Nobody is a sure thing when it comes to getting into the top MBA programs. Some of the best applicants on paper are deemed a poor “fit” by gatekeepers and “good-lucked” out the door. But one way or another, Yansong Pang was going to attend an elite business school this fall. He just had to be more patient than he anticipated to find out where.
Pang had scholarship offers from three top schools. But he’d applied to nine schools total, and five of the others, incredibly, had waitlisted him. Worst of all, he couldn’t figure out why: He’d nailed his interviews, and his CV is wide and deep. An analyst who has led research for individuals and families with tens of millions of dollars in equity exposure, he’s also currently president of two nonprofits, one he founded and another with more than 4,000 members worldwide.
Not enough? Pang earned his undergraduate degree magna cum laude. He scored a 740 on the General Management Admission Test and a 330 on the Graduate Record Examination, both higher than the averages at any of the M7 schools. He’s an accomplished public speaker. And he has huge ambitions in finance, with many of the connections already to realize them.
NOBODY WANTS TO BE WAITLISTED
Pang, 25, had every reason to expect that he would be able to choose from among the schools he’d applied to. Then, one after another, the waitlist notices rolled in — from Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, London Business School, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. So it was waiting time.
“It was tough,” Pang tells Poets&Quants. “I think my situation, with so many waitlists, may be unique. It’s not where I thought I would be.”
It’s fair to say, the waitlist is not where any MBA applicant wants to be. It’s better than outright rejection, but available data on how many waitlisters get accepted offers a bleak picture. According to statistics from GMAT Club, an online community for information sharing on the B-school application process, those who have been waitlisted face steep odds.
FOR WAITLISTED CANDIDATES, AN ALL-AROUND GRIM PICTURE
Though it’s a small, self-reported sample size, GMAT Club’s Class of 2018 waitlist results offer a grim picture. Of the M7 schools, MIT’s Sloan School of Management offers the most hope, with 21% of waitlisters getting the answer they want; Stanford GSB is the worst, with zero love for those in limbo. (Stanford also has the stingiest overall acceptance rate, at just over 6%.) Admissions consultants who have talked with Poets&Quants corroborate the basic facts, with Harvard Business School, for example, only accepting between 5% and 15% of those who are initially waitlisted.
On the flip side, a few top schools let in a lot of waitlisters. Leading the way is UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, which GMAT Club reported having a remarkable 46% acceptance rate for Class of 2018 waitlisters. Washington University’s Olin Business School was high up there, too, at 30%. Again, small sample. But it gives applicants a good idea of just how much hope they should have.
Pang, a native of Wuhan, the largest city in China’s interior, graduated early with top honors and awards from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Then he took his double-major bachelor’s degree in mathematics/statistics and psychology to confront what he considered a necessary series of early-career challenges. He wanted a wide range of experiences to show to MBA admissions folks — because he’s always known B-school was in his future.
CHECKING ALL THE BOXES
First, to get experience in strategy and consulting, Pang went to work for a Chicago firm learning product development strategies for Fortune 500 companies in Chinese, Russian, Latin-American, and North-American markets. Check that box. Then he wanted to bolster his knowledge of research, so he joined a Minneapolis investment advisory company as an analyst, working for the former chief regulator of securities of Minnesota. All the while, he says, “on the side” he was developing U.S. connections and strategies for his family’s automotive radiator manufacturing business in China. Check, check.
Aside from professional pursuits, Pang has served since mid-2016 as the president of Global China Connection, a nonprofit for students and young professionals to “engage in China’s emergence.” GCC, a partner of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), has more than 4,500 active members and 20,000 alumni and is present on over 70 campuses worldwide. Meanwhile, Pang continues to serve as president for a group he founded in college, Chinese Professionals in Minnesota, a 400-member networking platform that is operated through WeChat and LinkedIn.
He’s a chartered financial analyst with the CFA Institute. He has coached women’s college basketball. And he is an accomplished pianist and singer who can play a major venue one day and busk from street corners around town the next.
Check, check, check. So what was Pang missing when he ended up on the waitlist at five schools after round 1?