Guide to MBA Applications • MBA

The MBA Waitlist Secrets: All You Need to Know

POSTED ON 12/26/2023 BY The Red Pen

Clocks ticking away, signaling the countdown for the MBA admissions waitlist.

Being waitlisted for an MBA program can be a frustrating and uncertain experience. After investing months into your MBA application, receiving neither an acceptance nor a rejection leaves you in limbo or purgatory. Some applicants find the MBA waitlist even more complex than a rejection, as it raises questions about the best course of action—should you focus on getting off the waitlist or reapply with a more robust application? This dilemma amplifies for international students who must consider visa concerns and the logistical challenges of relocating to a new country on short notice.

You can, of course, choose not to subject yourself to this uncertainty by declining a place on the MBA waitlist. But if you are determined to get into your dream school and convert that waitlist spot into an admission, you must take the glass-half-full approach. Instead of being disappointed, remember the MBA waitlist means that the school acknowledges your potential. As Dawna Clarke, senior assistant dean of admissions at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, says, “We don’t place anyone on the waiting list who doesn’t have a viable chance of gaining an admission.”

So, begin crafting a strategy to master the MBA waitlist game. The first step is understanding why the waitlist exists (spoiler: it is not a cruel game designed to torment you).

Why do business schools have a waitlist, and why am I on it?

The goal of the admissions committee of a business school is to ensure that they create the most diverse class of academically proficient and talented professionals possible from the applicant pool in an admissions cycle. To achieve this, they must balance extending offers to deserving candidates in the early rounds and leaving enough spots for worthy applicants in later rounds. If a school ‘over-admits’ in round one, it may be unable to extend offers to stronger candidates in subsequent rounds. Thus, the MBA waitlist is a tool schools use to maintain flexibility in the admissions process. The Yale School of Management explains on its website that “a waitlist decision indicates that the Admissions Committee would like to consider your application further as the admissions cycle continues.” Depending on how the class shapes up over time, the admissions committee dips into the MBA waitlist and reconsiders applicants who they may have been unsure about in an earlier round.

Finding yourself on the waitlist could be a result of multiple factors. You may have come up against much stronger candidates. “In some cases,” the Yale SOM website continues, “a waitlist decision is simply the result of a competitive pool; we do not have enough spots in the class to admit all qualified applicants.” A waitlist decision might indicate specific areas of improvement in your application, such as a low standardized test score, which you must identify and address to get off the waitlist.

Strategic Steps to Mastering the MBA Waitlist: An 8-Step Guide

H3: Step 1: Accept your spot on the MBA waitlist 

Begin by accepting your place on the MBA waitlist and communicating your decision to the school. Amy Mitson, director of admissions at Tuck School of Business, advises applicants to “follow the instructions in [the] decision letter and reaffirm your continued interest” in the program. Overlooking this simple yet crucial step could cause you to miss out on an admissions offer. 

Step 2: Understand the business school’s waitlist policies

Get fully acquainted with the school’s waitlist policies. All schools have their unique way of tackling the MBA waitlist process. For example, Chicago University’s Booth School of Business and Haas School of Business at UC Berkley do not offer specific feedback to waitlisted candidates. On the other hand, Tuck and Darden work with waitlisted candidates to help them strengthen their applications. Even though the school will communicate its policies and expectations once you accept your waitlist spot, you should check the waitlist FAQs on the school website to familiarize yourself with the process.

Step 3: Adhere to the business school’s waitlist processes

Once you understand the process, do not – under any circumstances – deviate from it. For example, if the school specifically tells you it does not want any more updates on your application, respect their instructions. Disregarding explicit guidance may be seen negatively and may harm your chances.

Step 4: Evaluate your MBA application while you’re on the waitlist

The most crucial step of your MBA waitlist strategy is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of each application component. As Colin Scanlon, a Boothie who successfully navigated the MBA waitlist process, mentions, your “focus should be figuring out why you may be on the waitlist and what can you do to strengthen your application.” Did your essays make a compelling case of why you are a good fit for the school? Could you highlight how an MBA would help progress your career goals? Did you focus too much on academics and professional accomplishments and not enough on extracurricular activities? Is there scope to improve your GMAT test score? It is difficult to be objective when you have invested so much time and effort in preparing your application, and even harder to admit that there still might be gaps in your application. But asking tough questions and being honest is the only way to bridge those gaps and get yourself off the MBA waitlist.

At this stage, request a friend, colleague, or mentor to review your application and offer their insights. Additionally, you can enlist the services of an MBA admissions consultant to identify problem areas in your application.

Step 5: Combine self-assessment with the business school’s feedback

If the business school offers feedback, combine it with a self-assessment to holistically evaluate your application. As Tuck’s Amy Mitson puts it, “[school] feedback might confirm the results of your reflection but could also surface actionable steps you haven’t yet considered.”

Step 6: Show the business school that you’re determined to get off the waitlist

Once you have identified areas where your application needs improvement, take concrete actions to show the school you are working on them. You can update the school by increasing your GMAT test score or getting a job promotion. You could use an additional essay or short video to highlight a previously unexplored aspect of your candidacy or send additional letters of support from students or alumni members highlighting your fit at the school. How you demonstrate improvements at this stage depends on the school’s waitlist policies, so be wary of flouting them. Furthermore, you should not inundate the admissions office with meaningless updates during the MBA waitlist period. Instead, update the office strategically. Lauren Sutherland, associate director of admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, recommends sending a maximum of three updates for each round you are on the MBA waitlist.

Step 7: Stay connected with the business school’s community while you’re on the waitlist

Apart from bolstering your application with additional materials, you should stay in touch with the school community throughout the waitlist period. The Booth website recommends “staying connected with the community…[by] attending virtual or in-person events, connecting with current students, or connecting with alumni in your network.” Doing so will demonstrate your continued interest in the program to the admissions committee and help you gain insights into how you can continue strengthening your application.

Step 8: Prepare to act on short notice if the business school decides to take you off the waitlist

Finally, prepare yourself to act immediately if the school offers you an admission offer. Timelines for MBA waitlisted candidates are usually compressed. Laurel Grodman, assistant dean of admissions at Yale SOM, says, “If you’re invited to interview, and you haven’t already, we will expect to be able to interview you in the next day or so.” “We want to get candidates in a place where they can enroll with as much time as possible to get acclimated,” she adds, “so just be prepared to move quickly.”

The MBA waitlist can test the resolve of even the most motivated applicants. Therefore, apart from following all these steps, staying positive throughout the process is essential. Scanlon says, “Once you do what you can to improve your application, take a breath! Map out a game plan based on the possible outcomes and have faith in the process.” Take control of your MBA journey and boost your chances of admission! Gain exclusive insights and expert strategies for navigating the MBA waitlist. You can read our 9-step guide to MBA applications and our blog on how to get off the waitlist at your top-choice MBA program.  However, if you need our experts to guide you, please get in touch.