MBA Waitlist Advice to Calm Your Nerves
By now, business schools have issued their initial status notifications for round one applicants. While some people received thrilling news of an interview invite, others had their dreams dashed with a straight-up ding. Today, we’ll discuss the third possibility, which has many applicants on edge right now: landing on the MBA waitlist. For this topic, we’re mining the expertise shared by senior MBA admissions consultant Lisa, who has worked at SBC for over 15 years and is an SBC Flight Tester, on our B-Schooled podcast.
Lisa is also the former director of MBA admissions at the Jones Graduate School of Management at Rice University. In that role, she led the university’s admissions efforts for the MBA and MBA for Professionals programs. Lisa is somewhat of a miracle worker at SBC when it comes to assisting clients with low GMATs and GPAs. Her exceptional success with a wide range of clients spans many top schools, and we’re thrilled to share her insights with you here. So, let’s dive in!
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Have top business schools been waitlisting more applicants in recent years?
Top-tier business schools with high applicant volume and low selectivity rates are using the waitlist a lot more than they used to for round one applicants. But trust me when I say this, applicants should not view the MBA waitlist as a negative at all. It means the school is still considering your application and you have a chance to get admitted.
In most cases, being on the waitlist means the program likes you, believes you can do the work, and that you fit in. They just want to compare you to the next round of applicants.
In a small number of cases, there might be a question mark about your application. For those who get waitlisted in round two or later, the school is also waiting to see how many of those accepted from the earlier rounds take their offers of admission.
What should applicants do when they receive that waitlist status?
First, take a minute to breathe and wait for more instructions from the school. That will likely be coming soon if they haven’t already. You don’t want to be shooting off an email or making a call to the school right away! Then you need to step back and reexamine your application. Go through your materials and see if you find any items that might be that question mark. Ask a trusted friend, a colleague, or a family member with an MBA to weigh in if you need a more objective eye.
What are the most common scenarios that give the admissions committee pause?
It might be something immediately apparent, like a GMAT or GRE score that’s below the program’s average. Or you don’t have a lot of evidence of quantitative proficiency in your background. This is one of the most common question marks for applicants on the waitlist.
Above all, admissions committees need proof that you have the quantitative skills to succeed in the classroom. The school may want to compare your quant ability to similar applicants in a later round. AdCom needs to see a bit more evidence to feel comfortable about admitting you and might appreciate it if you retake the GMAT or see how you do in a college-level calculus course.
On a positive note, a waitlist decision in this scenario means your application did present a compelling story and demonstrate how you will add to the classroom. It was compelling enough that the AdCom offered you a spot on the waitlist to allow time for you to provide additional evidence of quant skills.
A second, more nuanced reason might be the applicant’s fit with the program. Like job interviews, MBA programs are hiring for their MBA class and looking for applicants who fit the culture. While many programs might sound similar on paper, they really aren’t. Just like how the culture at Apple is different from Google’s, even though both are global tech companies headquartered in California.
So, waitlisted candidates should spend even more time learning about the school. Talk to some alumni or current students to determine what makes sense to include in an update.
Can limited leadership experience or extracurriculars also land you on the MBA waitlist?
Leadership potential needs to be evident for success in this process. It’s a vital attribute that AdComs evaluate, and at least one recommender should offer evidence of leadership in their letter. You don’t have to supervise staff or lead teams formally, but you do need to show some leadership experience. Have you informally led people, projects, or initiatives at work? If not, can you point to a leadership role outside the office in the community?
Extracurricular leadership and involvement in general, both in college and post-graduation, has become increasingly critical as a differentiator. Some schools really look for applicants to have notable significant activities with leadership roles. Other schools want to see it but don’t necessarily question fit if an applicant doesn’t have a strong track record.
Unfortunately, you don’t have a ton of time to start up significant involvement in something new while on the MBA waitlist. If you’re already involved in an organization outside of work, there might be an opportunity to head up a new initiative or take on a new leadership role between now and when any update is allowed. Nobody wants to hear this, but sometimes candidates can be on a waitlist for months.
Could an applicant’s interview performance play a role in getting waitlisted?
This goes back to the overall fit assessment. The candidate’s written application may have looked great, but they said something in the interview or gave the interviewer the impression that the person might not be the best fit for that school. Perhaps the interviewer got the impression that you aren’t a team player or that you need more self-awareness and good judgment.
How personal is too personal? Listen to B-Schooled podcast episode #184 to find out.
I always think about the airport test in these situations. What it boils down to is, if you’re trapped at an airport with someone for hours due to flight delays, will that person be annoying, or will they be easy to be around?
If the impression is you are someone who makes the time go by pleasantly, then you pass the airport test. But if you come off as someone who will be unbearable to be around for hours while stuck at the gate, that raises a concern.
Whatever the case, it’s unproductive for anyone to stress about whether they said or did something wrong in their interview. If you got waitlisted, that means it wasn’t fatal.
Is there anything waitlisted applicants can do to move the needle in their favor?
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s crucial to read any guidance or instructions from the school on their waitlist process and follow it to the letter. Some schools allow waitlisted applicants to submit additional materials for the subsequent evaluation of their application. But not all schools do.
The AdCom team will communicate whether you can submit a new test score, course grade, or another recommendation letter. They’ll also tell you how they want to get those materials from you.
Following directions is vital when you are under consideration and looking to move to a favorable decision on your application. This is not the time to ignore the rules. Not only should you follow any process outlined on how and when to submit additional materials, but also what you can submit.
If you start calling or sending in more materials than specified or sending them in after the due date, you will not be remembered positively.
Can you ask the school why you got waitlisted?
Again, it depends on the school, and this usually would be noted in those ever-important waitlist instructions. If a school doesn’t give an explicit reason but gives you the name of a person to contact, then that’s an indication that you can reach out and inquire. But you need to wait to do that after it’s clear that this designated waitlist contact won’t send further instructions.
Usually, when you get notified of your MBA waitlist status, you will also get some directions about what to expect. If it looks okay to reach out, then doing so shows your genuine interest in doing whatever you can to get admitted. Also, if you have a question you need to address, it will enable you to tailor your additional materials appropriately.
If you don’t receive guidance on additional materials you can submit, be thoughtful about whom you contact. So again, if they designate someone, then that’s the person you want to reach out to via phone or email. But if there isn’t a designated MBA waitlist person, then think about who you’ve previously interacted with in some way.
Perhaps you had a conversation or an email exchange with someone who would be a good point person because you already have a previous relationship. It could be an admissions director who led an online session you attended. That way, you have a warm opening that you can reference when you inquire about your waitlist status.
How should applicants proceed if the school doesn’t allow further updates?
This one is simple. Resist the urge to submit anything else. In this case, doing nothing is doing something because you’re following their rules. Anyone who thinks the rules don’t apply to them will be remembered negatively. Admissions officers are very busy reviewing applications, but they’re not too busy to note which waitlisted applicants don’t follow instructions.
The school is probably doing that because they want to keep the process fair for all applicants. They have due dates for a reason, and no one gets special treatment or extra chances to tell admissions more about themselves.
What if you think your application has no apparent weaknesses? Your quant profile, extracurriculars, leadership experience, etc., are all on target. Should you still send an update if allowed?
If you think you’re in that holding pattern for comparison to the next round, always err on the side of doing something. You don’t want to look back and wonder—especially if the school is open to receiving additional materials.
Maybe you didn’t have a chance in the essay questions or interview to convey how the school and you are a strong match. In that case, submit a brief, compelling statement about why school “X” is perfect for you and how you’ll add value to the class.
Suppose your original application had two recommendations from people in a workplace environment. In that case, you can ask someone from a community organization you work or volunteer with to write that letter if the school welcomes that. You want to share a different perspective focusing more on your character, soft skills, and leadership potential.
How long should someone expect to be on the MBA waitlist?
As frustrating as this answer is, it depends on the school and how the school handles its waitlist. Some schools reevaluate the waitlist with each round, and others might only look at the waitlist after round three. Regardless, the admissions committee will decide on all waitlisted candidates by July.
Keep in mind though, you do have control over your destiny. Should you choose to commit to another MBA program, or your plans change, you should take yourself off the waitlist.
Getting waitlisted is challenging for many applicants to accept. The natural reaction is to assume that there’s something else you could have done. But many times, there isn’t. They simply want to compare you to more applicants. So, follow any waitlist guidelines to the letter, submit supporting materials if allowed, and try to keep faith.
Across schools, there are hundreds if not thousands of applicants who are ultimately accepted off waitlists each year. Therefore, you have good reason to remain hopeful if you’re on an MBA waitlist today.
Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs. From our All-In Partnership to interview prep, essay editing, resume review, and much more, we’ve got you covered. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.
Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.
Admissions Officer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
MBA, Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
Asst Director MBA Admissions
at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
Director MBA Admissions
at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business
Admissions Officer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
MBA, Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
MBA, Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
Minority Admissions, the GSB
Diversity Programs, the GSB
Assistant Director MBA Admissions
at Columbia Business School (CBS)
M.S.Ed, Higher Education, U of Pennsylvania
Ashley is a former MBA Admissions Board Member for Harvard Business School (HBS), where she interviewed and evaluated thousands of business school applicants for over a six year tenure. Ashley holds an MBA from HBS. During her HBS years, Ashley was the Sports Editor for the Harbus and a member of the B-School Blades Ice Hockey Team. After HBS, she worked in Marketing at the Gillette Company on Male and Female shaving ...×
Kerry is a former member of the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS). During her 5+ year tenure at HBS, she read and evaluated hundreds of applications and interviewed MBA candidates from a wide range of backgrounds across the globe. She also led marketing and outreach efforts focused on increasing diversity and inclusion, ran the Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP), and launched the 2+2 Program during her time in Admissions. Kerry holds a B.A. from Bates College and ...×
A former associate director of admissions at Harvard Business School, Pauline served on the HBS MBA Admissions Board full-time for four years. She evaluated and interviewed HBS applicants, both on-campus and globally. Pauline's career has included sales and marketing management roles with Coca-Cola, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, and IBM. For over 10 years, Pauline has expertly guided MBA applicants, and her clients h ...×
Geri is a former member of the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS). In her 7 year tenure in HBS Admissions, she read and evaluated hundreds of applications and interviewed MBA candidates from a diverse set of academic, geographic, and employment backgrounds. Geri also traveled globally representing the school at outreach events in order to raise awareness for women and international students. In additio ...×
Laura comes from the MBA Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS) and is an HBS MBA alumnus. In her HBS Admissions role, she evaluated and interviewed hundreds of business school candidates, including internationals, women, military and other applicant pools, for five years. Prior to her time as a student at HBS, Laura began her career in advertising and marketing in Chicago at Leo Burnett where she worked on th ...×
Andrea served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years. In this role, she provided strategic direction for student yield-management activities and also served as a full member of the admissions committee. In 2007, Andrea launched the new 2+2 Program at Harvard Business School – a program targeted at college junior applicants to Harvard Business School. Andrea has also served as a Career Coach for Harvard Business School for both cu ...×
Jennifer served as Admissions Officer at the Stanford (GSB) for five years. She holds an MBA from Stanford (GSB) and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Jennifer has over 15 years experience in guiding applicants through the increasingly competitive admissions process into top MBA programs. Having read thousands and thousands of essays and applications while at Stanford (GSB) Admiss ...×
Erin served in key roles in MBA Admissions--as Director at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Assistant Director at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB). Erin served on the admissions committee at each school and has read thousands of applications in her career. At Haas, she served for seven years in roles that encompassed evaluation, outreach, and diversity and inclusion. During her tenure in Admissions at GSB, she was responsible for candidate evaluation, applicant outreach, ...×
Susie comes from the Admissions Office of the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she reviewed and evaluated hundreds of prospective students’ applications. She holds an MBA from Stanford’s GSB and a BA from Stanford in Economics. Prior to advising MBA applicants, Susie held a variety of roles over a 15-year period in capital markets, finance, and real estate, including as partner in one of the nation’s most innovative finance and real estate investment organizations. In that r ...×
Dione holds an MBA degree from Stanford Business School (GSB) and a BA degree from Stanford University, where she double majored in Economics and Communication with concentrations in journalism and sociology. Dione has served as an Admissions reader and member of the Minority Admissions Advisory Committee at Stanford. Dione is an accomplished and respected advocate and thought leader on education and diversity. She is ...×
Anthony served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise. During his time as a Wharton Admissions Officer, he read and reviewed thousands of applications and helped bring in a class of 800+ students a year. Anthony has traveled both domestically and internationally to recruit a ...×
Meghan served as the Associate Director of Admissions and Marketing at the Wharton MBA’s Lauder Institute, a joint degree program combining the Wharton MBA with an MA in International Studies. In her role on the Wharton MBA admissions committee, Meghan advised domestic and international applicants; conducted interviews and information sessions domestically and overseas in Asia, Central and South America, and Europe; and evaluated applicants for admission to the program. Meghan also managed ...×
Amy comes from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where she was Associate Director. Amy devoted 12 years at the Wharton School, working closely with MBA students and supporting the admissions team. During her tenure at Wharton, Amy served as a trusted adviser to prospective applicants as well as admitted and matriculated students. She conducted admissions chats with applicants early in the admissions ...×
Ally brings six years of admissions experience to the SBC team, most recently as an Assistant Director of Admission for the full-time MBA program at Columbia Business School (CBS). During her time at Columbia, Ally was responsible for reviewing applications, planning recruitment events, and interviewing candidates for both the full-time MBA program and the Executive MBA program. She traveled both internationally and dome ...×
Erin has over seven years of experience working across major institutions, including University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, and NYU's Stern School of Business. At Columbia Business School, Erin was an Assistant Director of Admissions where she evaluated applications for both the full time and executive MBA programs, sat on the admissions and merit scholarship committees and advised applicants on which program might be the best fit for them based on their work experience and pro ...×
Emma comes from the MBA Admissions Office at Columbia Business School (CBS), where she was Associate Director. Emma conducted dozens of interviews each cycle for the MBA and EMBA programs, as well as coordinating the alumni ambassador interview program. She read and evaluated hundreds of applications each cycle, delivered information sessions to audiences across the globe, and advised countless waitlisted applicants. ×