Waitlisted: What It Means, What To Do

waitlisted, waiting

After the many months of researching programs, gathering letters of recommendation and carefully crafting your essays, getting “waitlisted” for your top-choice MBA program can be an anti-climactic stop in your b-school journey.

But don’t give up hope! Receiving a waitlist letter means you’re not out of the running yet. Plenty of prospective students are admitted to business schools from waitlists each year. And there may still be something you can do to influence the admission committee’s decision. (There are also some definite “do-not do’s” during this crucial period.)


As you might suspect, the word “wait” in waitlisted is key. It simply means that you’ll have to wait a while longer to hear whether your program of choice has decided to accept you as a student or not.

Before you panic, remember that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the program has notified you that you’re on a waitlist, they’ve also notified scores of other students that they definitely were not accepted into the program—so things could be worse.

Remember that admissions committees are carefully curating each class of MBA students. They want to ensure that prospects will not only be successful in graduate school, but also that they’ll be a fit for their particular learning community. They also want to make sure that student cohorts are well balanced. Perhaps there are a large number of incoming students with engineering backgrounds, but they’re really looking to include more communications majors or even diversify the class with students of varying ages.

Admissions committee members may also simply have a question mark next to your name because they want to know more about you, or have a question about some aspect of your application.  While it can be frustrating, particularly after a long haul through the application process, being patient will pay off in the end.


Now that you know what being waitlisted really means, let’s talk about what not to do when you find out you’re on a waitlist.

Repeat after me: Re-read the information they’ve sent you. Most schools will make it very clear whether they want to hear more from you—or whether they discourage any further contact completely. Don’t make a move until you’re sure you understand which camp the school falls into.

In this communication, the admissions committee has likely taken great pains to articulate exactly what you can expect and when, and what the next steps are for you, if any. There is also likely to be a “drop-dead date” listed, by which you can expect to know whether or not you’ve been accepted.

Finally, this communication will also let you know what you have to do or could do next. Some programs will not want to hear from you at all—and it’s your job to respect that request. Others may ask for additional letters of recommendation, essays, videos or other materials, or will make it clear that while not necessary, these add-ons to your application would be welcome.

If no additional materials are requested (or are specifically banned), try to remember that you did your best in your original application. Landing on the waitlist may have less to do with your attractiveness as a candidate and may have more to do with other factors at play in the overall candidate pool.


If the admissions team has left the door open to receiving additional contact from you or new materials to add to your application file, you can plan to check in with them at least once a month. But rather than bombard them constantly with updates, focus on well thought out, substantial updates that let the committee know more about you; or that tell them what you’ve been up to since you applied.

Start with an update letter that reiterates your interest in the program and informs them of your recent activities. Make sure that the information is new, so that it truly is an update. In terms of what to focus on, have you taken on new responsibilities in your job? Stepped up your volunteer work? Gone on a trip that changed your perspective? Learned a new language, or achieved a personal goal such as running a marathon? As you provide these updates, make sure to articulate how this makes you a better candidate than before.

Consider submitting an extra letter of recommendation. If you do, make sure it adds new information on a dimension of your personality that perhaps wasn’t well highlighted before. It could come from someone with whom you do volunteer work, to add a new perspective to your professional recommendations.

In some cases, an improved GMAT score can make a big difference. It may be best to check with the school to see if this would be the case. If so, get to work on boosting your score.

Finally, talking with an admissions committee contact may be helpful. Keep it restrained – don’t pester them with constant questions. The idea is to simply check in regularly to demonstrate your interest and keep them apprised of your situation.

Once you’ve followed these tips, it is true that all you can do is wait—but stay positive, and hopefully before long you’ll be seeing some definitive good news come through.

Stacy Blackman is the founder and managing director of Stacy Blackman Consulting

Stacy Blackman is the founder and managing director of Stacy Blackman Consulting

Stacy Sukov Blackman founded Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC) in 2001. SBC is a leading MBA admissions advisory with a proven track record of acceptances to the world’s top MBA programs.

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