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MBA Waitlist: Strategies and Actions for Getting Admitted

Being waitlisted can be tormenting, but there are actions you can take now to boost your chances of admission.

After all the work you put into polishing every sentence of your MBA application, it can be frustrating to get the news that you’ve been placed on the waitlist for admissions. As  Poets&Quants editor John Byrne quipped in a past podcast episode, “To be put on the waitlist is a special cruel kind of purgatory in MBA admissions.”

Landing on the MBA waitlist is a very difficult situation to be in. It tests your patience because you don’t really know when you’re going to get a final decision. As the former Director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD, I was responsible for making waitlist decisions, and I know how excruciating the wait can be. 

While It’s certainly not the news you were hoping for, don’t lose hope just yet. Being waitlisted means that the admissions team sees potential in your application but wants to wait and see how the rest of the applicant pool shapes up. In this article, we will delve into strategies and steps you can take to increase your chances of getting off the MBA waitlist and securing a spot in your dream business school.

Understanding the MBA Waitlist

What does it mean to be on the waitlist?

Being placed on the MBA waitlist is neither a rejection nor an acceptance. It means that the admissions team is still considering your application and wants to see how the rest of the selection process unfolds before making a final decision. While it may feel frustrating, being waitlisted is actually a positive sign that the school sees potential in you and wants to keep you in the running.

Why do schools use waitlists?

Schools use waitlists for several reasons. First, it allows them to manage their incoming cohort and ensure a balance of diversity in terms of backgrounds and career aspirations as well as nationality and other aspects.

What are MBA waitlist acceptance rates?

Your odds of getting in vary, because waitlist acceptance rates differ among schools and can change from year to year. While exact statistics are not readily available, we can gain some insights from past data. 

For the 2019 year, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reported waitlist acceptance rates for top schools ranging from a low of 2% at Harvard to 15% for Chicago Booth. The average across those top schools was 6%. Unfortunately, more current data is hard to come by. It’s important to keep in mind that the share of candidates admitted off the waitlist depends on how many applicants get waitlisted to begin with, and how many straight admits accept their offer. Also, remember that acceptance rates can vary depending on many factors influencing the whole admissions pool.

Strategies for Getting Off the Waitlist

Based on my experience waitlisting and admitting countless students at INSEAD, my first suggestion is that you  take a step back and think about if you’re committed to staying on the waitlist. Do you want to work at getting off the waitlist at that school, or do you have another plan? Maybe you’ve applied to other schools and still have strong potential of admission at another. Perhaps you’re holding out for your dream school elsewhere..

But if your goal is to turn that waitlisted notice into an acceptance, there are a few concrete actions you can take right now.

Navigating the MBA Waitlist: 8 Actions to Take

1. Reinforce your commitment to the program

Once you receive notice that you’re on the waitlist , it’s crucial to respond promptly.  This reinforces your commitment to the program. Notify the admissions team right away that you accept a place on the waitlist and that you remain excited about the opportunity to join their MBA program. Maintain a positive and professional tone in your communication, avoiding any signs of disappointment or resentment.

2. Understand the school’s waitlist policy

Every school has its own waitlist policy, so it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the specific guidelines provided by the school. Some schools may welcome updates and additional information, while others may have more narrow and specific requirements. Respect the school’s policy; follow directions to the letter and provide the requested information accordingly.

3. Share notable updates and achievements

One way to strengthen your candidacy while on the waitlist is to share any significant updates or achievements since you submitted your application. This could include promotions, new projects, additional certifications, or any other notable developments in your professional or personal life. These updates demonstrate your continued growth and commitment, giving the admissions team more reasons to consider your application. But again, take care to provide only the information that the school allows and welcomes; don’t deluge them with extra information.

4. Connect with current students or alumni

If you have had the opportunity to interact with current students or alumni during the application process, reach out to them for support. While they may not have direct influence over the admissions decision, their insights and recommendations can carry weight. They can provide additional perspectives on your fit with the program and offer valuable testimonials. Make sure to maintain professional and genuine connections throughout this process.

5. Submit a letter of support, if permitted

Some schools may allow waitlisted candidates to submit additional letters of support. These letters should come from individuals who know you well and can provide new and compelling information about your qualifications and fit with the program. It’s important to choose recommenders who can offer valuable insights and highlight aspects of your candidacy that may not have been fully captured in your initial application.

6. Maintain regular contact with the admissions office

While you want to stay on the admissions team’s radar, it’s crucial not to become a nuisance by bombarding them with constant updates. Maintain periodic contact, ideally every three to four weeks, to reinforce your interest and commitment to the program. Share any relevant updates or developments in your profile, such as new responsibilities, achievements, or impending decisions regarding other offers. Strike a balance between emails and occasional phone calls to maintain a personal touch.

7. Reflect and improve your application

Take the opportunity while on the waitlist to reflect on your application and identify any areas of potential weakness. Seek external feedback or professional assistance to pinpoint areas that may have contributed to your waitlist status. If feasible, consider retaking the GMAT or GRE to improve your scores, especially if they fall below the program average. Additionally, seek opportunities in your current job or extracurricular activities to enhance your profile and provide compelling stories for future updates to the admissions office.

8. Develop a backup plan

While it’s important to remain optimistic, it’s also prudent to have a backup plan in case you do not receive an offer from your waitlisted school. Consider other MBA programs that align with your goals and explore the possibility of reapplying in the future. Use the time to strengthen your profile and address any weaknesses identified during the application process. Remember, the MBA journey is a long-term investment in your career, and there are many paths to success.

Mistakes to Avoid: What NOT to do

Don’t have an emotional reaction to being put on the waitlist. I see candidates that sometimes take it very personally, but do remember, the good news is that the door is still open. If you are motivated to gain that place, then keep at it. And if you want to get off the waitlist, then you need to respond positively to the school. I’ve seen some awful responses to waitlist announcements where candidates have responded in a very resentful way, which doesn’t create a positive impression. You must stay positive and reiterate your desire to earn your MBA at that school. Your ability to do so in the face of disappointment reflects your maturity.

Don’t overstep your bounds. As told by my Business Casual podcast co-host, Maria Wich-Vila: “I recently heard an admissions officer from one of the top programs say that she received a physical letter to her home address from a waitlisted candidate. That candidate probably thought they were going above and beyond by pleading their case, but that’s just creepy.” Again, your discernment and professionalism are a reflection of your maturity and self-awareness.

Final Thoughts

Navigating the MBA waitlist can be a challenging and uncertain experience. However, if you reinforce your commitment, provide relevant updates, connect with the school’s community, reflect on areas of improvement, and maintain a positive mindset, you can increase your chances of moving from the waitlist to the admitted pool.

Whatever the odds, try to stay optimistic. Remember, being waitlisted means you are still in the game, and with persistence and perseverance, you can secure a spot in your dream business school.

Updated Jan. 23, 2024

Caroline Diarte Edwards is Co-Founder and Director at Fortuna Admissions. For more free advice and a personal, candid assessment of your chances, you can sign up now for a free consultation.

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