Tips for Getting Off the Waitlist and into B-school (Updated)

Waitlist season is in full bloom and with R3 notification deadlines wrapping up the countdown clock is ticking for those still waiting in line. Of course it’s inevitable that most of you will be waitlisted at some of your top school choices - after all, getting waitlisted at a stretch school means that you hedged effectively.

(Note - my opinion is that an effective hedging strategy should include a stretch, safe-stretch and backup school selections.)

So what can you do at this point in the game? If waitlisted, follow this protocol:

Before anything else - make sure the school accepts additional information from waitlisted candidates.

That is, that they actually want to hear from you. Figuring this out is not accomplished via phone call (at first). Rather, this is done by reading the website. Phone calls inundate the admissions office – so avoid them if possible.

Only after  checking the school's website - and only after you can't find any information on how to update the admissions committee – do you call a school to find out how they would like additional information. Be prepared for the following - some schools do not want updates. Some schools want updates only after a certain date. Deal with it and move on. Do not constantly call the admissions office as well. Be respectful of the process and other people's time.

Assuming the program does take waitlist updates - communicate to the school that you are indeed serious about attending their school and that they are your first choice. When crafting updates, be mindful of each individual program's protocol when doing so.

You have to show interest so that when the admissions committee goes to the waitlist and opens up your file, you look like you will accept if they extend you an invite. My colleague Adam Hoff wrote about this specific point in an earlier blog post about addressing Chicago Booth's waitlist assignment

Also, by communicating them you are more likely to move up the waitlist (if schools rank the waitlist), hopefully get off the waitlist and eventually matriculate. So if are indeed the caliber of student that the school wants to eventually accept, you need to show that you have been progressing across your “submitted” candidacy and especially in any area of weakness. Communicate this to the admissions office in one or two notices at the most (as new information may become available on your part).

Any new information should bolster your positioning.

That is, it shows that you are progressing as a leader and manager; that you are increasing your role, your visibility and your responsibilities. This evidenced by promotions, awards and new leadership responsibilities. Search your application for any part that is weaker than the rest (ideally, you will know this before submitting). Address that area with your update. Don't rehash old information, please.

Follow each admissions committee's protocol - one size does not fit all. Make sure that if the adcom has requested specific information, you send that as well.

If a school wants a general update with few specifications on how they want it, simply put your waitlist update into a short letter. I recommend no more than one page email (~300 to 400 words), and send it to the adcom. Be sure to reiterate your reasons concerning what you would contribute to the program, that you are a good fit and you most definitely want to attend. This is where good cover letter type structure will really help your cause.

Make sure you include your proper contact information as well.

I know, I know, but this is worth pointing out - just consider how frustrating it is to receive an email from an different email account address than you put on your application.

Remember, proper contact information includes your file or applicant number. Refer to your submitted application form for this information. When the adcom reads over your update and then looks for a place to stick it, do not make them hunt your file down, they won’t do so with a smile on their face.

If a program accepts additional recommendations:

My view is that they are good only if the person is connected to the school and/or knows you in a professionally intimate or significant leadership setting.  

Additional recommendations are also a great opportunity to bolster the weaker aspects of your application. So pick a recommender who can bolster your weaknesses.  For example, if you have lack of leadership/management, pick a project manager who can attest to your informal management.

One other thing to note is that a current student vouching for your candidacy also works, especially if they have a relationship with the admissions committee (i.e. student interviewer). 

If your recommender is a significant donor or a famous alum that works very, very well. Trust me, I have seen this happen before. This also works if the admissions committee does not accept additional recommendations. Anyone donating a lot of money to school has a right to submit a recommendation on your behalf, but the recommendation has to appear as unsolicited. If the admissions committee think she put the significant donor up to it, it will hold little to no credibility.

Properly Timing your waitlist update is also an important consideration.

  1. As soon as you receive your waitlist email, respond and indicate you want to be on the waitlist. It’s as simple as clicking a few links. also,  there is no need to send a "thank you for putting me on the waitlist" email. Just get online click that you want to remain on the waitlist.
  2. If the school accepts additional information, send your update within 2 weeks for being placed on the waitlist. This is your first update.
  3. Make sure you know when the next round deadline is. You want to send in your 2nd update approximately 2 weeks before they admissions committee starts to finalize their list of acceptances for the next round.
  4. I believe that the minimum number of communiques should be two. A third update is appropriate for significant events such as promotions or other enhanced leadership responsibilities.
  5. Remember that you need an ace in the hole, should your waitlist status extend beyond one round. That is, you get waitlisted in round one and still remain on the waitlist in round three. Waitlists are a necessary evil and they can extend the ultimate decision regarding your application until a few weeks before school starts.

One more thing to consider:

If you are waitlisted at a program with a high matriculation rate (i.e. most people accept their offer of admission), then the chances of you getting off that particular waitlist are slim. HBS is a prime example of this. They hardly ever go deep into their waitlist pool, if at all.

Good luck out there.

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