In some ways, being placed on a waitlist is the most challenging. You still don't know anything one way or the other. As a longtime b-school and graduate admissions dean, I can tell you that the waiting list is not a clear signal that you are going to be denied. Often, the opposite is true. If you stay calm, confident, and patient, you will most likely get more encouraging news down the road.
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Here are seven tips to help you move from the MBA waitlist to being admitted:
1. Tell the admissions committee you want to remain on the waiting list: Upon receiving notice of your waitlist status, immediately contact the MBA admissions office and inform the staff that you are interested in remaining on the waiting list. Here is where you can politely reiterate your strong desire to attend. And make a point to indicate that if accepted, you will definitely enroll. This is important and can significantly increase your chances of being admitted.
2. Ask if you do not receive information about next steps: Don't demand, complain, or argue. Just ask if there is anything you can do. If the answer is "no," accept it and don't do anything—other than making sure the admissions folks know you want to remain on the list. If they do not provide you an opportunity to further address your interest in their program, it may tell you something about this institution. However, if you are given specific instructions on what you can do, by all means, follow every one of them.
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3. If feedback isn't offered, ask for it! Listen to what you are told. Thank the admissions office for the opportunity and inquire about specific elements of your MBA application that contributed to you being placed on the waiting list. If sending a personal letter is acceptable, write one as soon as possible. Address the contending issue directly, and explain why and how you will overcome any extenuating circumstances that affect your status.
4. Mount a letter of recommendation campaign: This is the time to have individuals who did not initially write recommendation letters for you to write them. If you have a personal connection to an alumnus, certainly ask him or her. But have them keep it short and to the point. Ask them to provide a specific reason for reconsidering your status, as opposed to a laundry list of well-intended adjectives.
If you can accomplish your objective with two letters, that's great. If you feel several solid letters work best, that's fine, too. However, I recommend against any more than five, as this could be viewed as overkill. To some, five additional letters may seem like a lot. But if they are five very strong letters from individuals not included in your original application, it can make a powerful statement.
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5. Request a campus interview: If your request is granted and this is a top choice on your MBA list, do it. If a campus interview is not made available to you and you did have an interview with an alumnus, contact him or her to see if there are any recommendations they would make. This person might even be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you.
6. Be cautiously creative: While at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I recall applicants who sent a CD, poem, photo album, or a "Top 10 Reasons Why I Should Be Admitted" list. These are great, but don't do all for the same institution! Choose one. One waitlisted Booth applicant sent an acronym of her name, with adjectives describing her qualities. This was very impressive, and she was eventually admitted.
But be careful: Show off business creativity and avoid ideas that are better suited for a personal friend, spouse, or partner. For example, one candidate sent flowers on Valentines' Day with a message that read, "You are the b-school for me; we were made for each other; I will never let you down." That applicant was denied.
7. Practice your skills in patience and professionalism: If ever you help admissions evaluators get a sense of you for better or worse, it is when you have been placed on the waiting list. There are several reasons for creating such a list, and it's not to deliberately frustrate you. If you come across as being offended, inconvenienced, angry, or resentful, you are almost certainly determining the outcome of your application: You will be denied. However, if you maintain a positive and confident outlook, you will help yourself greatly.
Dr. Don Martin, Ph.D., is a higher education admissions expert, author, and former admissions dean at Columbia University, Northwestern University, Wheaton College, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business. To learn more about graduate admissions, visit gradschoolroadmap.com.