Waitlisted! The Musical

I wrote the title of this blog as a joke, but now it’s growing on me. Waitlisted! The Musical, featuring such well-known songs as “Can’t Waitlist My Heart,” “Come On, GMAT,” and “Recommendation Letter Tango.” Coming to Broadway in Fall 2013…but only if one of the current-run shows drops out.


Waitlisting, however, is no laughing matter. In theory it’s better than a straight rejection, though anyone who has had to endure the agony of waiting might disagree on that point. Waitlisting means that you were good enough to get noticed, but not good enough to get accepted. It plants that tiny little seed of hope and then smashes it with a sledgehammer. It leaves you asking, “Was it my test scores? My essays? My interview? HOW DO I FIX THIS??”

I have been waitlisted a total of three times, so I’ve developed a rather zen mindset about it. And to you, the Waitlisted Few, I say: Relax.

Yes, there are MBA consultants out there who will tell you to launch a letter-writing campaign, retake the GMAT until you get a perfect score, and secure a recommendation letter from the President of the United States. But the first thing you should do is nothing. Just breathe. Relax. Go to your happy place.

I know the feeling – you get that email and your heart starts pounding. You want to frantically email everyone on the admissions committee to plead your case. Don’t act hastily. There’s a reason you were waitlisted – maybe several reasons – and depending on what it is, there may be nothing you can do.

How do you compare?

Look at your stats compared to the average admitted student. Is there one area where you are weaker? Maybe you have time to secure a promotion, take a class, or retake the GMAT. But if there are many areas where you fall short, then you probably need more time to address them. Relax, reassess, and reapply the following year.

Do they even want to hear from you?

Read your waitlist letter carefully to find out if the admissions committee permits you to submit additional materials. Some schools don’t want to hear from you at all. If they indicate that it’s OK to contact them, only do so if you have something significant to report, like a class you’re taking or a promotion at work. Make your communications short, pithy, and few – no more than 2-3 emails.

Did they give you something specific to work on?

Rarely – VERY rarely – the adcoms will reach out to a waitlisted student with a recommendation for ways to improve their candidacy. My Dream School asked me to take a Finance class. If this happens, go ahead and let that little bud of hope sprout into a beautiful rose. Do WHATEVER they ask you to do. Jump up and down. Whistle Dixie. Walk 500 miles, then walk 500 more. Just remember that while this is a very good sign, it’s still not a promise of admission.

Can you talk to someone?

Some schools offer counseling over the summer for waitlisted or rejected students – this is a golden opportunity. Rather than just asking, “Why was I rejected?” ask specific questions about the strengths and weaknesses of your application. Remember that the person you speak to may not have read your entire application, but they can take a look at your resume and reference any notes made by other adcoms.

What if there’s nothing left to do?

Work on your BATNA. Maybe this means courting your second-choice school, building your resume, or preparing for next year’s application cycle. Your BATNA is insurance that in case you don’t make it off the waitlist, your world will not come to an end.

I was waitlisted last year by my Dream School, and over the summer I spoke to an adcom to find out why. One thing he said stuck in my mind: “We usually waitlist in order to encourage.” So take heart, O Waitlisted Ones! Maybe this isn’t the year, and maybe you need to do some refining, but you’ve got the right stuff. Keep working on that BATNA and…relax.


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