Why was I waitlisted?


In love and admissions, there’s no answer as painful as a “maybe.”

If you’re one of the Round 1 applicants who opened up the admissions portal to find the dreaded wait-list letter, a lot of questions probably started rushing through your head.

  • Should I apply to more schools in Round 2?

  • Should I risk losing a deposit to a second-choice school or hold out for a final acceptance?

  • Should I contact the admissions committee or stay quiet?

  • If I’m applying to more schools later on, should I change my application materials?

However, the first question you should ask yourself is “Why am I on the Waitlist in the first place?” After having helped dozens of clients successfully navigate this process ourselves, we find that the answer comes down to a combination of four reasons:

1. Your narrative was too complicated.

Admissions Committees have thousands of essays to read through in a short time window. Do they have a lot of time to appreciate nuance and subtlety? No. Are they going to appreciate having to go back and re-read your story when it takes an unexpected turn? No. Are they in a hurry for you to get to your point so they know what your story is about? Yes.

Your job was to use your application to communicate a narrative story that was as simple and easy to digest as possible. If you did not accomplish that, then you need to start your analysis there. Complicated stories are far less compelling than simple ones, but they are a lot easier to write! That’s why you don’t see a lot of simple stories about waitlisted candidates.

To write a simple story requires two basic steps. First, strip out all detail that does not aid in understanding the story.  If there were five reasons why you moved from job A to job B, but one reason captures 90% of the story, just give that one reason! If your job has three major areas of responsibilities, but only one of which relates to your narrative, reduce the real estate on your resume that you devote to the irrelevant parts. Otherwise, the adcom will be inundated with so much detail they won’t know which ones to focus on.

Second, structure all transitions in the story as simple cause-and-effect. Humans naturally search for causes to the effects they observe, and get confused when one is not readily available. That’s why magic exists! Don’t write your essay like a magician, with your motives coming out of thin air. Instead, articulate what formative moments in life led you to make the decisions that you did or else your chances of admission will disappear!

2. You lacked a clear mission statement.

People are never as excited about supporting other individuals as they are about solving problems. At Ivy Admissions Group, we like examining narratives through the lens of politics, so indulge us – Which person do you think was more excited to cast their vote: someone endorsing Hillary Clinton’s superior qualifications, or someone extending a big middle finger to the world by voting for Donald Trump? 100% the latter.

Admissions Committees work in a similar way. They are more excited about marshalling the resources of their programs around candidates out to solve a clear problem in the world, than those just out for their own career progression.

When I read applications from waitlisted candidates, they almost always talk a lot about the job they performed or the life they want to lead without discussing the problem they want to solve or the vision for the future that they want to create. Simply put, an overachieving professional working in the healthcare industry is not as compelling a candidate as someone on a mission to end childhood obesity in America.

3. You did not differentiate yourself among a crowded field.

What is the difference between whole wheat bread and multigrain? All I know is that when I go into a new supermarket I have to sort through a wall of bread and sometimes get so overwhelmed that I don’t want to buy any.

How do you think adcoms feel with management consultants? They all pretty much do the same thing in the same place for nearly identical companies. If you’re coming from a traditional pre-MBA background (consulting, finance, big tech), unless your application makes clear that you offer something very different than your peers, it’s likely that your admissions journey will take a detour via the waitlist overpass.

4. You didn’t seem sold on their school.

Schools hate rejection as much as candidates do. If your application didn’t convey passion for the program, or a lot of specifics that show you have done your research, they might reasonably believe that you would go to a different school if given the option.

Schools also have a lot of pride. They are not offering a generic MBA, they are offering their MBA. Schools are most excited to admit students who they believe will experience the biggest transformation by going to their program: ones whose unique gaps in skill sets will be filled by the resources that school has to offer. If your application failed to mention what gaps you are looking to close in business school and how that school’s unique and specific resources can be used to fill those gaps, you missed an important element.

So what do I do now?

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If you could go back and re-write your essay. That’s what you’d do, right? Well that option is not available to you. Instead you’re going to have to find more creative and unconventional ways of communicating your improved story to the admissions committee. That’s what we do in our Waitlist Campaign and that’s what makes our approach effective. How often do things work out?


That’s how many waitlisted candidates over the 2017-2018 application season that Ivy Admissions Group got admitted to their desired program.

If you’re interested in getting our help for your waitlist situation, sign up for a consultation with us here.