Waitlist season is here. It’s inevitable that you will be waitlisted at some of your school choices. My opinion is that an effective hedging strategy should include a stretch, safe-stretch and backup school selections. Getting waitlisted at a stretch school means that you hedged effectively.
If waitlisted, follow this protocol:
Before anything else: Make sure the school accepts additional information from waitlisted candidates. That is, they want to hear from you. This is not done via phone call. This is done by reading the website. Phone calls inundate the admissions office – so avoid them if possible. Don’t be the guy/gal who asks a question by starting off with “Can I ask you a question?”
- 1. Communicate to the school that you are indeed serious about attending their school and that it is your first choice.
By communicating them you increasingly more likely to move up the waitlist (if schools rank the waitlist), get off the waitlist and matriculate.
2. If are indeed the caliber of student that the school wants to eventually accept, you need to show that you have been progressing across your “submitted” candidacy and especially in any area of weakness.
Communicate this to the admissions office in one or two notices at the most (as new information may become available on your part).
3. Again, remember not all admissions offices will appreciate updates. Call the office to find out how they would like additional information only after you have referenced their website and application instructions. Some schools do not want updates. Some schools want updates only after a certain date. Do not constantly call the admissions office as well. Show enthusiasm. Be polite.
4. Any new information should bolster your positioning. That is, it shows that you are progressing as a leader and manager; that you are increasing your role, your visibility and your responsibilities. This evidenced by promotions, awards and new leadership responsibilities. Search your application for any part that is weaker than the rest (ideally, you will know this before submitting). Address that area with your update.
5. Make sure that if the adcom has requested specific information, you send that as well. Put that into a short letter, I recommend no more than one page email (~300 words), and send it to the adcom. Be sure to reiterate your reasons concerning what you would contribute to the program, that you are a good fit and you most definitely want to attend. This is where good cover letter type structure will really help your cause.
6. Make sure you include your contact information as well. This includes your file or applicant number. Refer to your submitted application form for this information. When the adcom goes to the bullpen, they want to make sure you are ready to go. Do not make them hunt you down, they won’t.
7. My view on additional recommendations is that they are good if the person is connected to the school and/or again knows you in a professional intimate setting. If the person knows you and is a significant donor, that works as well. Trust me, I have seen this happen before. Pick a recommender who can bolster your weaknesses. For example, if you have lack of leadership/management, pick a project manager who can attest to your informal management. One other thing to note is that current students vouching for your candidacy also works well, if they have a relationship with the admissions committee
Timing is also a consideration:
- 1. As soon as you receive your waitlist email, respond and indicate you want to be on the waitlist. It’s as simple as clicking a few links. It will probably have been around 8 weeks since you submitted.
2. If the school accepts additional information, send your update within 2 weeks for being placed on the waitlist. This is your first update.
3. Make sure you know when the next round deadline is. You want to send in your 2nd update approximately 2 weeks before they admissions committee starts to finalize their list of acceptances for the next round.
4. I believe that the minimum number of communiques should be two. A third update is appropriate for significant events such as promotions or other enhanced leadership responsibilities.
5. Remember that you need an ace in the hole, should your waitlist status extend beyond one round. That is, you get waitlisted in round one and still remain on the waitlist in round three. Waitlists are a necessary evil and they can extend the ultimate decision regarding your application until a few weeks before school starts.
One more thing — if you are waitlisted at a program with a high matriculation rate, then the chances of you getting off that particular waitlist are slim. HBS is an example of this. They hardly ever go to their waitlist.