Business School Purgatory: The Waitlist
As many of you gear up to apply or are getting your decisions back, you are hoping, wishing, and praying that your top choices give you the green light (maybe even with a nice scholarship package to accompany it). Most will get either the thrilling acceptance call, or the dreaded email that starts with “Thank you so much for your interest in [our school]. This year we received a record number of applications from highly qualified candidates…,” and doesn’t end well.
But some of you will receive the very confusing waitlist decision and not really know how to feel. It isn’t your death sentence, but it’s not an acceptance. You start to wonder what you did wrong, what you might have left out of your application, which test score or college grades did you in, whether or not you should have chosen a different story or fact to reveal in your essays, ... STOP! Breathe. You put a lot of time an effort into your applications. Nothing is wrong with you! Usually admissions decisions are a matter of how the admissions committee for a particular school wants to structure the graduating class.
That being said, your waitlist decision does not mean you should sit around and wait. I applied to business school twice and was waitlisted both times by my top choices (which were different both years). The first time I applied to business school, I was waitlisted by an amazing school in the Northeast and I didn’t do anything. I just assumed I needed to wait until my name magically moved up the list. Wrong! What I should have done was email admissions, thank them for the decision, and let them know that their school was still my top choice. I then should have updated them on any progress I had been making at work or in my hobbies or volunteer life, but I didn’t. I just kept on going, hoping for a call, until I received the message in May that I was not accepted at this time.
This led to a quick turn around for me to start working on the next year’s applications. This time I narrowed my school selection (admittedly I did apply to one my parent’s really wanted me to go to… don’t do that, it’s a waste of money), signed up for the diversity weekend events my top three choices had, and did the rounds. I started writing my application essays very early on so that after I attended these diversity events I would be able to add on to what I had already written and to drop in stories and names that enhanced my desire to go to the school. This also helped when I went to visit Duke and had my interview that weekend (they have an open interview process) and had a lot of material ready for the interview questions. After a few months of exhausting diversity weekends and application revisions, I ranked my schools by preference and got ready for the acceptance deadlines to roll around.
Great news, I got and offer to interview with the school that had waitlisted me the year prior. I made a quick flight out, had a great interview, and got the acceptance call a few days later. It was amazing!
Not so great news, I got waitlisted by my top choice (Fuqua) and would have to wait until the round 3 decisions were made to learn my fate. After doing EXTENSIVE research and watching an unnecessary amount of waitlist webinars online, I learned that I would have to make key connections with the school or alumni, send in timely updates (read ~ every 2–3 weeks, not twice a day), and remind the school that they are still your top choice in this process.
Fortunately for me, I also found an appropriate time to visit campus for an event with current students and alumni that I had met and connected with during the diversity weekend at Fuqua. Making it out to campus for that weekend and reconnecting with some key people, as well as bumping in to a few key individuals from admissions, worked out perfectly and I got to enjoy reconnecting with friends who were in my corner on the admissions process.
After that weekend I sent in all of my major updates as bullet points, sent in my revamped resume, and wrote a letter of intent to enroll and turn down all of my other offers if accepted. I kept in touch with the admissions office and found out that my lack of a strong quant background was a concern, so I took as many courses as possible on MBAMath.com and submitted a PDF version of my transcript-to-date with my two to three week check ins.
Surrender to the waitlist despair was not an option for me the second time I went through that process, and I gave it everything I could to be at the school I knew deep down would be best for me and my career trajectory. Thankfully it paid off! That is not always the case for everyone, and the steps I listed above are not some magic formula. What mattered most to me was that I pursued my goal with passion and gave it my absolute best effort and that I made invaluable connections along the journey. I had to.