What to Do When You’re Put on the MBA Waitlist

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So you’ve finally heard back from your dream business school, but it’s neither the rejection you dreaded, nor the acceptance you hoped for: you’ve been put on the MBA waitlist. What should you do next?

Unlike a rejection or an acceptance, being put on an MBA waitlist doesn’t give you an obvious course of action. It’s not always clear what it means, or if there’s anything you can do to turn a waitlist spot into an enrolment.

Here’s what to do if you find yourself on the MBA waitlist, according to business school admission experts.

First: What is the MBA waitlist and why are you on it?

Business schools use the MBA waitlist to manage their intake of applicants over several rounds of admissions, to make sure that they get the strongest and most diverse class possible at the end.

“I'm actually very excited when I hear that someone got on the waitlist,” says Barbara Coward, MBA admission consultant and a Top Ten LinkedIn Voice for Education for 2020. “It's a good sign! It means that you had a compelling application, but the school is not ready to make an offer at that moment.

“There can be any number of reasons, from FOMO (‘I wonder who might come around in the next round!’) to ambivalence about an aspect of the application such as grades or test scores.”

Your profile can also be a factor. At ESMT Berlin, the admissions team use the waitlist to maintain the overall diversity of the MBA as well as the quality of the individual candidates.

“The ESMT MBA programs are small and very international with about 95 percent of the students coming from outside of Germany,” says Stephanie Kluth, Head of Admissions at ESMT.

“We have to consider a balance of the number of participants from one specific country. Once we have reached a threshold for applicants from one country, we open a waitlist for candidates and contact them for further steps should a place in the class become available.”

How to get in off the MBA waitlist: 5 Key Actions

Now you know about how programs use the MBA waitlist, what should you do when you find yourself there?

1. Follow the rules

“The number one ‘DO’ of the MBA waitlist is ‘follow the rules’,” says Candy Lee LaBalle, of LaBalle Admissions. “Each school is a bit different. Some ask for updates on your profile, but some are very clear that they do not want any communication from you at all. Follow the rules. If a school says ‘no updates,’ then do not send any.”

Luckily, business schools are likely to be clear with you about what they expect. Read carefully any communications from them and follow these to the letter.

If the school does not want any further communication from you, you will just have to wait to hear from them—if they are open to communication, however, there are a few useful next steps.

2. Confirm your interest

As a waitlisted applicant, you do not want to leave the school in any doubt about your enthusiasm for their program, particularly if they’re one of your front-runners.

“The most important and immediate next step is to confirm that you want to remain on the waitlist,” says Petia Whitmore, founder of the admissions consulting firm My MBA Path and a former Dean of Graduate Admissions of Babson College’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business.

“Write back to the school—some schools ask that you do this through your candidate portal, some accept email—and thank them for the opportunity to continue to be in consideration, and restate your interest in the school and eagerness to join if offered the opportunity.”

This is especially worth doing if you think your profile is stronger in some areas than is average for their class, for instance your GMAT exam score. One of the reasons you might be waitlisted is that they’re unsure if you’ll accept a place, and this is an uncertainty you can dispel quickly and easily.

If this is not the case, it’s time to think critically and logically about what you can do to improve your position.

3. Improve your test scores

Once you’ve let the admissions team know that you are committed to gaining a spot on their program, it’s time to turn a critical eye to your application. If there are quantitative areas you can improve on, for instance your GMAT scores, now is a perfect opportunity.

📈 Read more: How to Improve Your GMAT™ Exam Score

David White from Menlo Coaching encourages candidates to look closely at the average GMAT scores for their desired program, but also to think carefully about what might be expected of them specifically.

“Bear in mind that the average test score for admitted applicants can vary by cohort,” he cautions. “For example, private equity applicants are often great test takers, and the average GMAT for admitted private equity professionals may be 15-20 points higher than an MBA program's overall average.”

4. Keep in touch

Outside of retaking standardized tests, you can look for other ways to enrich your profile. Candy Lee recommends that applicants keep in touch every three to four weeks, as long as the updates they are bringing to the team are interesting and significant.

Some schools may even encourage candidates to do this: at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, all waitlisted candidates are invited to complete an additional interview and submit a supplemental update to their application.

“In many cases, candidates are well-aware of their areas of growth, and can address those areas through the supplemental update,” says Eric Askins, executive director of full-time MBA admissions at Haas.

“Candidates who provided a broad career goals statement may choose this opportunity to narrow the scope of their goals and identify specific competencies that reinforce the attainability of those future goals. We have also received additional letters of recommendation that clarify a candidate’s program fit or professional experience.”

The key for any update you send to a school while on the MBA waitlist is that it is significant and relevant to your application.

“It would be worthwhile for you to keep the Admissions Team up-to-date with any interesting career developments – for example if you receive a promotion or take on a new project,” says Amy Duckworth, Director of Admissions at Imperial College Business School.

“Some schools may consider an additional reference from waitlisted candidates. If you do go down this route, then think carefully about who should provide this additional reference – my advice is to make sure it brings a different perspective to the references you have already provided.”

Remember, you can’t just underline what you’ve already said in your application, or repeatedly restate your desire to attend the school. They already know that you’re a great candidate for a place—that’s why you’re on the MBA waitlist!—and they have hundreds of eager candidates. You need to convince them persuasively what is special about you.

5. Stay positive

Finally, it’s important to stay positive. You can never know for sure all the factors that have landed you on the MBA waitlist, but you do know one: they think that you are impressive.

Remain friendly in your relations with the MBA admissions staff, and have a back-up plan if you do not get off the waitlist. Candy Lee recommends applying to other schools in subsequent rounds, or even re-applying to your chosen school next cycle, as in her experience, waitlisted candidates frequently do well.

The MBA waitlist is not the end of your journey with your dream business school. If you follow the steps above, it could be the beginning!

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