What to Do When You’re on the MBA Waitlist – A Step by Step Action Plan

So, you’re on the MBA waitlist for your dream school? It wasn’t the decision you were hoping for, but the good news is that you’re still in the running. Being on the MBA waitlist means that the adcom really liked you and thought you would be a great fit for their program but, for any number of reasons, wasn’t able to extend you an offer of admission – yet.

The “yet” is what we’re writing about today. We have clients get accepted to top MBA programs after being placed on the waitlist every year. So, what can you do to get out of MBA waitlist limbo? Most importantly, don’t just wait! Read on for our step-by-step advice.

What to Do When You’re on the MBA Waitlist

  1. Carefully read the waitlist instructions.

And follow them. This may seem like a given but we’re surprised how often this step is overlooked. The MBA waitlist instructions provide a lot of useful information, including how to opt in (if needed), what kinds of updates the school accepts, contact information for your waitlist manager, etc.

This information can differ from school to school so, if you’re on more than one waitlist (we had a client last year who was on three!), it’s important to understand what levers are at your disposal for each. Then you can start planning out your MBA waitlist strategy.

  1. Honestly assess your application and identify any opportunities for improvement.

The key to a successful MBA waitlist strategy is ensuring it addresses the reasons the school chose to waitlist versus admit you. In our experience, the most common of these include: a test score or GPA lower than the school’s average, light extracurriculars, too little or too much work experience, unclear or inauthentic career goals, and undifferentiated experience (especially if you come from an overrepresented pool like banking or consulting). Ultimately, the opportunity areas differ for each person so it’s important to take a critical eye to your application (and perhaps get a second opinion) to determine where and how you can improve.

  1. Act on your application weaknesses.

We’ll say it again – the key to a successful MBA waitlist strategy is action. If your GMAT or GRE score was on the low side, consider a retake. If your GPA was below average, consider enrolling in an online class (think statistics, accounting, finance, etc.) from an accredited institution to provide further evidence of your academic aptitude. Bulking up your extracurriculars can be challenging given the shorter timeline you’re dealing with, but platforms like Taproot and Catchafire are places to look if you want to add something with impact and do it quickly.

  1. Draft a waitlist update (assuming the school accepts them).

Once you’ve done what you can, you need to share it with the adcom. Within the constraints of their waitlist instructions of course, the best way to do this is by submitting an update letter(s). The key to a successful update letter is to provide new information, not repeat material already included in your application. In addition to mentioning the actions in step 3 as applicable, you might share a promotion at work, additional reasons for fit with the program, or how you’ll contribute to the school.

Another thing to consider as you draft your waitlist update letter is that the school wants reassurance you will enroll if admitted. Remember that not everyone on the waitlist is as committed to the school as you are. So, don’t hesitate to let the school know that you remain committed to their program and that it is your #1 choice if that’s the case. No need to beat around the bush with this one – just say it directly.

  1. Get (appropriately) creative.

So far, we’ve explored the “tried and true” ways to actively manage your waitlist status. However, being on the waitlist is also a great opportunity to get a little creative (so long as it doesn’t violate the school’s waitlist instructions).

For instance, more schools are now accepting video letters (i.e., Chicago Booth), so using that medium to provide meaningful updates while showcasing your personality and “putting a face to your name” could be a great option.

Another idea is to have a current student or alum who knows you well submit a letter of support that details why you’re a good fit for their school. Lastly, if you happen to be near the school – particularly if you haven’t visited already – it couldn’t hurt to reach out to admissions to let them know. It’s possible they’ll allow you to schedule a meeting or, at the very least, taking the time to visit campus can reaffirm your interest.

Final Words of Advice

We know this is easier said than done, but now is not the time to despair. Your efforts (and emotions) are better spent on taking constructive action. Stay confident (if you’re on the waitlist, it means that you have what it takes) and try not to compare yourself with others. Put your head down and focus on #1-5 above.

That said, as with all things MBA admissions, the waitlist process is not formulaic and there’s no magic bullet. In addition to taking actions that strengthen your profile, it’s smart to have a contingency plan. Perhaps you consider applying to additional programs in Round 2 or, if you don’t want to expand your list of schools, begin strategizing about how you can level up your profile as a reapplicant if it comes to that.

But again, don’t lose hope. Remember that client we mentioned at the beginning of this article who was on three different waitlists? He is now in his first year at his top choice program and couldn’t be happier.

On the waitlist and want personalized advice on next steps? We’re happy to help! Our ‘Re-Pack’ service includes a review of your application and actionable advice to inform your waitlist strategy. Request an initial consultation here.

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