Category Archives: Admission Decisions

What does it take to get into a top school?

Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you will change the world.

I read this once in the comment section of a Stanford student blog and it really struck me. It’s good food for thought for any of us going through life, and it’s definitely something we need to think about when applying to graduate school.

How many times have you heard of applicants with straight A’s and/or stellar test scores getting turned down in the college or graduate school admissions process? How many times have you heard from admissions representatives that the GMAT or GRE is only “one of many criteria” that they look at? Harvard College has often said that they can fill their incoming freshman class with valedictorians (each high school’s #1 academically ranked student) alone, and yet they don’t. I believe it is this kind of talk that makes the selection process so baffling and even frustrating for many applicants.

While there are definitely many factors – often subjective – that contribute to each admission decision, overall the idea is not so mysterious at all. Admissions committees, especially at the top schools, want people who are going to contribute, who are going to make a difference, and who are going to make an impact. You can be the most brilliant person in your class or in your company and score off the charts on the GMAT or GRE, but if you have never really shown a pattern of adding value to the environment around you, then your intelligence doesn’t mean a whole lot to the universities you’re targeting.

What does it mean to add value or contribute or make an impact? Often times it means showing commitment, thinking beyond yourself, and taking initiative. It is going above and beyond and doing more than you need to do.

Very early in my career I had gone to my boss at Harvard to ask why I was only given the standard 3% salary raise; surely I had done an excellent job that year. What does it take to get more than that? He told me that 3% is for people who are doing an excellent job. It is for people who do what they are supposed to do and who do it well. The higher raises are for those who go above and beyond, who accomplish more than is expected of them.

Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and so on reserve their seats for those candidates who go above and beyond.

At work, this means taking some kind of leadership, even if it is not an official position. Maybe you’re the youngest on your team, but instead of just following the orders you’ve been given, you’ve taken one step further to identify a problem or a solution that even your seniors hadn’t seen. Maybe you’ve spoken up to management about some practices that you disagree with, when all your other peers would prefer not to take that risk.

In your personal life it may mean making the time and effort to do something more than sleeping in late on weekends. It could mean taking part in a community activity (e.g., doing volunteer work or, better yet, taking a leadership role in the volunteer work) or in your own professional, intellectual, or personal development (e.g., taking a class or training for a marathon). This is not required and I have seen great applicants get admitted without a lot of non-work activity. However, your activities outside of your career will be another window into your values, curiosity, perseverance and sense of commitment, and this can add significant value to the admissions committees’ ability to understand you.

Is all of this required to get admitted to your dream school? If you do all of those things – make impact at work, volunteer on weekends – does it mean you will be guaranteed admission at a top school? No. Because admission is relative, and you will be assessed in comparison to other applicants. However, the more evidence you can provide that you are not only intelligent but also someone who has made a difference, the likelier it is that you can rise above the majority of people who simply do an “excellent job.” During these spring and summer months as you focus on reaching your target scores on the GMAT, GRE and/or TOEFL, be sure to also take time to identify all the ways in which you have made contributions in your career, education, community, and personal life. The combination – a strong academic profile and a solid record of making impact – will help you to build a competitive application to the top schools.

 

Cecilia Wu Tanaka is co-founder of Reve Counseling and a veteran graduate admissions counselor with 19 years in the field. Prior to starting Reve 8 years ago she headed up a $1.25 million counseling department at the largest test prep company in Asia. In her previous life, she sat on various admissions committees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted interviews for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and directed the interview program at Harvard Medical School.

Weekend Round-up: The Latest MBA Admissions News

I’ll try and post weekly round-ups of useful MBA admissions news that I find on the web. I post stories regularly via Twitter and Facebook, but in case you don’t subscribe or would simply like your news in one place, just check in here on the weekends.

To read the articles simply click on the orange titles below:

APPLICATIONS AND ADMISSIONS IN GENERAL

1) Here’s an analysis of the recent drop in application volume at b-schools, including a thorough chart listing the acceptance rates of a number of programs:

Poets and Quants

Top B-Schools Much Less Selective

2) Useful for Asian applicants – some discussion on the cultural differences between Asian values and western admissions values:

Clear Admit

Clear Admit’s Kevin Chen Gives Advice to Asian MBA Applicants

ROUND 3 APPLICATIONS

1) The University of Chicago admissions blog offers some advice for those considering applying in Round 3. This advice can apply to other MBA programs as well.

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Preparing for Round Three

2) From Bloomberg Businessweek, a summary of the admissions notification status at 10 top business schools:

Bloomberg Businessweek

MBA Admissions Decisions Coming Down to the Wire

INTERVIEWS

1) Purdue Krannert’s Director of Admissions offers some personal advice on the biggest mistakes applicants can make in their admission interviews. Again, these tips are useful whether or not you are interviewing with Krannert.

I’d like to add some follow-up to his advice though:

a)  Regarding the use of “I” in an interview, he means to be careful about claiming too much credit for group achievements and trying too hard to sound impressive. Ultimately, you do need to talk about what YOU’VE done since you are the one applying to business school, not your team at work. However, if an achievement was made possible through group effort, then you need to make that clear. A mix of “I” and “we” is always good to show that you can make contributions but work cooperatively as part of a group also.

b)   Not asking about financial aid. If finances are an issue, you have every right to ask about it. However, just make sure that it is not the only thing you ask. You want to show genuine interest in the school and not just in the costs. An alternative option is to save your financial aid questions for the financial aid office, and not the admissions interviewer. (See link below on how to ask appropriate questions in an MBA interview.)

Purdue University Krannert School of Management

3 Ways to Ruin Your MBA Interview 

2) This is a great post for anyone who’s ever felt unsure about how to ask good questions at the end of an interview:

Bloomberg Businessweek

Questions to Ask in Your MBA Admissions Interview

Enjoy your reading and your weekend!

 

 

 

Wait listed…now what?

The following is a detailed post I wrote a few years ago on what it means and what you should do if you receive a wait list decision from your target school(s). I review and update it as necessary, and re-run it each year. I hope this gives you some ideas in terms of next steps as well as some measure of comfort.

****

When you applied to schools, you probably mentally prepared yourself for one of two fates: acceptance or rejection. And then the decision arrives, and you are told you are wait listed. The admissions committee tells you that they recognize your “strong achievements” and that they remain “sincerely interested” in your candidacy but they cannot offer you a seat just yet. What does this all mean, and what can you do?

First of all, what it means to be wait listed

As someone who has both experienced the torture of being wait listed and monitored wait lists at Harvard, I can tell you a lot from experience.

When an admissions committee puts an applicant on the wait list, this is what they are saying: “You are great. We like you. You have most or even all of the things that we are looking for in a candidate. However, we don’t have the space to take everyone that we like, and some applicants are a little stronger and/or fit our current needs more. At the same time, we don’t want to lose you. Now, we have made XXX number of offers, and not everyone is going to accept our offer. Therefore, if any spaces open up, we will consider you once again.”

If you’re an MBA applicant applying in an early round, this could also be translated into “We think you are great, but we also want to see what else is out there. So we will review your application again with the next round of applicants.” Try to think of this in a positive light; instead of being rejected, you’re instead given two (or more, if you get wait listed again) chances at admission in one season.

Secondly, how does the wait list work?

Common questions with regard to the wait list include:

  • How many people are on the wait list?
  • Is the wait list ranked?
  • Is there any guarantee I will be offered a seat off the wait list?

The answers are typically 1) it depends on the school; 2) no; 3) no.

Let me talk about the latter two points.

Admissions committees will almost always tell you that the wait list is not ranked. However, in my experience, I would be lying if I said that there aren’t some people closer to the top of the wait list than others. Quality is one criterion while other factors will be those beyond your control. Admissions offices at MBA programs admit to using the 3rd round as a time to “round out” their classes and to look at balance in terms of diversity (e.g., Do they need more people from a particular racial group, geographic region, career field?). The wait list is another such time.

As for whether or not you will come off the wait list, and when, there really is no guarantee at all and the admissions officers are being completely honest with you when they say “I don’t know.” I once worked with a client who got off the wait list 2 weeks before school orientation started!

At the beginning of each season, admissions directors make their projected yields; that is, how many offers they need to make in order to yield their ideal class size. Let’s say that ABC University has 400 seats in its first year class. Traditionally, 55% of their admitted candidates take the offer, while the other 45% choose to attend another school. Thus, ABC University will admit 580 applicants in anticipation that 45% of those applicants will turn down their offers. If more than 45% of the admitted applicants choose to go somewhere else, that is the time that ABC University will go to their wait list.

Finally, what can you do?

There are a number of things you can do if you are wait listed:

  1. The most important thing you can do is follow the school’s instructions. I cannot stress this enough. Many schools welcome communication and updates from wait listed applicants. However, there are also some schools like Harvard Business School that firmly ask applicants to do nothing. It is imperative to follow the school’s instructions because 1) you want to show them that you can follow directions and 2) you do not want to annoy them at any cost. Admissions offices are watching the behaviors of their wait listed candidates closely and you don’t want to give them any reason to reject you.
  2. If you are wait listed at a school that does welcome you to update your application, then you may submit a short note or essay that describes anything new and noteworthy that you would like to add to your application. This includes information about a promotion, new responsibilities, new awards, new coursework/grades, and stronger test scores. If you’ve since visited the campus, that is definitely worth mentioning as well.
  3. Send another recommendation. Assuming your school allows this, you may consider adding another letter if you believe the new perspective will add value to your application. Related to this, you may also consider having an alum or current student send in a “push” letter for you, confirming your strengths as a candidate, your fit with the school, and your commitment to attending the school.
  4. Stay in touch (within reason) with the school. This point is critical. A major factor that influences a school’s decision to admit someone off the waitlist is his/her level of interest in the school. By the time the admissions committee gets to the wait list, they want to only take people who they know will come if made an offer. They are running out of time so they do not want to make offers to people who need time to decide. Therefore, if you are wait listed by a school that says it is okay to communicate with them, then stay in touch periodically (i.e., sending a quick note telling them you are still interested in remaining on the wait list). By this I mean perhaps once every 4 or so weeks (you’ll need to use your judgment) or at key decision times, like the 2-3 weeks preceding their next decision round (if this is an MBA program). As already discussed, it is equally important to not annoy the admissions staff; do not call or email every week or demand a meeting with the admissions staff or they will start worrying if you will be this anxious and high-maintenance once you are a student there.
  5. Analyze your weaknesses. What in your application needed improvement? Could you retake the TOEFL, GMAT or GRE? Do your English skills need improvement? Were your achievements on the weak side? As much as possible, try to tackle these weaknesses and show the admissions committee that you have made improvements since you submitted the application. I sometimes work with clients who insist on writing short essays every month showing their passion for the school, but they do nothing to improve their test scores, which is the very reason they were put on the waitlist – not lack of interest in the school. You do not need to overly reassure the admissions committee of your strengths; you need to reassure them that you can overcome the weaknesses (if any) that made them hesitate to admit you in the first place.
  6. Continue on with your plans, and your life. Do not put your life on hold for the school that wait lists you. Statistically speaking, your chances of getting admitted off any wait list is small (and the more competitive the school, the smaller the chances). The safest thing to do is to continue with your plans to attend one of the schools to which you have been admitted. If you do get an offer from the school where you are wait listed, then at that point you can change your plans. It is a torturous position to place an applicant, but the best protection for yourself is to move forward with your plans.
  7. Release your spot if you are no longer interested in waiting. Many candidates prefer not to wait, and begin to lose interest over time. In this case, as a courtesy, let the school know you are no longer interested. This frees up the wait list so that someone else who really wants to attend can have a better chance of getting in.

New York MBA Conference: How Admissions Decisions are Made

The MBA Tour sponsored an all-day MBA fair in New York city on July 23, and we sent our local correspondent to cover the scene:

I arrived at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown at 8:50AM and there was already a line of about fifteen people waiting to get their name tags. By the time I made my way to the front of the line, checked in, and put the lanyard over my neck the Admissions panel at 9AM had started so I sprinted up the stairs to the big Broadway room, which seated around a hundred people. It was mostly already full.

At the front were a panel of three women; I couldn’t see their names because of where I was seated. They had already started talking about the GMAT. I heard one of them mention mba.com as a resource. One said that the GMAT is a good indicator of how a potential student would fare in the core classes but not necessarily the MBA program as a whole. (After having sat through numerous information sessions later on I get the sense that  the schools really just want to make sure you can handle the quant classes in the core.)

The rest of the panel consisted of segments on the essay, letters of recommendation, the resume, and the interview, followed by a Q&A session that I’ve incorporated into their appropriate categories.

The Essay

The members of the panel kept using the refrain “but check with the school” so what they were saying was very general. They offered some basic tips like check the maximum number of words, check your grammar and spelling, and be sure to put the (right) name of the school.

Here’s what I thought was a useful tidbit, on optional essays. You don’t get extra credit so if you don’t have something compelling, skip it. You can, however, also take this opportunity to explain low GMAT scores or tell your personal story. One of the panelists brought up an essay by a student who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But if you don’t have anything compelling to say, this is just more for them to read.

Letters of Recommendation

Ask for letters as soon as possible. Aside from choosing your writers, you really have little control over this part. Prep your writers–give them your resume. Tell them why you want an MBA. And if your school is asking for a recommendation from your supervisor and you’re uncomfortable with this (as you intend to leave the company), explain this to the admissions office. In terms of whom to ask to write on your behalf, this panel and representatives from the schools whose information sessions I attended later on all echoed the same thing: choose people who know you well, not just people who have a high status and rank. In one example given, one high-ranking executive wrote a one-sentence letter of recommendation (though shame on him, I say.) Another piece of instruction I kept hearing is that the admissions committees want recommendations from people in the workplace. This makes sense; they want to know what you’re like in action. So should you have  professors write letters for you? Only if you’ve worked with them. And what if you’re an entrepreneur? Since you don’t have a supervisor, seek letters from clients, vendors, etc. One last thing they mentioned: If the letters are to be submitted electronically, let your writers now. And make sure they use the (right) name of the school.

Resume

Don’t merely provide a listing but really highlight what the school’s interested in. Know the emphasis of the program–what is your target school looking for? Do you have strengths you can offer to the school?–and the profile of the students. Show results. Show special special projects. Show that each year you’ve taken projects out of your comfort zone. Do you have cross functional work experience? Or team oriented projects and collaborative experiences? The more of this you can demonstrate the better.

In college, what did you do in addition to studying? They want to see well-rounded individuals. Include activities. What was meaningful to you? What were one or two that really excited you? And did you work during school to support yourself? If so, include this as it shows maturity and depth. Include interests, outside work, work at non-profits, sports, travel–they want to see the total person.

Other bits of advice:

– Make sure you can explain gaps in employment on chronological resumes.

– If you have different career paths, address them somewhere.

– Check page numbers. If they say two pages, they may automatically throw out your third page.

– Don’t include your high school. No one cares.

And one general takeaway: The admissions committee wants to know if you have strengths that fit the school. Don’t make them have to search to find out what they are. Make it easy for them.

The Interview

So you got an interview. Congratulations!

From the moment you step into the school for the interview until you leave, everything will be fair game for your evaluation. First impressions are important. This includes not just your professional appearance but how you greet the admissions staff upon arrival. Word gets around among schools, so don’t be rude to the receptionist.

How to prepare:

– In terms of research by now you should have done more than just visit the website. Hopefully you’ve spoken with alumni and even visited the school.

– Call ahead to see if the interview is a panel or one on one meeting. If there are other candidates present you will be observed on how you interact with them.

– Review your application before your interview as they are different between schools.

– Be prepared to conduct a conversation.

– Show your intellectual ability about your sector. Be current on recent events in your sector (read The Economist, The Financial Times, etc.)

– Think about what you want to talk about. What can you contribute?

– Don’t repeat what you’ve already written about (in other parts of your application.)

– Be prepared to talk about weak points.

– Show energy and enthusiasm about their school.

– For international students especially, your communication ability is important.

In the following Q&A session questions fell into the above categories so I’ve already incorporated them here. One question of note was when to apply–in round 1, round 2, etc. While of course earlier is better, especially if you’re applying for scholarships, it is less about the rounds than when you are ready. Apply when you have the best application to present yourself.

Will follow up over the coming two weeks with summaries of some of the individual school presentations.

Where to Go?

After an intense counseling season I am back. We had wonderful results this year, and over the last several weeks we have been talking with some of our undecided clients about which schools they “should” go to. The questions that came up prompted me to write a post about how to go about making your decision if you happen to be in that most fortunate position of considering multiple admission offers.

It goes without saying for most people that reputation is the most important factor in deciding between schools. However, what to do if you’ve been accepted to a “lower-ranking” school where you know you will fit like a glove and a more prestigious school that you don’t feel fits you 100%? In an ideal world we’d go where we are happiest, and that is the common advice given to high school seniors when choosing their colleges. When graduate education becomes literally an investment in your future, though, you would be wise to consider the impact of the school’s reputation on your long-term career prospects. While your 2 year (or however long) experience at graduate school will be important, please also consider the next 30 or 40 years of your career. More prestigious schools may open more doors for you by virtue of their reputation alone. They may have more powerful connections with companies and alumni/ae which in turn would mean more opportunities for you in terms of internship and job interviews, professional connections, and other related resources.

As you are making your decision, you should talk to the following people if you are undecided about a school’s reputation:

  • Alumni/ae
  • Headhunters
  • Career center staff at your target schools
  • Current students

To those related to the school: What companies come to recruit? What kind of support do students receive from the career office? How smooth is the recruitment process? What kinds of internships do students get? Where do graduates get placed? What percentage of graduating students obtain jobs by graduation? How do students do in your particular field of interest?

To headhunters: How are companies in your target industry and region faring? How are they hiring? What are their perceptions of graduates from your target schools? Have they hired individuals from your target schools in recent years?

I understand that some applicants need to weigh their own desires against other compelling factors like finances, location (if they need to be near family) and/or resources available to partners and families. I do encourage all applicants to look beyond the duration of the program and to consider graduate education an investment in the next 30-40 years of your career, and to make the most sound decision after considering all of this.

Congratulations to you on achieving this significant milestone in your career!

Wait Listed – Now what?

A number of schools released their decisions this week and I’ll be writing a couple of posts on what these decisions mean. The one that needs attention most is the wait list decision. Here below I’m re-posting an article that I posted a year ago. The wait list situation is an unsettling and confusing one so I hope this post helps clarify some of the anxiety surrounding wait lists:

When people apply to schools, they typically expect one of two fates: acceptance or rejection. They pray for the best and fantasize all the good imageries associated with becoming a part of their dream school’s entering class. On the other hand, most realistic people also brace themselves for the worst, and try to prepare themselves emotionally for the potential disappointment.

And then the decision arrives – and you are told you are wait listed. The admissions committee tells you that they recognize your “strong achievements” and that they remain “sincerely interested” in your candidacy but they cannot offer you a seat just yet. What does this all mean, and what can you do?

First of all, what it means to be wait listed

As someone who has both experienced the torture of being wait listed and monitored wait lists at Harvard, I can tell you a lot from experience.

When an admissions committee puts an applicant on the wait list, this is what they are saying: “You are great. We like you. You have most or even all of the things that we are looking for in a candidate. However, we don’t have the space to take everyone that we like, and some applicants are a little stronger and/or fit our current needs more. At the same time, we don’t want to lose you. Now, we have made XXX number of offers, and not everyone is going to accept our offer. Therefore, if any spaces open up, we will consider you once again.”

If you’re an MBA applicant applying in an early round, this could also be translated into “We think you are great, but we also want to see what else is out there. So we will review your application again with the next round of applicants.” Try to think of this in a positive light; instead of being rejected, you’re instead given two (or more, if you get wait listed again) chances at admission in one season.

Secondly, how does the wait list work?

Common questions with regard to the wait list include:

  • How many people are on the wait list?
  • Is the wait list ranked?
  • Is there any guarantee I will be offered a seat off the wait list?

The answers are typically 1) it depends on the school; 2) no; 3) no.

Let me talk about the latter two points.

Admissions committees will almost always tell you that the wait list is not ranked. However, in my experience, I would be lying if I said that there aren’t some people closer to the top of the wait list than others. Quality is one criterion while other factors will be those beyond your control. Admissions offices at MBA programs admit to using the 3rd round as a time to “round out” their classes and to look at balance in terms of diversity (e.g., Do they need more people from a particular racial group, geographic region, career field?). The wait list is another such time.

As for whether or not you will come off the wait list, and when, there really is no guarantee at all and the admissions officers are being completely honest with you when they say “I don’t know.” I once worked with a client who got off the wait list 2 weeks before school orientation started!

At the beginning of each season, admissions directors make their projected yields; that is, how many offers they need to make in order to yield their ideal class size. Let’s say that ABC University has 400 seats in its first year class. Traditionally, 55% of their admitted candidates take the offer, while the other 45% choose to attend another school. Thus, ABC University will admit 580 applicants in anticipation that 45% of those applicants will turn down their offers. If more than 45% of the admitted applicants choose to go somewhere else, that is the time that ABC University will go to their wait list.

Finally, what can you do?

There are a number of things you can do if you are wait listed:

  1. The most important thing you can do is follow the school’s instructions. I believe that the majority of schools welcome communication and updates from wait listed applicants. However, there are also some schools like Harvard Business School that firmly ask applicants to do nothing. It is imperative to follow the school’s instructions because 1) you want to show them that you can follow directions and 2) you do not want to annoy them at any cost.
  2. If you are wait listed at a school that does welcome you to update your application, then you may submit a short note or essay that describes anything new and noteworthy that you would like to add to your application. This includes information about a promotion, new responsibilities, new awards, new coursework/grades, and stronger test scores. If you’ve since visited the campus, that is definitely worth mentioning as well.
  3. Send another recommendation. Assuming your school does not tell you not to send in additional recommendations, you may consider adding another letter if you believe the new perspective will add value to your application. Related to this, you may also consider having an alum or current student send in a “push” letter for you, confirming your strengths as a candidate, your fit with the school, and your commitment to attending the school.
  4. Stay in touch with the school. This point is critical. A major factor that influences a school’s decision to admit someone off the waitlist is his/her level of interest in the school. By the time the admissions committee gets to the wait list, they want to only take people who they know will come if made an offer. They are running out of time so they do not want to make offers to people who need time to decide. Therefore, if you are wait listed by a school that says it is okay to communicate with them, then stay in touch periodically (i.e., sending a quick note telling them you are still interested in remaining on the wait list). By this I mean perhaps once every 4-6 weeks perhaps (you’ll need to use your judgment) or at key decision times, like the two weeks preceding their next decision round (if this is an MBA program). It is equally important to not annoy the admissions staff; do not call or email every week or demand a meeting with the admissions staff or they will start worrying if you will be this anxious and high-maintenance once you are a student there.
  5. Analyze your weaknesses. What in your application needed improvement? Could you retake the TOEFL, GMAT or GRE? Do your English skills need improvement? Were your achievements on the weak side? As much as possible, try to tackle these weaknesses and show the admissions committee that you have made improvements since you submitted the application. I sometimes work with clients who insist on writing short essays every month showing their passion for the school, but they do nothing to improve their test scores, which is the very reason they were put on the waitlist. You do not need to overly reassure the admissions committee of your strengths; you need to reassure them that you can overcome the weaknesses (if any) that made them hesitate to admit you in the first place.
  6. Continue on with your plans, and your life. Do not put your life on hold for the school that wait lists you. Statistically speaking, your chances of getting admitted off any wait list is small (and the more competitive the school, the smaller the chances). The safest thing to do is to continue with your plans to attend one of the schools to which you have been admitted. If you do get an offer from the school where you are wait listed, then at that point you can change your plans. It is a torturous position to place an applicant, but the best protection for yourself is to move forward with your plans.
  7. Release your spot if you are no longer interested in waiting. Many candidates prefer not to wait, and begin to lose interest over time. In this case, as a courtesy, let the school know you are no longer interested. This frees up the wait list so that someone else who really wants to attend can have a better chance of getting in.

2008-09 出願結果公表

2008-09出願シーズンも終盤を迎えました。このシーズンも競争が厳しい年でしたが、Reveメンバーの皆さんは2009年5月10日現在で以下のように素晴らしい結果出してくれています。

どんなに苦しい時でも諦めずに自分を信じて努力を積み重ねてくれた結果です。私たちカウンセラーは彼らのそんな姿勢を誇りに思っています。「本当におめでとう!」 

2008-09 (as of May 10, 2009)

MBA

  • Cambridge (UK)
  • Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)
  • Duke (Fuqua)
  • Emory (Goizueta)
  • ESADE (Spain)
  • Georgetown (McDonough)
  • Harvard
  • Keio (Japan)
  • University of Manchester (UK; multiple)
  • Northwestern (Kellogg)
  • Stanford
  • University of CA, Berkeley (Haas)
  • UCLA (Anderson; multiple)
  • University of Michigan (Ross-GMBA)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Wharton; multiple)
  • University of Rochester (Simon; multiple)
  • University of Texas, Austin (McCombs)
  • Vanderbilt (Owen; multiple)
  • Washington (Olin; multiple)

Master of Law

  • Columbia (multiple)
  • Georgetown (multiple)

Other (Engineering)

  • Cambridge (UK)
  • Imperial College (UK)

Waitlisted – Now what?

When people apply to schools, they typically expect one of two fates: acceptance or rejection. They pray for the best and fantasize all the good imageries associated with becoming a part of their dream school’s entering class. On the other hand, most realistic people also brace themselves for the worst, and try to prepare themselves emotionally for the potential disappointment.

And then the decision arrives – and you are told you are waitlisted. The admissions committee tells you that they recognize your “strong achievements and high qualifications” but they could not offer you a seat just yet. What does this all mean, and what can you do?

First of all, what it means to be waitlisted

As someone who has both experienced the torture of being waitlisted (I was waitlisted by my top choice university when I was a high school senior) and monitored waitlists at Harvard, I can tell you a lot from experience.

When an admissions committee puts an applicant on the waitlist, this is what they are saying: “You are great. We like you. You have most or even all of the things that we are looking for in a candidate. However, we don’t have the space to take everyone that we like, and some applicants are a little stronger/fit our current needs more. At the same time, we don’t want to lose you. Now, we have made XXX number of offers, and not everyone is going to accept our offer. Therefore, if any spaces open up, we will consider you once again.”

The waitlist is admissions’ equivalent to being the runner up in a beauty contest.

Secondly, how does the waitlist work?

Common questions with regard to the waitlist include:

 

How long is it?
Is it ranked?

Is there any guarantee I will be offered a seat off the waitlist?

 

The answers are typically 1) it depends on the school; 2) no; 3) no.

Let me talk about the latter two points.

Admissions committees will almost always tell you that the waitlist is not ranked. However, in my experience, it would be lying to say that there aren’t some people closer to the top of the waitlist than others. Quality is one criterion while other factors will be those beyond your control. Admissions offices at MBA programs admit to using the 3rd round as a time to “round out” their classes and to look at balance in terms of diversity. The waitlist is another such time.

As for whether or not you will come off the waitlist, and when, there really is no guarantee at all and the admissions officers are being completely honest with you when they say “I don’t know.” I once worked with a student who got off the waitlist 2 weeks before school orientation started!

At the beginning of each season, admissions directors make their projected yields; that is, how many offers they need to make in order to yield their ideal class size. Let’s say that ABC University has 400 seats in its first year class. Traditionally, 55% of their admitted candidates take the offer, while the other 45% choose to attend another school. Thus, ABC University will admit 580 applicants in anticipation that 45% of those applicants will turn down their offers. If more than 45% of the admitted applicants choose to go somewhere else, that is the time that ABC University will go to their waitlist.

Finally, what can you do?

There are a number of things you can do if you are waitlisted:

  1. The most important thing you can do is follow the school’s instructions. I believe that the majority of schools welcome communication and updates from waitlisted applicants. However, there are also some schools like Harvard Business School that firmly ask applicants to do nothing. It is imperative to follow the school’s instructions because 1) you want to show them that you can listen to direction and 2) you do not want to annoy them at any cost.
  2. If you are waitlisted at a school that does welcome you to update your application, then you may submit a short note or essay that describes anything new and noteworthy that you would like to add to your application. This includes information about a promotion, new responsibilities, new awards, new coursework/grades, and stronger test scores. A brief note or essay that describes this information should suffice.
  3. Send another recommendation. Assuming your school does not tell you not to send in additional recommendations, you may consider adding another letter if you believe the new perspective will add value to your application. Related to this, you may also consider having an alum or current student send in a “push” letter for you, confirming your strengths as a candidate, your fit with the school, and your commitment to attending the school.
  4. Stay in touch with the school. This is critical, even though I am listing it here as #4. A major factor that influences a school’s decision to admit someone off the waitlist is his/her level of interest in the school. By the time the admissions committee gets to the waitlist, they want to only take people who they know will come if made an offer. They are running out of time so they do not want to make offers to people who need time to decide. Therefore, if you are waitlisted by a school that says it is okay to communicate with them, then stay in touch periodically (i.e., sending a quick note telling them you are still interested in remaining on the waitlist). By this I mean perhaps once a month or at key decision times, like the two weeks preceding their next decision round (if this is an MBA program). It is equally important not to annoy the admissions office; do not call or email every week or demand a meeting with the admissions staff or they may think you are a stalker and worry if you will be this anxious once you are a student there.
  5. Analyze your weaknesses. What in your application needed improvement? Could you retake the TOEFL, GMAT or GRE? Do your English skills need improvement? Were your achievements on the weak side? As much as possible, try to tackle these weaknesses and show the admissions committee that you have made improvements since you submitted the application. I sometimes work with students who insist on writing essays every month showing their passion for the school, but they do nothing to improve their test scores, which is the very reason they were put on the waitlist. You do not need to overly reassure the admissions committee of your strengths; you need to reassure them that you can overcome the weaknesses that made them hesitate to admit you in the first place.
  6. Continue on with your plans, and your life. Do not put your life on hold for the school that waitlists you. Statistically speaking, your chances of getting admitted off any waitlist is small (and the more competitive the school, the smaller the chances). The safest thing to do is to continue with your plans to attend one of the schools to which you have been admitted. If you do get an offer from the school where you are waitlisted, then at that point you can change your plans. It is a torturous position to place an applicant, but the best protection for yourself is to move forward with your plans.
  7. Release your spot if you are no longer interested in waiting. Many candidates prefer not to wait, and begin to lose interest over time. In this case, as a courtesy, let the school know you are no longer interested. This frees up the wait list so that someone else who really wants to attend can have a better chance of getting in.

 

Questions or comments? You may email me!