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What To Do If You Have Been Waitlisted 

After hitting the submit button, possibly interviewing, and waiting several weeks for news, you receive an email stating that the status of your MBA application has been updated. You eagerly log in to your account… only to find out that you have been waitlisted.

Being in this limbo state between acceptance and rejection can undoubtedly be stressful, given the uncertainty involved. But hope is far from lost, and the underlying message is a positive one. Being waitlisted means that your target school feels your application is solid and that you could make a good addition to the next incoming class. However, the admissions committee needs more time to see how that class is shaping up before it can make a final decision. So, what should you do (and not do) in the meantime?

WHAT TO DO IMMEDIATELY

  • Confirm your spot on the waitlist. The school will have sent you specific instructions on how to do this. Handle this step as soon as possible to ensure that your candidacy remains under active consideration.
  • Carefully read any information the school has provided. Such material may explain when you can expect to receive further updates, provide a link to FAQs, outline how to submit supplemental materials to the admissions committee, and/or offer other important resources and options.
  • Obtain feedback—or reassess your profile on your own. Some programs (including Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management) give waitlisted applicants the opportunity to chat briefly with an admissions committee member to learn how to strengthen their application in the short term. Take advantage of this service, if offered, and sign up for a call with an admissions representative ASAP. However, if your target program does not explicitly offer this kind of feedback, do not contact the school to request it. Instead, review your application and profile on your own, putting yourself in the shoes of the admissions committee and making note of any potential gaps or areas for improvement.

WHAT TO CONTINUE DOING FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL WEEKS

Some schools actively encourage waitlisted applicants to submit additional information. However, even if your selected program does not do so, plan to stay in touch with its admissions committee consistently by emailing a material update every four to six weeks. What is considered a material update?

  • An improved GMAT or GRE score If you retake either exam and improve your overall score and/or your Quantitative or Verbal subscore, submit your new result(s) to the school immediately so that the admissions committee can consider this updated component of your profile when assessing your competitiveness and academic readiness for the program.
  • Grades from supplemental courses – If you have recently completed a class that can demonstrate your quantitative proficiency (a smart move!) and earned an A grade, now is the time to submit your transcript for this course to the admissions committee.
  • A promotion, award, or increased work responsibilities – If you earn a promotion (congrats!), inform the admissions committee of your new title and scope of responsibility. Likewise, if you win an award or similar recognition (also congrats!), let the school know, and be sure to explain the nature of the accolade and the selection criteria. Or, if you are given a substantial increase in responsibility without a change in title (such as being entrusted with a high-visibility project), share this good news with the admissions committee—and plan to update the school on your ultimate success in this endeavor, if applicable.
  • An additional recommendation – If you know someone who can provide an additional positive endorsement of your candidacy that will provide new insights about you, having this person email a recommendation on your behalf can be worthwhile, particularly if his/her letter attests to your strengths and offers specific examples that substantiate them. That said, be sure to use your best judgment here—an additional letter from someone at your current firm will not likely be sufficiently additive, whereas a submission from your mentor or community service leader might enhance your candidacy by providing a fresh perspective. Further, if you happen to know a student at your target program particularly well, consider asking this individual to write a substantive letter on your behalf, attesting to your character and fit with the school. You should not embark on a covert letter-writing campaign, but think carefully about powerful advocates who could speak on your behalf.
  • Evidence of recent engagement with the school Showing continued interest in the MBA program will demonstrate your commitment to the school and assure the admissions committee that you are likely to accept an offer of admission, if one is eventually extended. You can do this by arranging calls or coffee chats with students or alumni, visiting campus (especially if you have not already done so), or attending program-related events in your area. In your subsequent update to the admissions committee, communicate what you learned about the program from each touchpoint and how this has reinforced your interest.
  • New or increased community involvement If, after submitting your application, you began regularly participating in a substantive extracurricular activity (or elevated your level of involvement in an ongoing commitment, such as shifting from being a volunteer to serving as a team leader), let the admissions committee know! Describe your involvement, why it is meaningful to you, and (particularly for community service) the impact you have had or hope to have.
  • Significant personal growth Have you reached a new level in your artistic career and finally had a public showing? Completed an IRONMAN triathlon? Won the regional barbecue contest? Although we do not necessarily recommend sharing these kinds of milestones as part of your initial update, such information can certainly be valuable fodder for later communications with the admissions committee. They can keep you on the school’s radar and serve as evidence that you are not only continuing to evolve but also have a lot to offer your future classmates.

Taking the steps we have outlined here will help increase the possibility that you will ultimately be accepted off your target school’s waitlist. However, bear in mind that this is still just that—a possibility. As you await the admissions committee’s final decision, focus on figuring out your Plan B: will you apply to additional programs this season, start readying yourself to reapply next year, or instead pursue a new job more closely aligned with your career goals? Now is a great time to fully consider and research all your options. And throughout this process, do your best to stay grounded—avoid becoming consumed by your waitlisted status by taking the time to enjoy yourself and to reconnect with family and friends. They will be there to support you no matter how things turn out.

Nisha Trivedi mbamission

Nisha Trivedi of mbaMission

Nisha Trivedi, who earned her MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, is an MBA admissions consultant with mbaMission. she held positions at Time Inc., Rosetta, and KPMG LLP in New York City before getting her MBA. After graduating from Ross, she worked for several years in brand management in San Francisco at Big Heart Pet Brands (now part of The J.M. Smucker Company) before joining mbaMission.

For more information on the advice offered here, plus even more tips, download your complimentary copy of mbaMission’s Waitlist Guide. Following the counsel provided will help make the “waiting” part of being waitlisted more productive—and may even lead to that coveted admissions offer!