receptive to getting more data points and anecdotes that will help them get to know you better.
But don’t go overboard. Don’t send flowers, call or email regularly “just to check in,” and certainly do not send wordy emails that will annoy them. Use self-restraint. The last thing you need is for them to conclude that you lack good judgment or that you’re an obsessive pest.
- Group 3: Sends mixed messages
Schools in Group 3 claim they’d rather you leave them alone, just like the “cool and aloof” schools in Group 1. And yet, experience shows that they want a little love, too, with the emphasis on the word “little.” What does this mean, practically? It means schools are open to receiving updates about relevant, meaningful developments in your life. These developments can reflect your professional growth or your fit with a particular program’s strengths and mission.
Let’s explore the actual mistakes to make sure you don’t make them!
Mistake #1: Disregard the school’s instructions
Your waitlist letter offered you a potential lifeline when it tactfully mentioned that they were concerned about your test score and GPA, both below average for their classes. What do you do about it? Nothing! More pointedly, the school might recommend you take a class in calculus, but it doesn’t register as anything you ought to do, at least not now. Instead, you plan a backpacking trip for a few weeks.
Or, let’s try this: the school firmly states that you should not contact them. But you think, “They can’t mean me!” And you faithfully, and irritatingly, call every week. How about if the school instructs you to be in touch with your waitlist manager, but you somehow don’t think it’s important and just blow it off?
All this evidence tells the adcom, “Following instructions is for other people. I know you’ll accept me soon, maybe as soon as I return from my backpacking trip!”
Step to success: Observe and obey all instructions in the waitlist letter. If the school says “Jump!” you should ask, “How high?”
Most of the time, the instructions from a school will be in one of two categories:
- How, when, and why to contact them while waitlisted
- Showing you where your profile was weak
When a program tells you how and when to contact them…
Follow their instructions with precision! This will be a piece of cake if your school is “cool and aloof” or “warm and welcoming – within reason.” If they tell you to be in touch with the waitlist manager, get on it! Ask the manager, “What might I do to boost my chances of getting from ‘waitlist’ to accepted? Can you explain a bit about how often the waitlist is reviewed and new decisions made?”
For either “cool and aloof” or “warm and welcoming – within reason” schools, indicate your intention to remain on the waitlist while you work to improve in any category they have flagged.
When your school “sends mixed messages,” the path is trickier. You definitely want to stay on their good side by limiting contact only to what they say they’ll allow, but if you have earned a promotion at work, completed a statistics class and earned an A grade, or completed another step toward professional achievement, inform them briefly and politely. Keep your correspondence short. How can you tell if an achievement or development is worthy enough to share with the school? In these cases, you can email the adcom office to inquire; ask a question at a school online event, or ask your Accepted consultant.
School tells you where your profile was weak and provides suggestions for improvement.
Thank your lucky stars if the school actually offers this, because it’s uncommon, and it’s incredibly valuable information. Now you can follow a direct path to improving your profile during your time on the waitlist, and prepare to reapply the following year, if necessary. (When we get to Mistake #6 you’ll learn more about how to manage this situation.) For now, just follow the steps to mitigate your deficiencies. Demonstrate the maturity, focus, and discipline to improve yourself. It sends an important message to the adcom that you really do have the right stuff.
Mistake #2: Downplay your recent accomplishments
Humility and modesty are usually appealing traits in an individual. But when you are fighting for a spot in b-school, you need to boldly – but never arrogantly – state your bona fides.
Step to success: Introduce the adcom to the shiny new you, Applicant 2.0.
However qualified you were when you first applied, you are stronger as a candidate now. Tell them about an engagement at work where you took the lead, offered to mentor a new hire, joined a professional organization and already demonstrated impact, or improved in some other quantifiable, concrete way.. This is the time to share your new and ongoing success stories and determination to stay the course. All these developments are evidence in your favor and can help get you off that waitlist and onto the accepted list.
As soon as reasonably possible, contact your “warm and welcoming” programs with these sorts of upgrades to your profile as well. The approach of these schools gives you more room to maneuver and to update your waitlist manager of notable new changes. Did your promotion come through? Was an idea you suggested at work implemented to a degree of success? Have you participated in a meaningful extracurricular or personal endeavor, such as through community service, volunteerism, or a “personal best,” such as completing a yoga teacher training program or performing stand-up comedy in front of a live audience? Do tell!
How often should I send updates?
It’s unlikely that you would have a whole lot of new achievements to share all at once, but even if you did, I don’t advise sending one mega-update with a list of several things. Instead, I suggest shorter updates sent more frequently. This keeps your name and image familiar to the adcom. You will remind them on a regular basis about your dynamic, growth-oriented personality and sense of mission.
Having said that, never overdo it. There is a fine line between appropriate updates versus overkill, and too much of a good thing will damage your reputation with the school, even with a “warm and welcoming” program. Ask yourself before sending an update, “Is this worthwhile? Is this significant enough news to convey?” Never waste their time or drop a line “just to say hello.” Not sure whether something is worthy of communicating to them? Go back and reread our advice for handling “sends mixed messages” programs under Mistake #1.
If you are dealing with either a “sends mixed messages” or “cool and aloof” program, you will need to tap into your circle of professional boosters and let them relay the important, relevant information you want the school to have. We will go further into this a bit later.
The updates from you
Stay focused on the three most important aspects of your candidacy:
- Growth in professional stature through increased duties, engagements, initiatives, and other responsibilities.
- Concrete actions taken to address weak spots in your profile.
- Fit: Strength of your compatibility with the school.
These three areas prove that you are a stronger applicant now than when the school received your application. They strongly suggest that you will merge with the class smoothly and naturally. You should also remind the school that if – meaning when – they offer you admission, you will unquestionably accept the offer. Let’s examine these areas more closely.
What should I include in my updates?
- Express gratitude for the school’s ongoing consideration of your application, assure them that the school is your first choice, and that its values and philosophy resonate with you. Avoid any expressions of dismay or frustration at your waitlist status.
- Offer to enroll in any classes recommended by the school and to take any other measures they recommend to prepare for the program.
- Relate newsworthy events that burnish your credentials and that demonstrate your ongoing commitment to strengthening your candidacy: earning an A in recent courses relevant to the program’s curriculum; serving as a project manager or leader on an initiative; beginning a volunteer commitment; publishing an article; earning a promotion or some other designation. Ideally, anything you mention should circle back to ideas and experiences written about in your essays. Prove that you have strengthened weak spots in your profile, without specifically mentioning those deficiencies. For example, if you had substandard grades in courses that demanded presentations, mention your involvement in Toastmasters and how pleased you have been with your recent successes in public speaking. Do not specifically say that you joined Toastmasters only because you were concerned about your communication abilities in English, or a low TOEFL score.
Write briefly and to the point, certainly not more than two pages. Again, the exclusive focus here is on how you have grown into a more formidable candidate since first applying.
Mistake #3: Fail to demonstrate your genuine interest in the school or why you’re a good match for your fit with the school’s culture
Why should you rehash the reasons why you chose the school again? It was all in your essays, right? Besides, even though you applied to this school, you’re not that excited about it. If someone asked you what you liked about it, you wouldn’t really know what to say.
And also, applying here was a last-ditch effort. Every other school turned you down.
So why tell them all over again why you applied to their program?
Quite simply, because it’s essential to getting you off that waitlist and into the accepted pile.
Step to success: Demonstrate both your interest as well as your fit for the school.
Admissions committees are looking for candidates who will thrive not only academically, but amid the school’s overall environment and culture. This is known as “fit,” and you can think of it in terms of compatibility with the school’s personality and values. Fit is important because as much as possible, the schools try to weed out candidates who will wash out, leave midstream, or perhaps stay till graduation, but then give the school a bad name.
The school also wants you to prove that your career goals are a good match for their program. The crucial reasons for this focus are:
- When a school’s curriculum and other offerings provide a solid foundation for your career vision, snagging a job upon graduation is easier. The school looks great in the rankings if a high percentage of grads move immediately into jobs they clinched through internships or on-campus recruiting. And yes, rankings matter.
- Furthermore, the more excited you are to enroll in the school because it is such a great fit, academically and otherwise, the greater the likelihood that you will actually matriculate. This affects something known as “yield.” What’s that, you ask?
- The higher the percentage of accepted applicants who actually enroll, the higher the “yield.” This is a very important metric that defines in large measure a school’s appeal and competitive standing. Therefore, anticipating yield correctly is a key consideration in admissions. It is impossible to separate the influence of rankings and admissions decisions, which makes the issue of “yield” a crucial measure of the adcom’s success in recruiting and admitting. The men and women in the admissions committees want to shine by getting this as right as possible.
Now you can see why, for several reasons, you must show the school your compatibility, your fit, not just once, but several times and in several ways:
- If at all possible, pay the school a visit. Schools generally offer many courtesy services to interested future students, including tours, the opportunity to sit in on a few classes, and perhaps to meet current students. Whatever is on offer, grab that opportunity. When permitted, making the trip to campus proves your serious interest. When on campus, you will also gain experiences, such as attending a class. The genuine enthusiasm that you felt on site may have reaffirmed your desire to attend the program, which you can convey through an appropriate update. Have you already paid a visit? Consider visiting again.
If you can’t visit because it’s not practical or because you’re reading this when COVID travel restrictions are in effect, take advantage of online options to learn about the school. Attend relevant virtual admissions events, connect with current students online, and if possible attend an online class. Taking these steps will result in more persuasive waitlist communications and demonstrate real interest in the school.
- When updating the “warm and welcoming” school, underscore your fit by sharing any recent experiences or accomplishments that are linked to your motivation for joining their next class. Seize the opening to reinforce your reasons that this program is your b-school of choice, and that you would absolutely matriculate if given the chance.
- Recruit people who are enthusiastic about you and your suitability for b-school and ask a few of them to send letters endorsing your candidacy. (More on your fans in Mistake #4.)
Mistake #4: Fail to seek letters that support your candidacy
This is a close cousin to Mistake #2, downplaying your recent achievements. You cannot afford to idle this time away. This is a time to try to make things happen to support your candidacy. And it won’t happen by itself.
Step to success: Proactively organize a strategic campaign by your fans.
Enlist your supporters to communicate with the school – ideally at staggered intervals – keeping you and your application front and center of the adcom’s attention. Ask those who will endorse you to highlight facts and anecdotes about you that confirm what you have written about yourself, especially when it comes to the issue of fit and other strengths the school values.
Whether written or oral, these communications must seek to accomplish the following:
- Reinforce why you are well qualified for the program. Ideally, this will happen through sending stories about your achievements that were not discussed in your application. A new point of view about your qualities and strengths over and above what has already been discussed would be most valuable.
- Once again, strengthen and fortify how well your personality and values complement the school’s own.
Most of these endorsements will be in the form of letters/emails. Next question:
What should this kind of endorsement letter include?
An endorsement letter, or letter of support, conveys strong confidence that you are a fantastic candidate for the program. It should be no more than two pages (and yes one page can work too), and just as we advise on essays and letters of recommendation, an endorsement letter will only be effective if it contains specific facts and anecdotes about your strengths and qualities. The “show, don’t tell” rule applies in full here: don’t make a sweeping or general claim; back it up with evidence to convince the reader.
While your fan club members will be helpful in communicating with “warm and welcoming” programs, at “cool and aloof” or “sends mixed messages” schools, their efforts can seal the deal. Why? Simply put, they haven’t been warned not to call or contact the adcoms. If your fan club includes either alumni or current students, all the better. Their connections to the school will make their affirmations about your recent accomplishments that much more powerful. The specifics they offer through their letters will provide a window into your worth as a candidate, an opportunity that would otherwise be closed off.
At the same time, “cool and aloof” schools aren’t stupid. If a flood of letters for one applicant comes into their email in-box, this flood of support will look suspiciously planned.
Choose your letter writers carefully and go for quality, not quantity. They should have a strong connection to the school and know you well. This means no VIPs who barely know you or the school, and no family friends who haven’t seen you since you were in tenth grade.
Realize that some “cool and aloof” schools may react negatively even to informative endorsement letters from people who know you and the school. You need to weigh the possible upside of a letter (providing information that will help you) against the possible downside (ticking off the people you are trying to impress by making Mistake #1 in this guide).
This is a tall order. Whom should I ask?
- Almost groupies – your staunchest endorsers
Letters and expressions of support will have the most impact when communicated by people who not only know you well, but who also know the program. With some good fortune, you’ll have a couple of people in this category to approach first. The best of the best can comment on your professional qualifications and/or the attributes you have that the school values.
- Individuals who really understand the program
Naturally, this category would mostly include current students and former students. If you don’t know anyone personally in either of these categories, but you have a good relationship with someone who does, go for it! Perhaps the daughter of a colleague, or a family friend, earned an MBA at this program. See if you can contact her, inform her that you are on a waitlist, and might she be willing to offer an endorsement? If she’s game, give her a chance to review your resume and application, before meeting her in person or virtually. Then, make a brief but substantive presentation about your achievements or developments that have happened since submitting your application. Conclude by informing her specifically about the events or experiences you’d like her support letter to highlight.
- Individuals who know you well, either from work or in a community or personal development framework
Even if a supervisor or coworker already sent in one endorsement on your behalf, they can bring their recommendations up to date with your latest contributions. Outside of work, you may be active in a special-interest club, non-profit organization (this could include a political or business-oriented group), religious institution, or sports league. Perhaps you can recruit someone to write about your skills that made a positive impact or improvement in that group. If you are applying to a deferred admissions MBA program, asking a professor whom you know well could be a good choice.
Since these individuals are unlikely to have deep knowledge of your program, give them a brief but specific overview of what is important to the school, and therefore, what you would like them to emphasize most in their letters. It’s likely that these fans will be more knowledgeable about your “soft skills” and personal character than your academic or workplace performance. The schools are interested in this, too. Most importantly, none of these letters should regurgitate what has already been stated, either by you or by your original recommenders. The focus here is on what is new and relevant since you uploaded that application, or at least, to present an additional perspective on the value you bring to the program.
Make sure to do the important and gracious thing by sending each recommender or endorser a thank you note after they submit their letter. This does not mean just sending a text! Follow up and let them know what the final outcome is, thanking them again, regardless of your acceptance or rejection.
As much as your mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather would love to write a letter supporting your candidacy, politely decline any such offer. Family members will never be considered objective enough for credibility.
Now I know whom to ask and what to include, but what procedure should the endorsers follow?
Follow any guidance provided by the school on sending additional correspondence, and forward this information to any prospective letter writers.
Some of your fans may already have a personal connection at the school and may choose to call instead of write. Let them decide which method will feel most authentic and natural for them. However, if they are sending a letter to a personal connection, ask them to also send or CC your waitlist manager or the admissions office.
How often should the school hear from my endorsers?
See Mistake #5.
Mistake #5: Flood them with your correspondence
You may have so many stories that you didn’t have space to tell in your original application, and now, you may want to shower them with these narratives, especially if you are applying to a “warm and welcoming” program. Please don’t do this. Any ill-considered barrage of letters will increase your chances for rejection.
Step to success: Craft a playbook with measured and meaningful communication.
Your goal is to underscore your serious, well-thought-out commitment to this program. The smart way is through a small but steady flow of emails or phone calls that offer conclusive and confident evidence that you are a winning candidate. Pursue the golden mean between deadly indifference and suffocating overkill.
How frequently should I communicate?
This will depend on when you are waitlisted. The later in the season you are waitlisted, the more frequently you will need to communicate, because as the application season progresses, the waitlist shrinks accordingly. If you are only waitlisted in April or May, you’ll want to jump on getting appropriate letters sent or calls made. If, however, you are informed as early as December or January, you can have a more relaxed schedule.
Don’t obsess over this timetable, but if you happen to know that your program will be trimming their waitlists close to a certain decision date, or shortly after accepted students need to pay deposits, that would be an opportune time to have an update or other letter sent – even if you hadn’t scheduled it. Remain calm and reasonably confident, even if you are disappointed by someone who had said they’d send a letter and it is sent late. Always be gracious and appreciative of their efforts. Here are a few sample schedules for hypothetical applicant profiles. You probably won’t match any of them exactly, but you should get an idea of different factors in developing your waitlist campaign.
Sample #1 Amy Anxious
Amy Anxious is waitlisted at a “sends mixed messages” school in December. She has great stats but has worked as a programmer with little opportunity for leadership and little international exposure. However, she recently became a team lead and has taken initiative in raising money at her church for victims of a recent natural disaster in Asia. As part of her new responsibilities at work, she will be interfacing with other programmers in other countries. Here’s her plan:
|Action Date*||Target Date**||Action|
|Jan. 2||Respond with a letter gratefully accepting a spot on the waitlist. Update school about new responsibilities and church initiative. Inquire about ways to improve profile. Reiterate reasons for wanting to attend.|
|Jan. 3||Jan. 15||Ask boss to send a letter of support confirming new responsibilities and qualifications.|
|Jan. 15||Feb. 11||Ask Harry who graduated from WL B-School to write a letter of support.|
|Jan. 15||Contact school about visiting in February or March, or if virtual is the only practical option, make a list of remote events you can participate in.|
|Feb.–March||Either in person and/or virtually: Visit school. Meet with students. Attend class. Take tour.|
|Feb.–March||Send thank-you notes as appropriate to people you interacted with.|
|March 1||Write adcom to highlight ways in which visit/virtual event confirmed your interest in WL B-School.|
|March 7||March 21||Ask minister to write letter of support referencing your work in the church.|
|April 1||Write school and update them regarding success of community service and challenges of working with people from different cultures.|
|April 15||May 1||Ask team member to write letter of support. Focus on interpersonal skills.|
|Amy is accepted on May 10!|
* Date applicant acts.
** Target date for others to carry out request.
Sample #2 Bob Bumb
Bob Bumb is waitlisted on March 15 at a “sends mixed messages” school. He served as captain of his NCAA team, participated actively in his fraternity, and worked part-time. His grades show that he didn’t spend much time on his studies: 2.8 GPA. His work experience is strong: he worked for four years at a Big-4 consulting firm and has been a team lead on engagements in the US and abroad. He also serves on the board of a foundation he founded to help people suffering from a rare hearing disorder afflicting his mother. He has a 730 GMAT score, evenly balanced. His grades are clearly his Achilles heel. As a result he has taken stats and calculus in fall and spring semesters. He earned an A in calc and has A’s on his stats tests in the course he is currently taking.
|Action Date||Target Date||Action|
|March 16||Follow instructions for informing school about remaining on WL.|
|March 16March 20||April 1||Talk to supervisor about writing a letter of support. Contact friend who is a current student at “sends mixed messages” to request a letter of support. Check out online events for waitlist applicants and attend if available.|
|April 10||Contact “sends mixed messages” rep in online forum to ask whether academic news is something they would want to know about. Answer: Yes.|
|April 15||Send 1-page letter to adcom informing them of academic progress.|
|May 1||May 15||Consider visiting school again, if feasible.*|
|May 1||May 15||Talk to CEO of foundation about sending letter of support.|
|May 21||Send in requested update.*|
|May 21||June 1||Ask teammate to send letter of support focusing on teamwork skills.|
|June 1||June 10||Ask community college to forward transcript showing A’s in calculus and statistics. Enroll in accounting class for summer.|
|June 10||June 25||Ask peer/”sends mixed messages” school alum to send letter of support.|
On June 26, Bob hears that his name has been removed from the waitlist but he is strongly encouraged to reapply next year.
* Bob decides against a second visit because school is closed and the adcom made it clear that they don’t want to meet with him again. Bob hears about an early reception in his area aimed at next year’s applicants and decides to go to that event (May 20). There he talks to an adcom member and mentions a change in responsibilities. The adcom member asks for a written update.
Sample #3 Charlie Chump
Charlie Chump is waitlisted in late April. He has already been accepted to School Z, but he would rather attend the “warm and welcoming” school that has waitlisted him than School Z – unless he gets an offer of financial aid from School Z. He has no obvious weaknesses in his profile and he has rich multicultural experience both in his personal background and professional career. Charlie decides he would rather be proactive and risk adcom wrath than do nothing. He turns to his fan club, but sparingly.
|Action Date||Target Date||Action|
|April 25||Follow instructions informing school of desire to remain on waitlist.|
|May 1||May 10||Ask a close friend who is a current student to write a letter of support.|
|May 1||May 15||Ask a supervisor to send in an additional recommendation.|
|May 5||May 15||Ask a teammate from a branch in another country to send in a letter of support.|
|May 10||May 20||Ask colleague in NFP where Charlie volunteers to send a letter of support.|
|May 10||May 20||Talk to roommate whose colleague is a recent alum about letter of support.|
|May 25||June 5||Request letter of support from father’s colleague who is an active alumnus.|
On June 15, Charlie receives a letter from School Z with a substantial fellowship offer. He decides to attend School Z and requests that “warm and welcoming” remove his name from the waitlist.
Mistake #6: Assume that your candidacy was strong enough for an immediate acceptance and fail to reevaluate any possible weaknesses in your profile
Remember that the admissions process can be very subjective. If you’ve made it to a waitlist, you are qualified enough for acceptance. It’s just that some other applicants excited them a bit more than you did. Let’s look at what factors might have landed you on the waitlist to begin with. For example, a weakness in your professional background or academic standing could have been the tipping point that gave the spot to someone else. Other reasons could include:
- A weak presentation in your application. You may have underplayed your qualifications and strengths, weren’t clear enough about your career goals or why this program was your top choice.
- In a crowded field of highly qualified applicants with similar profiles to your own, it was simply a numbers game, and you got waitlisted instead of the other person.
To liberate yourself from the waitlist, you need to understand the likely causes for landing on the waitlist.
Step to success: Evaluate where your application missed the mark and address those issues appropriately.
Some programs will offer you guidance on how to remedy these issues. If so, consider yourself fortunate, and follow their directions to the letter. Simultaneously, inform them about newer achievements as discussed above, to cover all bases.
Most of the time, though, you will not have the benefit of any assessment of your candidacy by the school. Then it falls to you to evaluate your profile. If you are thorough and objective, you will probably determine that it wasn’t any single issue, but a blend of issues stated above that got you waitlisted.
How your profile may have seemed inferior
GPA and/or GMAT/GRE scores that fall below the school’s 80 percent range are considered poor and are likely to prevent your outright acceptance. Ways to remedy this deficiency include signing up for appropriate classes (and earning A grades in them), earning professional designations such as the CFA, and/or retaking the test and boosting your previous score to a notable degree.
For more suggestions on dealing with a low test score or GPA, please see our blog post, “So, You’re Applying to Business School with a Low MBA GPA or GMAT Score?”
You may already know, or now realize, that your work experience or involvements in other groups seem lackluster, and that you did not demonstrate having impact in your organization, department, or other group or club. Find some area where you have demonstrated positive impact and share those contributions. This could be a prime opportunity for your fans and endorsers to paint this picture on your behalf and enhance your standing.
The overall application had flaws
If you know that you were competitive in both your stats and professional experience, review the rest of the application: essays, resume, and letters of recommendation. Now is the time to home in where they were indistinct or ineffective and take corrective measures. On a waitlist, you can convey with greater specificity and strength why you have chosen this program above all others, restate your goals with more specificity, as well as affirm your ability to work well in teams. With “warm and welcoming” programs in particular, let your waitlist manager understand with total clarity why this school is your Number 1 choice, and how its program dovetails with your career goals.
You’re part of an overpopulated applicant group
Sometimes, nothing whatsoever was wrong with your application. Your stats and experience are strong. You wrote well in your essays. Sometimes, you simply may be unlucky in being part of a crowded applicant demographic. Schools value diversity, so despite your competitive profile, you may be pushed onto a waitlist.
In your communication with the school, you should emphasize your sincere enthusiasm for the program, as well as your outstanding professional achievements. Beyond that, help distinguish yourself from the rest of your demographic by mentioning hobbies, involvements, or interests that set you apart and that you did not mention. Do you have a sideline in a microbrewery of craft beer? Do you play the saxophone? Teach yoga? Whatever it is that is uniquely you, let them know about it now.
Mistake #7: Share your grief and embarrassment about your waitlist status with the adcom
This is a time for sober reflection and keeping perspective. It is not a time to complain or vent about your feelings of frustration or embarrassment with anyone at the school. Save the emotional release for friends or family, at least until they’ve had enough. It’s hard to believe, but some waitlisted applicants actually chastise the school, telling them of the stupendous error they made in waitlisting them, an applicant with a brilliant future in the business world. Don’t be like these applicants.
Step to success: Express appreciation to the school for keeping your application in consideration.
That’s it; be gracious in your communications, and then follow the steps outlined above to show yourself in a new, enhanced light.
Mistake #8: Send profuse yet ineffective apologies for errors or weaknesses in your application
Apologies for your shortcomings are a waste of time for you and for the adcom.
Step to success: Shine a light on the bright spots.
In this guide we have counseled you to honestly acknowledge deficiencies or limitations as an applicant. On the other hand, you don’t want to overstate or exaggerate them, either. This may sound contradictory, but it isn’t. There is a smart way to own up to your weaknesses while focusing overwhelmingly on your strengths.
What might this look like? Let’s say your undergrad degree is in liberal arts, and you haven’t taken math since high school, and sure enough, landed below the 80th percentile in the quantitative part of the GMAT or GRE. Your weak quant skills appear clearly, and apologizing for them will just draw attention to the obvious. Do not even mention this fact, but by all means do mention that you are enrolled in a calculus course in preparation for the program. Do mention the A you earned in the accounting class you took some months back, also to prepare for school. What if there is something glaringly negative and there is no ignoring it? Tread lightly. Don’t beat your chest with language such as “my horrible grades” or “terrible record.” Just state the facts, unembellished.
Mistake #9: Brad to the adcom about other school acceptances
If you tell the school that you were already accepted to another program, you had better have a good reason for it. If you are seen as just bragging, it can prove a costly mistake. Your goal may be to wow them by your popularity, but instead, they may worry that you might prefer the other program, particularly if it enjoys a higher ranking than their own. Brandishing this kind of news can easily backfire. It can display inappropriate ego and poor judgment to boot.
Step to success: Letting a school know about other acceptances is only appropriate when a decision must be made immediately.*
You have made your best effort and time has marched on. You must commit to one school or the other. You have one (or more) acceptances, but you are still in limbo on a waitlist. The school that has accepted you will withdraw your slot unless you commit and put down a deposit. This is the time to communicate with the waitlist school. Some will actually appreciate your contacting them and forcing a decision one way or another.
The waitlist school is your top choice, but if you are not accepted, you will accept the other program’s offer. Call the admissions office and politely and modestly share your dilemma. “Would it be possible for you to help me with an update?” you can ask.
The person you are speaking with may apologize and tell you that they feel for your situation, but they still do not have an open spot for you. Furthermore, the waitlist will not be revisited again for several weeks. You may be quite disappointed, but if this is the reality on the ground, thank them and grab that other acceptance. For your sake, we hope the outcome is different, and the individual in the admissions office instead says, “Great timing! We just had another meeting yesterday and we’ve got a spot for you!” Or, “I hope you can hang on till the end of the day. We have a meeting scheduled today at 4 p.m. May I call you afterward?” In either of these situations, placing the call made sense for you.
* If asked by the school about any acceptances or waitlists at other programs, you must answer them with full disclosure.
9 Steps to Success
We hope you’ve now learned about the nine mistakes you do not want to make on a waitlist, and can breathe a sigh of relief: I won’t let that happen to me! Let’s conclude by reinforcing nine great and constructive things you can do when you are sitting on a waitlist, which we also discussed along the way. First, last, and always, let the schools guide you during the waitlist process. Take to heart any and all instructions included in the waitlist letter they send you. Be ready to jump through hoops (within reason!) to lift off from waitlist to acceptance.
- Follow all instructions in the school’s waitlist letter.
- Introduce the schools to the “new you,” the stronger, better prepared applicant than the one who originally applied.
- Reiterate the reasons why this school is ideal for your career goals, as well as fit.
- Recruit statements of support from people who know you well and, if possible, also have connections to the school.
- Launch a strategic campaign for support messages to be sent on an appropriate basis.
- Review your candidacy to determine possible causes for the waitlist and take appropriate actions.
- Express appreciation to the school for its ongoing consideration.
- Accentuate your strengths.
- Tell the school about acceptances from other programs only when you must either accept or lose your spot there.
Move forward with the Accepted team
Our consultants have helped thousands of applicants gain acceptance to top business schools around the world. We have guided scores of waitlisted applicants to get off that waitlist and into the schools of their dreams. We will be your partners in crafting a winning waitlist strategy that will include:
- Reassessing your application and profile
- Emphasizing your strengths and diversity
- Selecting people to send letters of support
- Guiding you as you write your letter, so that you present yourself in the strongest possible light.
Don’t wait. Take the first step to success by sampling our waitlist services here.By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted. Linda earned her bachelors and MBA at UCLA, and has been advising applicants since 1994 when she founded Accepted. Linda is the co-founder and first president of AIGAC. She has written or co-authored 13 e-books on the admissions process, and has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, Poets & Quants, Bloomberg Businessweek, CBS News, and others. Linda is the host of Admissions Straight Talk, a podcast for graduate school applicants. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!