Get Off That Waitlist!

By - Jan 19, 06:33 AM Comments [0]

Landing on a school’s waitlist can be disappointing and even nerve-racking. As a result, waitlisted applicants sometimes let their anxiety or disappointment cloud their thinking, but if you’re waitlisted, try to stay calm and focused.  

Remember, if you’ve been waitlisted, you have not been rejected. If you play your cards right, you still have a fighting chance of getting into your dream school. 

In this post, we will explain how to make the most of this opportunity. But first, we want to warn you against some common, but ill-considered, actions that really turn adcom members off. 

1. Reacting emotionally

One thing adcom members really cannot stand is having to deal with waitlisted applicants who – perhaps without even realizing it – become demanding, rude, disrespectful, or otherwise inappropriate. This behavior can show up in emails and calls, and even in the form of unscheduled drop-in visits to the adcom’s offices. These types of responses reveal immaturity, self-absorption, and lack of judgment. If you react emotionally and engage in any of these unpleasant tactics, they will be duly noted and could easily eliminate your chances of moving from a “maybe” to a “yes.” 

2. Not following instructions

As a waitlisted applicant, you’re still a contender. Don’t blow your chances by failing to pay attention to the school’s exact instructions on managing your new status. Follow the adcom’s directions precisely. Send the schools what they ask for, and don’t send what they don’t want.

For example, if the school states explicitly that it doesn’t want to hear from you, leave the adcom alone. Contacting them isn’t smart perseverance; it’s arrogance, and that will hurt your case.

If your target program is open to further communication, tilt the odds in your favor by writing a well-crafted waitlist update letter or a letter of continued interest. If the program allows, you could also submit a few letters of support written by others on your behalf. These letters should focus on three areas: your enhanced qualifications, the steps you’ve taken to overcome any shortcomings, and the ways in which you are a perfect fit for the school.

Five Rules for Writing a Winning Waitlist Letter

1. Keep it short – no more than two pages, double-spaced. 

How are you a stronger candidate now than when you first applied? That’s what you need to focus on. As you brainstorm about the content of your letter – and then again after you’ve written the letter – double-check that you haven’t repeated material that is already in your application. The adcom has read that already, so don’t waste their time.

2. Update your qualifications.

What is new and improved about your profile since you submitted your application? Ideally, you will be able to convey these new elements and link them to some of the themes or experiences you addressed in your essays.

Have you earned a promotion? Scored A grades in relevant courses? Taken on a leadership role on a project or assumed additional work responsibilities? Volunteered or taken on other initiatives in your department, business, club, or community? Be specific when describing these roles and achievements.

3. Explain how you have strengthened areas of weakness or mitigated other shortcomings.

Show the adcom how you have upped your game in areas where you might have originally come up short. Rather than dwelling on a specific shortcoming, though, focus on what you have done to become stronger in that area, personally or professionally. For example, if you had weak communication skills, discuss how you joined Toastmasters and are now a more confident, fluid speaker as a result.  

Also, if you have plans to take additional classes for work but have not yet begun to do so, state when and where you will take them, as well as your willingness to enroll in any additional courses the school recommends or to follow any other instructions it provides.

4. Thank the school for continuing to consider your application.

Restate your commitment to the program and your belief that its philosophy and approach make it an ideal fit for your educational preferences and goals. For example, if you are 100% sure that you would attend if accepted, say so. The message you want to get across is this: You were born to attend this school, and the program was created just for you. 

Other ways to prove your “fit” include explaining what all you have done to expand your knowledge of the program and how you have worked to build your network there. If you mentioned in your application or interview how the school’s philosophy and approach match your educational preferences and goals, in your waitlist letter, you could cite new examples that support your argument. For example, if you have visited the campus (post-submission), share which class you sat in on, who taught it, and what your impressions were.

Similarly, refer to any recent email exchanges you’ve had with alumni or students. What else have you learned about the program through these connections that align with your interests? Offering this evidence proves that you are invested in attending the program and drives home the message that the school is the best place for someone with your post-MBA goals.

Admissions directors want waitlisted applicants to show passion, not obsession. Follow these steps with professionalism, maturity, and courtesy, and you can be sure that schools will respond favorably to this extra bit of personal effort.

Writing Effective Waitlist Letters: A Quiz

1. Waitlist letters can be three or more single-spaced pages long…

(a) if you have a lot of accomplishments to talk about. 

(b) never. They should never exceed two pages. 

(c) only if they are law school waitlist letters.

(d) if you are not including an additional letter of recommendation.

2. Expressing frustration or disappointment in the waitlist letter about not being immediately accepted is…

(a) okay if the school is really your number-one choice.

(b) appropriate if it reflects how you honestly feel.

(c) never a good idea.

(d) useful in the letter’s conclusion to elicit sympathy.

3. During the waitlist process, you should generally aim to contact the waitlisting school…

(a) a few times a week if it’s really your number-one choice.

(b) weekly by email or mail.

(c) only when prompted by the school.

(d) every three to four weeks (if the school allows contact).

4. The main topics of a waitlist letter should be…

(a) developments in your work life since applying that underscore  professional achievements.

(b) supporting evidence that the school is a good fit for you.

(c) updating the school on ways you have strengthened areas of weakness in your application.

(d) all of the above.

5. It’s acceptable to repeat wording from your application essays in the waitlist letter…

(a) never.

(b) if you are in a rush to get the letter done on time.

(c) if it was an especially strong part of your application.

(d) if you think it’s important enough to reinforce.

[Answers: 1b, 2c, 3d, 4d, 5a]

So, how’d you do? 

We hope this post has helped you understand the purpose of a waitlist letter and how to make yours stand out in a positive way. Still, there’s nothing like having an expert who can guide you in drafting a winning letter that will turn the school’s “maybe” into a resounding “yes.” Our admissions experts have helped many hundreds of waitlisted applicants do just that, and we can help you, too. From developing a waitlist strategy to identifying key areas you can highlight to your advantage to helping you edit your letter so that it makes the strongest case for your admission, we provide personalized, supportive guidance at this critical juncture. Sign up for a free consultation to discuss your waitlist options. Let’s get started!

Judy Gruen

By Judy Gruen, a former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University and is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!

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