Waitlist Strategy

So you have been waitlisted. Well the good news is that you still have a chance to get admitted and the school kinda wants you. The bad news is, you are a backup for the school. If someone with a profile that is similar to yours, declines the school’s admission offer then the school will take you off the waitlist and accept you.  But wait, you are not the only student on the waitlist so if the school lets you send updates, then you have to show your love for the school and a strong desire to attend the program to get off the waitlist.

School’s use waitlist since they know that some of the student’s they extend offers to, will not accept them. Most times, the school extends excess offers based on their yield, but often the school has to reach into its waitlist and extend offers to candidates who are on the waitlist to complete the class. Most school’s do not rank their waitlisted candidates. Therefore, if you are on the waitlist, your chance to get off the waitlist is the same as the next guy on the waitlist. This is your chance to outshine the fellow waitlisted applicants.

While on waitlist some schools such as Chicago Booth and Columbia, let you send updated material to provide the admission committee additional information before they make a final decision on your application. On the other hand, school’s such as Wharton will not accept any updates and will make a final decision based on your original application.

So before we can come up with a strategy to get off the waitlist. Let’s discuss some of the most common reasons school puts you on the waitlist and what they mean.

1. They are not convinced that you will be able to handle the academic rigor of the business school or a fancier ways of saying this is – the school wants to see more example of your intellectual vitality. This basically means your GPA or your GMAT is below the school’s mean GPA or mean GMAT.


You cannot go back and change your GPA. The best thing to do is get another recommendation, where the recommender can vouch for your intellectual horsepower and provide specific instances where you portrayed superior analytical skills. If GMAT is the issue, you can retake the GMAT and provide the school with the updates score. Note: If your score is just 10 points less than the school average, then GMAT may not be an issue. Most applicants are obsessed with GMAT score. Only retake GMAT if you are confident you can increase the score by atleast 50 points. Retaking GMAT can be a good way to show the school your interest. It shows you are willing to go through the pain of taking a standardized test again.

Hint: Think why would the school want to lower their mean GPA or GMAT because of you. You need to provide them with a compelling reason.

2. Another reason can be that the ad com believes that their particular school is a back up for you. This basically means you have not provided enough reason why you wanted to attend the school, or your reasons were “brochure” reasons without any insight or thought.


The best way to show the school that they are your first choice is to visit the school. Again, some school’s such as HBS don’t care, if you visit or not, however school’s such as Columbia and NYU Stern care a great deal about school visit.

While visiting the school, try to set up a meeting with admission committee member, if you are successful this is your chance to show your commitment to the school and convince them that the school is your first choice school. Admission committee members do meet with applicants. Treat this as your second interview and bring out your A game.

You can also write another essay, however, make sure you provide unique reason to attend the school and not the same ones you used in your original essays.

3. One major reason for placed on waitlist is that, the ad com does not believe you are passionate about your goals, or they don’t think they are realistic. This basically means, the ad com thinks you are telling them what they want to hear, to get an admission.


Situation like this can arise when you do not show commitment to your goals. For example you might be working for a management consulting firm for the last four years and never spent an hour doing com unity service, but now all of a sudden you want to start a non profit to help kids in Somalia. This example is an exaggeration and will mostly get you a ding, not a waitlist, but my point is that you have not shown any progress towards your goal or your story sounds fake.

Again, you can write another essay, which shows that you are passionate about your goals. Also, you can have your recommenders vouch for you. In addition meeting the ad com to convince them in person could do wonders to your application.

To conclude, if you are put on a waitlist and the school accepts additional material, then send them a letter thanking them for their time immediately after you have heard from them. And follow it up with a school visit, additional essay and/or recommendation letter.

Hint: People do all kinds of creative things to get off the waitlist. You can create a powerpoint presentation, rather than a plain essay to convince the ad com. In past, I have known people who have written songs for the school and created picture collages. Whatever you do, your main aim is to convince the ad com that – 1. You will accept the admission, if offered. 2. You are clear about your goals and are willing to work hard to achieve them, and 3. You are a great fit at the school.