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Contrary to conventional wisdom, getting into business school isn't a simple "yes or no" proposition. In reality, there are THREE possible responses to your application: acceptance, rejection or waitlisting. The third category is a frustrating limbo into which hundreds of candidates fall each year. What does it mean if you are placed on a waitlist for an Ivy League MBA program?
On the positive side, receiving a waitlist letter means that you have qualified for admission. The committee evaluated your application and confirmed that your background and experience are a good fit for their program. But here's where it gets sticky; although they didn't say no to your request for admission, they didn't say yes, either.
How Schools Use Their Waitlists
Being waitlisted generally means that you will be admitted to the program only if someone who has been accepted chooses not to come. Business schools know that a certain percentage of those they admit will decide not to enroll. To compensate, they intentionally accept more students than they can actually take. The "excess" number, however, may be insufficient to make up for those who decline admission. That's where the waitlist comes into play.
After acceptance letters are mailed, candidates must respond within a fairly rigid deadline to indicate whether or not they will accept a seat in the class. As space becomes available, the committee will fill available slots with candidates on the waitlist. Obviously, timing is critical. Sometimes a seat becomes available just a day or two before the program starts, long after most candidates on the waitlist have made other plans. Because of this uncertainty, most schools do not take the time to rank candidates on the waitlist. After all, as time passes, many will be accepted at other schools and will drop completely out of sight.
A further complication is the school's commitment to assembling a class that is racially, geographically and professionally diverse. When the waitlist is tapped, the selection is usually limited to a particular category of student that is needed to "balance" the class. Until the school hears back from the students they have accepted, they cannot accurately assess how many (and which types) of waitlist applicants they will need. When the final class roster starts to take shape, the school may find that they are "short" one particular category of students (like scientists or international students) and will use the waitlist only to fill that particular gap. Depending on the initial yield, the waitlist may not be tapped at all.
The number of students admitted from the waitlist is a function of a "ripple effect" that begins at the most prestigious business schools. If, for example, Wharton accepts students from its waiting list, some students who have committed to Georgetown will withdraw in favor of Wharton. Georgetown will then go to its waitlist to fill the vacated slots, impacting schools that are lower in the pecking order. The entire cycle is usually not completed until classes start in September, leaving many hopeful students in the lurch until the absolute last moment.
From our experience in admissions, being waitlisted can be more frustrating than simply being rejected. After all, a candidate who is denied admission to his/her first choice school is free to accept an offer from another university. (S)he can apply for financial aid and arrange for student housing. But a waitlisted candidate who really wants to attend a particular school is stuck in purgatory. Should (s)he accept another offer? Deposit at his/her second choice school? Or should (s)he wait to see when (or if) a seat opens in the class at his/her program of choice?
Reasons a Candidate May be Waitlisted
The answers to these questions depend on why the candidate was placed on the waitlist in the first place. Many times, it simply comes down to the numbers; a candidate's GPA, GMAT scores and professional credentials are less impressive than those of other applicants. If a candidate is placed on the waitlist because of marginal credentials, the odds of being admitted are slim. Yet applicants are often waitlisted for non-academic (ie political) reasons, to save face for both the university and the applicant. Here are a few common scenarios:
1) An extremely strong applicant has personal problems and is considered unstable. His/her reference letters suggest a poor fit for a top-level program. Rather than citing the negative feedback as the reason for rejection (and risk a lawsuit), the school will waitlist the candidate.
2) An exceptional candidate from a company or school is rejected, while a lesser-ranked member of his/her firm or class (with legacy or minority status) gets in. Rather than trying to explain the underlying bias, the school will usually waitlist the exceptional candidate, with no intention of actually admitting him/her.
3) An average or mediocre candidate is highly recommended by a faculty member, alumni, board member or university trustee. Rather than insult the applicant's benefactor, the school will waitlist the candidate, rather than rejecting him.
4) A highly desirable candidate has known personal interest or ties to another school (ie, his/her parents are alumni there). Rather than accept this candidate (who will likely choose to go elsewhere), a school may waitlist him/her to eliminate a negative effect on their yield statistics. Business school rankings are based partially on selectivity, and all top schools keep a watchful eye on yield. They prefer to admit only students who are eager to attend their school.
Responding to a Waitlist Letter
Unfortunately, top schools will rarely reveal why a particular candidate is on the waitlist or what (s)he can do to improve his/her chances. Nevertheless, if you are waitlisted at your absolute first-choice school, you have nothing to lose by continuing to market yourself to the Admissions Committee. Unless the school discourages additional contact, we recommend that you take a pro-active approach. Send a letter that restates your interest in the program. Explain the unique contribution you will make.
Why bother? Top schools typically place several hundred candidates on their waitlist, not knowing which ones have a serious interest in attending their program. This is your chance to make their job easier. From our experience, when an admissions officer goes to the waitlist, (s)he wants to fill that spot quickly, with one phone call (not six or seven). If given the choice between calling an ambivalent candidate or someone who is eager to attend, (s)he will select the enthusiastic candidate every time. You have nothing to lose by selling your enthusiasm and letting them know they are your first choice.
Here's our suggested strategy for responding to your waitlist letter:
1. Read the letter for any hints of deficiency and try to improve that aspect of your application. Knowing where your application was initially weak means that you can be savvy about strengthening these points in the months between the initial application and your follow-up communication. For example, if you know that you need to improve your quantitative background, this is the perfect time to to take that night school class in finance.
2. Express your willingness to provide any additional information requested by the committee. If applicable, agree to take additional courses or follow any additional instructions they may recommend.
3. Inform the school of your latest academic and professional achievements. Send them any new material that may improve your chances, such as your final grades (if you are still in school) or an update on your latest promotion at work. When drafting your letter, don't overlook your less obvious achievements. Have you initiated a new project? Volunteered for a worthy cause? Had an article published? Assumed additional responsibility at work? You should reveal any recent accomplishments and relate them back to your goals for the future.
4. If feasible, plan to visit the school and meet with a member of the admissions committee. If you haven't previously done so, ask for a tour, attend a class, and meet with students.
5. After your campus visit, write the school and explain how the visit strengthened your conviction that you are an excellent match for their program. Discuss how their philosophy and approach perfectly fit your educational preferences and goals. Show how your recent activities and initiatives will enhance your contribution to the class.
6. Seek an additional letter of recommendation from a graduate of the program who can emphasize your fit for the school.
7. If you are certain you want to attend this school, make it clear that they are your first choice and that you will attend if accepted.
8. Do NOT mention that you have been accepted at another school. Although it may be tempting to let them know that you are "in demand" elsewhere, the tactic usually backfires. You goal is to sell your commitment to THEIR program, not to make them question whether your heart lies elsewhere.
Keep the letter short and sweet -- two pages max. Resist the urge to summarize your life history; instead, stay focused on what you have accomplished since you first applied. Also resist the urge to discuss your disappointment at not being accepted. Your tone must be upbeat and gracious.
From our experience, getting admitted from the waitlist is difficult, but not impossible. While you can't control the number of people on the list (or what categories the committee is looking for), you can certainly do your best to showcase your strengths. By highlighting your commitment to attend, along with the blessings you will bring to the class, you will increase your chances of acceptance.
IvyLeagueAdmission.com offers the following assistance to help you respond to a waitlist letter:
1. Successful Letters. We have compiled a collection of three successful letters written by candidates who accomplished the (seemingly) impossible; they were admitted to top-tier MBA programs after being waitlisted. See what strategies they used to sell their strengths and get accepted at their first-choice school.
Note: For security reasons, the electronic version of this product is no longer available for immediate download from our server. Instead, we will send it to you via email when we receive your order. Our delivery hours are 8 am - 8 pm (Eastern time), 7 days per week.
2. Editing Service. We also offer a professional editing service for MBA waitlist letters. In addition to correcting all grammatical and mechanical mistakes, we will adjust the content and tone to ensure that you are highlighting the strengths that the admissions committee wants to see.
To begin the process, please send your letter to us in Word format (preferably as an email attachment).
In the body of the email message, please provide the following information:
1. the program
you are applying to (in this case, business school)
Please send all material to IvyAssistance@mail.com
Cost & Timing: When we receive your material, we will send you a payment link where you can order our service. Once we receive your order, we will complete our revision of your letter within 48 hours. As a courtesy, we will also provide a second review of the same work at no additional charge (if needed). We want you to be completely satisfied with what you send to the schools.
We charge $100 to edit a 750-word essay and $25 for each additional 250 words.
3. Writing Service. For candidates who require additional assistance, we also provide a complete, start-to-finish writing service for MBA waitlist letters. This service includes a comprehensive review of your application, an in-depth analysis of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as an original draft of your waitlist response.
To determine if our custom writing service is right for you, please contact us at IvyAssistance@mail.com. We will send you a questionnaire that you will need to complete for us to write the letter. In your message, please specify the type of program that you are applying to (in this case, business school).
When you return the questionnaire to us, we will review the material to make sure that we have everything we need to write the letter. Then, we will send you a payment link where you can order our service.
Cost & Timing: Once we receive your order, we will complete our first draft of your letter within 48 hours. As a courtesy, we will also provide a second review of the same work at no additional charge (if needed). We want you to be completely satisfied with what you send to the schools.
We charge $200 to write a 750-word letter and $25 for each additional 250 words.
Disclaimer: Admission to competitive programs depends on several factors in addition to your waitlist letter. We cannot guarantee that a client will be admitted to any specific school or program.