MBA Waitlist Strategy: Actions to Take & Mistakes to Avoid

March 22, 2022 | by Caroline Diarte Edwards

While the waitlist can be tormenting, there are specific actions you can take now to increase your chances of MBA admissions success.

One of my Fortuna Admissions colleagues heard recently from an anxious client who is still in limbo on the HBS waitlist – and she’s not alone. As Poets&Quants editor John Byrne quipped in our recent 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, and you don’t really know when you’re going to get a final decision – you can be on the waitlist for weeks or even several months.

Having been on the other side as former INSEAD Director of MBA Admissions, the first thing is to 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, or do you have another plan? Maybe you’ve applied to other schools and are preparing to accept another. Or, perhaps you’re holding out for your dream school and more inclined to turnaround a stronger R1 application.

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: 7 Actions to Take

1. Reinforce your commitment to the program and confirm that you accept a place on the waitlist. Keep your tone professional and positive, without a trace of disappointment (or worse, resentment). Note: The word “disappointed” should NEVER show up in this discussion.

2. Supply a supplementary letter of support – ideally, from a member of the school community who can affirm your fit with its program. A one-page email is plenty – it need not be as formal as the letters of recommendation you previously submitted. Don’t flood the admissions team with additional letters, however, this can backfire and potentially hurt your reputation. Also, note that certain schools don’t accept any additional materials, so you should respect that policy.

3. Share an update with your alumni interviewer on your situation, as well as ask for any suggestions or feedback (if you interviewed with an alum). While he or she won’t be able to tell you “why” you’re waitlisted (and they may not even know), they may be able to offer their sense of your fit with the school and some insight about your interview.

4. Periodically contact the admissions office – without becoming a pest. It’s appropriate to reach out every three to four weeks. If possible, share an update on your profile, such as a job move or promotion, or inform the admissions committee if you’re on the cusp of accepting another offer. At the very least reinforce your motivation. Balance emails with the occasional phone call – personal touches can keep you on the radar screen and reinforce a positive impression.

5. Step back and analyze why your application came up short. Ask for outside help to identify places of potential weakness. Retaking the GMAT may be worth considering, for example, if your score is below the program average, but only if you think you can gain by a solid margin, not just 10 more points. Another action is to seek a project at work that will give you a good story to tell in an update to the admissions office.

6. Consider visiting campus ­– although be aware that schools do not give preference to waitlisted candidates who make this effort. Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to show this level of motivation, and may give you more to talk about in terms of your commitment to the school in your next update to the admissions office. Like everything else, you would want to do this with a great deal of thought. Have a plan for your visit – will you sit in on classes, go to a conference? Do not just plan to show up in the admissions office.

7. Hatch a Plan B. Now is the time to consider a plan B if you don’t already have one. Because if you don’t receive an offer of acceptance – and know that most candidates on the waitlist will not – think about whether you want to reapply to the same program, or perhaps others, during the next cycle. In weighing your next steps, look for ways to strengthen your profile over the next year to increase your chances of future 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 positivelyto 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’ve got to stay positive and reiterate your motivation – and 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.

Finally, despite the odds, try to stay optimistic – you still have a chance of admission as a waitlisted candidate.

Updated March 23, 2022


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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