Waitlisted By A Favorite MBA Program: Now What?

Ben Fouch, an aspiring member of the MBA Class of 2021, is documenting his journey as an applicant every other week in his “Diaries of a Darkhorse” column. He works on the corporate development team at Booz Allen Hamilton on the sourcing, valuing, and structuring of potential M&A deals. Among his target schools is Harvard Business School. He was also a 2017 Best & Brightest business major with Poets&Quants.

One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump. Its eponymous protagonist delivered a line that appeals to my insatiable sweet tooth. He says, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

I was reminded of this quote by another business school applicant, who used it when I asked how she viewed her chances. I thought it made a lot of sense. Admissions is also like a box of chocolates. Each time we apply, we dip our hand into the box to get a treat. Sometimes, the result ends up being a disappointment. For me, that means grabbing a coconut cream chocolate. That’s what being rejected is like. It can be tough to stomach.


My Round 1 applications were a mixed bag. Sometimes I had a sweet result (dark chocolate nougat, anyone?). Other times, I came out with the coconut cream. Each school produced a clear result, and it provided a sense of finality. It let me process the result, adjust my strategy, and move forward.

Experiencing failure is an inevitability when we push ourselves. It seems like the business world even embraces certain types of failure. Success entrepreneurs exhort us to “fail fast”, and quotes from Edison on failed experiments are peppered into the conversation. Thanks to feedback, failure can shape us in positive ways. It lets us move forward in a smarter way.

That’s what makes being waitlisted so difficult. It lacks the finality of a yes or no decision; it leaves the waitlisted in limbo. Receiving my first waitlist decision was much harder than a simple acceptance or rejection. For starters, it messed up my friend’s nice-and-neat chocolates metaphor. What flavor is a waitlist decision? Molasses? Rum nougat? Maybe Forrest Gump didn’t have it all figured out after all.


Benjamin Fouch

Being put on the waitlist complicates things. One of my original top two schools placed me there. I’d been blown away by every graduate and student I spoke with from the program. It would have checked all the boxes that I’d been looking for in terms of a transformative two-year experience. Of all my target programs, it’s the one that most excited me.

My waitlist decision was partially self-inflicted. For a school that is obsessively focused on maintaining its culture, an in-person visit was an expectation. Work and personal commitments kept me away from campus on the available visit weekdays. I ended up taking a virtual interview, a risk I knew lowered my odds. The interview went great, and my statistics put me in the top few deciles of the accepted class. I felt my odds were still relatively good.

My first reaction was disappointment when I found out I’d been waitlisted. Soon enough, that disappointment was replaced with a general uncertainty. Schools are not very forthcoming about the odds of being plucked off the waitlist. From what I could gather, students were invited up to a few days before orientation. That meant that it could be almost eight months until I heard about my final status.

A lot can change in eight months. I could apply to other schools that are still exciting, but not my top choice. Maybe I’d decide to wait for my MBA and to pursue other opportunities to grow personally and professionally. Putting my future plans on hold could cost me special opportunities elsewhere.  Yet denying the waitlist would drop my odds from unknown to zero.


In deciding what to do, I’ve often wished for the immediacy of a final decision. Life continually brings up new challenges and waiting for an outcome with uncertain probability feels limiting. I need to decide whether to go all-in on the waitlist, or to pursue other opportunities. The sooner I make the decision, the better.

If I do end up remaining on the waitlist, I’m going to focus on showing my enthusiasm. In my practice, I’ve worked with many college applicants facing the same situation. The ones who are successful show why they deserve to be taken off the waitlist. Some write handwritten letters. Others submit new information about their profile. Most keep up contact with admissions. The methods vary, but it will ultimately come down to showing that I take the opportunity seriously.

If I decide not to pursue the waitlist, it would be for the closure of the decision. If I remove the possibility of acceptance into the program, then I can move on and pursue other opportunities. Whether that includes applying to schools in Round 2 or accepting a Round 1 offer remains to be seen. This is where the decision process gets difficult. To pursue any of the paths will mean I have to give up the other. I may just get stuck with another coconut cream chocolate in the process.

Originally from Indiana, Ben graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Finance and Political Science. While at Notre Dame he co-founded Dark Horse Sports Recruiting, an undergraduate academic and athletic admissions consulting service. He enjoys baking, dad jokes, alternative history novels, and obstacle course races.

DON’T MISS:  Diaries of a Darkhorse: The Subtle Art of Choosing a Recommender or Diaries Of A Darkhorse: Cutting The BS Out Of My HBS Essay

“This article was prepared by the author in his/her personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, opinion, or position of their employer.”

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