Each year, the Admissions Committees of each business school will place a number of its applicants into the dreaded “waitlist”. If you are one such candidate, who found yourself on the waitlist, you may find yourself asking such questions as:
- What could I have done differently?
- Was it something I said during my interview?
- Why did the school admit my colleague with similar scores and experiences and put me on the waitlist?
- What can I do?
…only to find each school explicitly state they cannot and will not provide feedback specific to an individual.
So what can you do?
First, we should acknowledge: it’s possible. I did it. I was waitlisted at Chicago Booth in round one last year. Now I’m a current second-year MBA student at the school. You can do it, too. Each year, a small number of waitlisted candidates make the move to the admitted students list.
According to GMAT Club’s user data for the Class of 2018, roughly 1% to 10% of applicants were waitlisted by school and of those waitlisted, up to 21% (i.e., MIT Sloan) were ultimately admitted from the waitlist.
Moreover, many of the top business schools (e.g., Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, Stanford GSB, etc.) will provide waitlisted candidates the opportunity to provide additional materials for any material developments (e.g., recent accomplishments, promotions, etc.) from the time of application to now. For those schools, there are things you can do today to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist.
As an initial step, identify whether the school you are waitlisted for allows supplemental materials to be submitted. If the school specifically asks you not to provide additional materials, you may want to heed their advice.
Otherwise, this tactical guide was written to help waitlisted candidates sift through the noise and provide candidates with tangible tactics to improve their chances of moving from the waitlist to the admitted students list.
This guide is divided into two parts. The first part is intended to stimulate reflection and put the waitlist into perspective, while the second part will take a detailed dive into each component of the supplemental materials.
Part One: Getting into the right mindset
Before diving into the tactics, it’s important to lay down the foundations to having the right mindset to tackle the waitlist process.
You are (still) a superstar candidate
First off, let’s acknowledge that being on the waitlist — this vortex of ambiguity and doubt — is by no means a negative reflection of you and your potential. There should be no doubt that you are a superstar candidate and getting waitlisted is a reflection of that. In fact, Eileen Chang, an associate director in admissions for HBS, was once quoted in Poets&Quants saying “there is nothing ‘wrong’ with the applicant. Rather, it is more a matter of selection vs. qualification.” Moreover, year over year the candidate pool gets more and more competitive (7 of the top 10 business schools had lower acceptance rates and higher GMAT scores from 2014 to 2015; source: Poets&Quants), and the number of spots available per school remains fixed.
This is an opportunity to shine — not a check the box activity
Second, begin to think of this opportunity as a way to improve your candidacy and show even more of your stellar-ness rather than treating this as a check the box activity. Once you begin to frame it along those lines, the rest will come more naturally.
Take some time off and reflect
Third, take some time off to enjoy the holidays and reflect. Externally, be sure to thank your recommenders and supporters and update them on your waitlist status. Internally, take a critical eye on the application you submitted and begin to identify where you may have had gaps relative to the evaluation criteria disclosed by the school. Afterward, take an inventory of what you’ve done since the application and identify what can be used to either shore up some of the perceived weaknesses in your application or alternatively, used to further exemplify your strengths.
Connect your ambition to the school’s DNA
Fourth, get prepared to dive even deeper to know the school’s DNA and connect your ambitions to that DNA. In order to do this effectively, you will have to be introspective and get even more specific on how your target school will get you there.
For example, for Booth, I was interested in its entrepreneurship program. By asking more specific questions to alums and attending entrepreneurship-specific events held by Booth, I was able to change my narrative from something generic (i.e., “Booth has a great entrepreneurship program that I want to be a part of”) to something far more specific (i.e., “based on the Entrepreneurship Symposium, I know Professor Waverly Deutsch’s Building the New Venture class will help me develop an idea and potentially, bring that idea to market through the New Venture Challenge while I am at Booth”).