Your top choice school just alerted you that their decision is in. You race to log on to that portal, likely trembling with nerves, only to learn that you’ve been waitlisted. You run through the gamut of emotions and think to yourself, “What now?”
First, shake off any self-doubts and remember that this is not a rejection! Admissions have become more competitive than ever, and a waitlist is still an impressive achievement. So many candidates have been rejected, but you have been given the opportunity to convince the admissions committee that you’re a right fit for their program. Take advantage of the opportunity.
Next, read your letter carefully! Find out if the admissions team will accept additional materials. If so, follow the instructions exactly. Many schools will accept updated information, such as a letter of interest or updates to your resume or profile since you applied. If the letter says they don’t want additional material, send nothing. This admissions committee does not want to hear from you and others will self-eliminate by doing so. But if they do allow new materials, make sure every word counts.
5 tips for crafting a winning waitlist letter
1. Add career updates since the application.
We want to convey that you are an even better candidate now. That’s easiest if you’ve received a promotion, but you can also play up new responsibilities or new projects that you’re working on. You could discuss projects that were in progress when you applied but have now been successfully completed. Identify the new skills or knowledge that you have gained from your new responsibilities.
2. Include any new research you have done on the school.
If you’ve gone to a campus visit, talked to an adcom member, or an alum since you applied, mention it briefly and explain how or why that has helped you realize that you fit with the school.
3. Give a reminder that you’re super enthusiastic.
Let them know you’ll go if accepted! A lot of people get on the waitlist and then don’t do much with it because they’ve already decided to go to another school. We want to make clear that you aren’t one of those people. The waitlist is one way for schools to separate those who really want to attend their school vs. others who might consider it as a backup. Tell them explicitly that they are your first choice.
4. Possibly include another recommender.
Depending on the instructions and school, you may be able to send another letter of recommendation or endorsement as an additive. Resist the urge to ask someone with a fancy title who barely knows your work and go for someone who has been in the trenches with you. Make sure they have provided constructive feedback in the past because the best letters provide an account of how receptive you have been to criticism. Any additional letter should only offer new information about you. Remember, they still have your original materials!
5. Don’t repeat the application information.
Finally, some common urges that you should squelch are jampacking your letter with the same old achievements and reiterating information you have already provided. Only provide them with what they ask for. Applicants are too often tempted to overdo it and admissions committees want to be confident in your ability to follow instructions. Be concise! About one page (and no more) is a decent length if they give no indication of word count. The goals of this letter are to showcase exactly why you are an even stronger candidate since you applied and to confirm that this school remains your top choice.
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