Julie Strong, principal consultant at The MBA Exchange, served on the admissions committee at MIT Sloan School of Management for 14 years. Below, she shares her firsthand experience on how candidates can successfully turn their MBA waitlist position into an admissions offer.
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What does being on an MBA waitlist mean?
The waitlist is literally a list of candidates who have applied to an MBA program and have passed all or most of the requirements set for admission, but have not yet been dinged or granted admission.
The waitlist means the admissions committee considers your application strong enough to grant you admission — if more seats were available. Your application will be reconsidered in the next admission round or reconsidered as accepted candidates choose not to attend.
The waitlist is essentially the business school version of serial dating. If there is a spark, but you’re still curious about additional options, you may decide to see person “x” again while continuing to hit that “like” button to explore other matches. You’ll still gladly welcome continued contact with person “x” but, if they stop engaging, they’ll silently be forgotten, and other matches will rise to the top of your consideration set.
But if you are silent, you may be left behind. There are steps that you can take to strengthen your candidacy while balancing patience and persistence.
Why do business schools use a waitlist?
Because top schools receive more qualified applications than they have seats to offer in a class. The MBA application process is dynamic and complex. Many applicants apply to more than one business school, so if they are successful in receiving more than one invitation to attend, seats will open up at other schools as they commit to attending the program that's right for them.
The MBA application cycle is long, from September until matriculation in August or September of the following year. Candidates can remain on the waitlist this whole time. Life happens, and an accepted candidate’s plans may change at the last minute. The waitlist is the insurance policy for the school that they will start off the school year with a full class.
What should you do if you’ve been waitlisted?
First, be mindful of the rules. Read the waitlist materials provided, visit the school’s waitlist FAQs, and attend a waitlist management webinar if offered. Follow the rules set out by each school; they differ in specific actions they seek from waitlisted candidates, such as a supplemental essay or an additional recommendation letter.
Second, respond immediately. Upon receiving notification of your waitlist status, thank the admissions committee for their continued consideration and confirm your strong desire to remain on the waitlist. Your quick response signals that you would accept a future offer.
Programs such as Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management share exactly where your application vulnerabilities lay, but many others do not. If you get this information, focus your efforts most heavily on those areas. Always be grateful and use a positive tone.
Third, improve your candidacy and share it. Provide the school with an update on your enhanced profile every three to four weeks. Be persuasive in sharing how your recent actions make you an even better fit for their program. Do not repeat or summarize things previously contained in your application. Updates must be differential and substantial.
For example, you could improve your credentials by retaking the GMAT or GRE if your standardized test score is below the school’s average; enroll in a program such as MBA Math to demonstrate your commitment to arriving on campus ready to handle the rigorous curriculum.
You can also share any promotions, new roles, or additional high-visibility projects. Consider intentionally taking on additional projects or leadership at work that rounds out a potential vulnerability in your profile.
And you might share any new contributions made outside of work. For example, doing pro bono work with a nonprofit, or progress with a mentee. Make the school aware of your direct impact.
Is there anything else waitlisted MBA applicants can do?
Gain and leverage advocates. Throughout the waitlist process, you should continue to connect with people related to the school including current students and alumni. Seek them out purposely. These connections can work powerfully for you; they may advocate for you directly. If you feel you’re really hitting it off in a conversation, don’t be afraid to ask if they could reach out to the admissions team on your behalf.
You might also learn something new about the program, their favorite professor, a special area of interest, conferences, or trips. Reference the contact and this new information when speaking to the school to demonstrate your continued interest and your ability to build networks. If permitted, seek an additional recommendation letter that will offer a different perspective from the ones already submitted.
In addition, deep introspection and self-awareness are critical. Take the time upfront to plan how you’d realistically respond in certain admissions scenarios in order to save yourself time and money. Don’t keep putting down deposits to hold your spot at three schools while you work to get off the waitlist at two others. Decide among the three now. Do prepare to apply to additional schools in the next admission round if you aren’t entirely satisfied with your admit schools.