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How to Handle Being Waitlisted

Graduate school admissions decisions can be almost impossible to predict, and harder still to understand after the fact. To complicate matters more, applicants to top business school programs sometimes have to grapple with the not-quite-in but not-quite-out status of being waitlisted by their target schools.

Receiving an invitation to an MBA waitlist can often raise more questions than it answers, and so we decided to put those question to some industry experts.

A Difficult Place to Be

“The fact that you’re on the waitlist means that you’ve shown [the school] that there are qualities about you that are really attractive, so it’s not a bad place to be,” says Forté’s own Krystal Brooks. “But it can also be a very difficult place to be. The most important thing is to find out your school’s practices are; some schools will accept additional material and communication, while some will not and do not want you to reach out.”

Be Thoughtful and Tactical

Jeremy Shinewald of mbaMission recommends thinking about your waitlist strategy “from the perspective of an admissions officer. Being thoughtful and tactical and having a few communications that really count [is really important].” A dating analogy is useful here: “When you’re on a waitlist, you’ve had a good first date, but you’re not going to follow up by calling them every day until they call you back.”

At the same time, it’s also important to remember that you’re not the only one on the waitlist; when the time comes to extend invitations to waitlisted candidates, admissions officers “might be looking at 100 people, and they might [recognize] five names; those other 95 candidates are a big disadvantage. So it’s crucial to think through how to be thoughtful [in your communication] without being overwhelming,” says Shinewald.

Show Your Commitment and Passion

What constitutes “thoughtful” outreach? Angela Guido from Career Protocol has some pointers. “Your best strategy is to demonstrate your commitment and passion for the school. This is the time to be reaching out to current students [again], going to events, and visiting campus, especially if you didn’t do it before. And whenever you communicate with the school, you should be clarifying in concrete and vivid ways how and why the school is still your top choice.”

Sarah Rumbaugh is the CEO of RelishCareers, an online platform that helps master’s-level business school students connect directly with corporate recruiters. Available to students and alumni from network schools, RelishCareers gives candidates access to employer branding and MBA and MS-specific career exploration resources (including exclusive webinars).