Why have I been waitlisted?
Getting off the waitlist.


Waitlisted in the round one (September/October submission):
  • The school is waiting to see what their yield looks like from first round. How many admitted candidates will accept the school’s invitation and how many won’t. As a first round waitlist candidate you’re poised to be offered one of those places. In fact, you may very well be up to the school’s standards – it’s just that the school wants to see if just maybe someone from round two can top those standards.
  • You’re competing with the applicant pool in round two in the same way that you competed with the applicant pool in round one and vice versa. The round two candidates are being sized up against the pool of waitlisted candidates from round one.
Leah’s take: Waitlisted in round one?

You have a fighting chance of being admitted. In particular there are two dates to watch out for. The first is when round two decisions are released. The second is when the school requires round one admits to make a financial deposit to hold their place in the program. Another way of looking at this is to say that if the school’s standard is to admit 10/10s the waitlisted candidate from round one is a 9/10 or a 10/10. The school wants to see if some of those 10/10s don’t accept the offer or if a few 11/10s pop up in round two.

Waitlisted in round two (January submission):
  • The school has already seen 99% of the viable candidates. The waitlisted candidate in round two is no different from the waitlisted candidate in round one (in that they’re a high quality candidate). The school is simply waiting to see what its yield looks like from offers made in round two and candidates taken off the waitlist from round one.
  • You’re not competing with people applying in round three because so few people do to begin with, and even fewer serious candidates do that the number is mathematically insignificant.
Leah’s take: Waitlisted in round two?

You’re less likely to come off a round two waitlist then a round one waitlist.

Why have I been waitlisted?

The short answer is, only God (and the admissions committee) knows why you were waitlisted but here’s one reason why some people do get waitlisted.

The reason a candidate gets waitlisted can be because he didn’t perform as well in the interview as other candidates did. Performing well does not mean that you simply didn’t give ‘the right’ answers to the questions put to you – although that may be the case, there really are no right or wrong answers to start with. More likely you just didn’t convey quite enough social awareness, emotional intelligence, energy and ‘executive presence’ to receive as favorable a rating from your interviewer as other candidates at that school did. Different schools have different standards which is why a candidate can get in at School A and be waitlisted at School B. That said, you had nearly enough of what it takes. After all, you didn’t get rejected – you’re on the waitlist.

Most people do not want to believe that the interview may have been a deciding factor because it’s too painful and depressing – especially when you’ve already had your interview but wish you could go back and do things differently. Consider this: 100% of the candidates looked good enough on paper to be offered an interview. Following the interview a % were offered a place, a % were rejected and a % were placed on the waitlist. The only variable was the interview. On paper everyone looked good. In person, lines were drawn.

Getting off the waitlist.

Be aware of what types of updates the school is interested in

The reason employers want to hire MBAs is because they have an elusive combination of intelligence AND the inter-personal skills and social awareness necessary to lead people and organizations. There are lots of people out there who are smarter than the average MBA. There are likewise lots of people who have the social savoir faire. An MBA has both.

If you’d like to let the school know that you have only one of these two skill sets, then feel free to bombard them with frivolous updates. You’ll start to look like you don’t know how to follow rules and fall in line, which is never a good thing. If a school, like Wharton, only wants updates on your GMAT score, a new job, or additional coursework, then that is all you should send them.

Consider sending additional information about…

Information to support your candidacy can include updates about job changes or promotions, new extracurricular involvement, an updated test score or course that you have undertaken to bolster your quantitative skills.

Be judicious

You might be tempted to grasp at straws and hurriedly get involved with a nonprofit or join a sports league in an effort to pad out your community service and leadership. At this point in the game it’s too little too late. Resist the urge.

Influential people and letters of support

People can be influential in absolute but may be of little help to your case with the admissions committee. The best letters of support are submitted to the dean of admissions before the admissions deadline. That’s so the Dean can, if she so chooses, ask the Admissions Committee to be on the lookout for your application. The Dean does not wield absolute power over the admissions process. She needs to take the professional and collective opinion of the rest of the committee into consideration at all times. How does the Dean look if she appears at the eleventh hour insisting that Candidate X be admitted? 

That’s why letters of support can help a candidate but even the best letter or call of support doesn’t always help. Still it’s an avenue worth pursuing if you’re in a position to do so. The hardest part is often figuring out who to ask. Don’t get desperate and start grasping at straws. Maybe a friend of yours Kofi Annan who attended the Sloan Fellows Program. Your friend says that he could ask Kofi to write a letter for you – maybe Kofi would even agree to do that. But what could Kofi possibly write about you not really knowing you or having worked with you?

The best letters of support from influential people or people who are senior people will be from those who know you personally and have worked with you. (I can’t stress this enough). They’ll be able to cite specific anecdotes or examples of your work, team building skills and disposition. Ask them to emphasize aspects of your candidacy that the Admissions Committee may still be uncertain about (these can be ascertained through the DIY analysis I referenced earlier).

A letter from a current student or recent graduate can be a great way to communicate more about who you are as a person and why you’re the type of person that other students would appreciate having in class and as a fellow alumnus/ae. Get your friend to write a great anecdote about you followed up with a supportive statement about your personality, community involvement and ambitions.


Conveying executive presence now and in the future

The number one lesson you should learn from being waitlisted is that you need to work on your ability to present well in interview and to exude executive presence (not just in interview but also in the workplace). Working with a coach who can help. If you’re admitted off the waitlist you’ll soon find yourself in networking and interview situations during your first year as an MBA student looking to secure an internship and eventually a job. If you apply for an MBA the following year, you’ll need to up your game in subsequent interviews. Even if you forego an MBA and simply continue on your professional path, having great presence in interviews and at work will be a determining factor of your lifetime earnings and career success. That’s because people aren’t hired and promoted by computers based on objective criteria but by people based on their own, very human, subjective criteria and conscious or subconscious impressions.

Should I apply in Round Three?

99.9% of the time the answer is an unequivocal no. Some schools have three rounds and some have four. When I suggest not applying in round three what I mean is, not submitting an application in rounds in February, March, April etc. Unless you are in a situation where this year is really your last reasonable chance to apply for an MBA because you’re at the very top of the age/experience curve, then you’ll be better served waiting until round one of the following year. You might hear some people say that applying in round three is a good preparation for applying in round one of the following year if you’re not admitted. That is totally untrue. You don’t go out on a bad date and then think to yourself ‘Hey maybe I should call that guy/girl up again and ask for a second date’. Make your best first impression the first, not the second time around. For most candidates that means waiting until round one of the following year.