A Proven MBA Waitlist Strategy to Beat The Odds — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
7 min readMay 17, 2023

We get it, the MBA waitlist is the most ambiguous and excruciatingly painful phase of the MBA application process. Being placed on the MBA waitlist can be a challenging situation as there is uncertainty around when a final decision will be made. It’s possible to remain on the waitlist for several weeks or even months. What does it mean? When will you know? Can you do anything about it with a proper MBA waitlist strategy?

As a former assistant director of MBA Admissions at Kenan-Flagler Business School, my advice to you is to consider whether you really want to stay on the waitlist. If you want to increase your chances of getting off the waitlist and getting accepted, there is an MBA waitlist strategy you can use to sway admission officers to take another look at your application. In this blog post, I’ve got you covered with some effective tactics that have worked for many MBA hopefuls.

Don’t panic!

Sometimes candidates take rejection personally, but it’s important to remember that the door is still open. If you’re determined to secure a spot, don’t give up. If you want to increase your chances of getting off the waitlist, make sure to respond positively to the school. Refrain from responding negatively to waitlist announcements, which is not a good impression. It’s important to maintain a positive attitude and emphasize your motivation. Showing maturity and resilience in the face of disappointment can also leave a good impression.

Take a moment

Consider seeking help from external sources to identify potential areas of weakness in your application. If your GMAT or GRE score falls below the program’s average, retaking the exam may be a viable option, but only if you believe you can significantly improve your score, not just by a few points. Another possibility is to pursue a work project that will provide a compelling story to share with the admissions office in an update.

Understand waitlist preferences

It is essential to understand how the MBA program waitlist works, as you’ll need to tailor your strategy accordingly. This could be knowing whether they have a priority list or whether they draw from the entire pool. Once you understand their process, it will become easier to formulate a waitlist plan that’s unique and effective.

As each business school has their own approach to waitlisted applicants, make sure to understand what your target school expects. Some schools may only want to know if you want to remain on the waitlist or be removed. In such cases, it is best not to provide additional information or inquire about their decision. Doing so may negatively impact your chances of being accepted.

Keep in touch

If you are on the MBA waitlist, some schools might ask you to submit an additional essay that is 250–300 words long. It’s important to provide an update in this essay. You should review your previous essays and try to identify if there are any aspects of your background or interests that you haven’t yet shared.

Writing a letter about your recent experiences, the changes you’ve made, and improvements in your perception of the curriculum could greatly improve your chances of getting off the waitlist. This would show your engagement in the business school and your commitment to attending.

Try to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the program values and your contributions to the school culture. Chances are that you’ll be put on the radar, and that could make the difference during the admissions committee’s review.

It’s up to you to take action, and an email to the admissions committee is the best place to start. Keep it short and sweet, and acknowledge that you are aware of your place in limbo but are still very interested in attending their school. A little bit of humility and humor can go a long way in showing your personality without overdoing it.

Give them new information

If you’ve retaken the GMAT, earned a promotion, started a new project, or won an award since you submitted your application, send an update. Even mundane information such as learning a new language or taking salsa lessons shows that you’re actively seeking personal growth and development. Always find a way to tie your new achievements to why you’re a good fit for their particular program.

Sending updated records to the adcoms is important so they can make informed decisions when reviewing your MBA application from the waitlist. However, avoid sending too many updates. It is recommended to send two updates spaced 20–30 days apart. This can increase your chances of being removed from the MBA waitlist.

Get recommendations

Strong recommendations can go a long way in impressing the admissions committee. Hence, if you haven’t already, reach out to your professors, mentors, or supervisors. Ask them to write detailed and specific letters that elaborate on your strengths and potential. They should highlight how you would be a great fit for their program and why you’re deserving of a spot.

If you have any friends or acquaintances who attended the same school or graduated from the same program you applied for, ask them to put in a good word for you. Schools often welcome recommendations from people they have a relationship with, particularly alumni. Make sure the person is willing to go the extra mile and has a good reputation; otherwise, it might backfire and actually harm your chances.

Revisit Your Essays

Sometimes, the way a candidate presents themselves on their application can make all the difference. Ask yourself, did you fully articulate your career goals, your leadership experience or your passion for the program in your essays? If these areas could be stronger, consider revising and expanding your responses to show the admissions committee your potential and drive.

Attend an Information Session

Consider attending an upcoming MBA information session. This will give you more opportunities to learn more about the MBA program, ask questions, and make a memorable impression in person.

It is important to note that making an effort to visit the school while on the waitlist does not guarantee you will receive preference from the admissions office. However, it can demonstrate your level of motivation and commitment to the school, which could be beneficial when providing updates on your application status. It is recommended that you plan your visit thoughtfully by considering what you hope to achieve during your visit, such as sitting in on classes or attending a conference, rather than simply showing up at the admissions office.

Manage your expectations

Being on the waitlist means that you’re not entirely out of the running, but you’re not in either. Part of a sound MBA waitlist strategy should involve considering other options in case things don’t work out according to your expectations. Line up backup schools and prepare for the worst-case scenario as well. That way, you’ll be less anxious, and you’ll have a plan B if things don’t fall into place.

Don’t overdo it

If you want to plead your case, avoid sending physical letters to home addresses and calling or emailing the admissions office excessively. It’s important to distinguish between being persistent and coming across as creepy.Use your maturity and self-awareness wisely, as they reflect your discernment and professionalism.

Remain positive!

Being waitlisted can be draining and demotivating, but it’s essential to maintain a positive attitude. Don’t get dejected and lose hope. Instead of dwelling on the negative, focus on the things that you can control. Exude positivity and showcase your enthusiasm. Remember, the admissions committee would want candidates who can showcase grit and resilience.

Conclusion

The waitlist can be a challenging place to be, but it’s not the end of the world. By remaining positive and with a fine-tuned MBA waitlist strategy, you can increase your chances of getting accepted. Remember, the admissions committee isn’t looking for someone who is perfect, but someone who they believe possesses the potential to make the most of their program. So, don’t forget to showcase your unique qualities and personality.Stay optimistic, face the challenge head-on, and showcase your worthiness — that’s the key to getting through this! If you need any help drafting your letter or sharpening your waitlist, feel free to check our MBA application services.

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

“Quite simply without Philippe’s advice and guidance, I would not have been admitted into a top 20 program. Philippe helped me craft my essays in a way that focused on only the most important aspects of my work experience and career goals. The essays were tailored in accordance with the uniqueness and culture of the individual program. Philippe was always approachable for questions and provided me his genuine feedback at all times. I highly recommend Philippe to any aspiring MBA candidate. He is top-notch!” Read more

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on May 17, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/