The big day has arrived – you have been expecting it for a long time. Today your fate will be decided – either you are going to study MBA in the school of your dreams, moving to a new country, meeting new people – a real adventure, or you will be rejected from the school, weeks of work gone to waste and you will have to keep your day job. You count the minutes, refresh your mail every 5 seconds, and browse the forums to hear if other people received the mail with the AdCom decision.
You finally receive the mail and you are in confusion. This is definitely NOT what you have been waiting for. The AdCom have decided to put you on the waitlist. What the hell? Waitlist? Nobody told me about this! What should I do NOW?
What is the Waitlist?
The committee receives thousands of application each year. Part of the applicants is invited for interviews. Then the AdCom starts to assemble the class. Their goal is to have a diversed class – that means a certain percentage of international students, from as many nations as possible; a balanced rate of male/female; a diversity of backgrounds; and the best applicants that fit the school. Not an easy task. Also, there are several rounds – meaning that in each round they should fill only part of the class.
After the AdCom sends the invitations, the candidates have some times to think about it and reply. A significant percentage of admitted candidates will refuse the offer – mostly because they received offers from other places and they need to select only one.
When a candidate rejects the offer, a place is now allocated. Some schools will almost never allocate from the waitlist, but choose someone from the next round, while other schools may admit a lot of students from the waitlist. If a candidate is selected from the waitlist, he/she should be from a similar portfolio as the original admitted candidate who has rejected the offer. That is the reason that the waitlist is not prioritized, and there is no specific order in which candidates are removed from the waitlist. It depends on luck.
Some schools publish a date in which notifications for waitlisted candidate will be delivered (such as LBS), and some schools will not give a specific date and "abuse" the waitlisted candidates for month (for example INSEAD).
So what should you do?
Read the email from the school carefully (the one that announced your membership in the waitlist). Each school has its own policy regarding waitlisted candidates. Some schools do not wish to receive anything from candidates (such as Harvard), and they say so explicitly in the letter. Don't send ANYTHING to those schools - Perhaps a letter that you are still interested, but nothing more. These schools will see it as an unethical behaviour to send anything, so be careful. Simply wait patiently.
On the other hand, some schools do not forbid you from sending anything – it is all stated in the email. If you are not sure, you can send a mail and ask (or search the web). You can send additional recommendations and additional essays – only if they provide new information. Be careful here – don't waiste the time of the AdCom, because they won't like it. Some schools will provide information regarding weaknesses in your application. You might want to write essays that address those. You should definitely report any change in your career, promotion, award or significant achievement. Once in a while be in contact with the school, so they will know you are interested (a simple short email should be enough).
You might want to visit the school – by showing interest you might impress the committee. You can meet with admissions office members and make an impression, and get useful information in the process. Also you can arrange for students, alumni, faculty or respectable people to provide support letters on your behalf. Be careful not to go overboard.
Don't give up. The fact that you are on the waitlist shows that your application was good, but for some reason you were not offered a place. You still have a chance – people waiver their place all the time. You have to be patient, and send additional material only if the school allows it. Show interest in the school, in the appropriate amount of course, and visit if you have the chance.
I was admitted to INSEAD from the waitlist – and I'm going to France this month. I did not visit the school, and did not send any support letter. All I did was send one short email in which I expressed my desire to attend INSEAD, and one month later I sent a short email reporting a promotion at work. Other than that it was just patience. I applied back in October '06, and was offered the place only in May '07. A really long wait… But it was worth it.
Note: I strongly suggest that you Google about the waitlist, because there are a number of useful guides that explains what to do when you are on the waitlist. You don't want to make a mistake here!