Should I Write Waitlist Letters?

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Many candidates on the waitlist wonder if they should write letters to the Admissions Committee or if they should stay quiet. Essentially they are asking if they should take an active or a passive approach to the waitlist experience. Our advice at Ivy Admissions Group is emphatically to take an active approach by sending in letters to the Admissions Committee; here is why:

1. There is no downside

Even if the Adcom truly doesn't want to hear from you in any capacity, there is no chance that they would penalize you for thoughtful, respectful, and infrequent update letters informing them of important updates and affirming your commitment to staying under further consideration. If such a strategy can only be helpful or neutral, you have an opportunity for upside with no downside and should absolutely take it. People would wait years and spend tens of thousands of dollars to be accepted to a top MBA program -- on the other hand, the investment it takes to write these update letters is quite small.

2. Prevent your application from becoming stale

Your application will be reviewed in comparison to the submissions in subsequent rounds against applicants who will all have three additional months to grow in achievements and qualifications -- becoming, in essence, three months more qualified and impressive than you. The Adcom has already read your application and taken a pass on you, so it's likely that when it comes to filling interview slots (for those waitlisted pre-interview) or spots in the class (for those waitlisted post-interview) they will almost entirely draw from the fresh candidates. You are competing for fewer spots than you think and need to stand out. 

3. Stay ahead of the competition

Many of the deferred and waitlisted candidates will be mounting influence campaigns by writing update letters and having mentors contact the admissions deans (many of whom their mentors will know personally). Silence in this environment is a huge comparative disadvantage.

4. This has worked in the past

We've seen empirically that those who use their time on the waitlist to examine, correct, and redeploy their narrative using the techniques we discuss on this website have a far higher acceptance rate than those who refrain from sending in email updates.   

5. This strategy is in-line with the words of the letter

Some schools state explicitly or implicitly that no further materials will be added to your file as you wait on the waitlist. Usually Adcoms say this because if they didn't, they would be flooded with low-quality material from desperate candidates, making their job unmanageable. When we work with waitlisted candidates, we always develop personal improvement plans that figure out what you will want to tell the Adcom has improved about your candidacy in a few months time, and then work backwards to find the steps you need to take in your personal and professional lives to make that happen. Even in the unlikely case that the Adcom won't consider important new facts about your application, waitlist letters will still keep your name on the top of the waitlist manager's mind so that when the Admissions Committee turns to her for help in filling the last few interview invites, she will propose your name.

Conclusion: A low cost investment, if you know what to say!

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Ultimately, the call is yours. The base-level odds of getting into an MBA program off the waitlist is pretty comparable to the program's acceptance rate overall -- which is to say, pretty low. By putting you on the waitlist, the admissions committee is telling you that you are "good enough" to be admitted, but that there was something off in your narrative that made them hesitate. Writing (high quality) waitlist letters is a relatively small time investment to make that can have big effects on your candidacy. The key is to identify what was wrong with your narrative the first time around, develop content that actually fixes those shortcomings in your storytelling, and improve the facts of your candidacy along the dimensions where the Admissions Committee found were weak. Getting help on these last three dimensions is where admissions consultants can be quite helpful.

How to get off the MBA waitlist (Part 2)

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(Click here if you missed Part 1!)

5. Mount an influence campaign

I would only recommend this if you (1) truly need to be admitted to one particular business school in one particular cycle and (2) you are comfortable taking on the social capital debt of such a favor.

The people who make up admissions committees are social animals like the rest of us and can be influenced by others. Specifically two types of people: VIPs with opinions that the Adcom would respect (e.g. famous CEOs, political leaders, and prospective donors with whom the school is trying to curry favor), and current students whom can vouch for your “fit” at the school.

When it comes to VIPs, either you have one or you don’t. Personal/family connections are often too weak to be meaningful, and the waitlist timeline is usually too short to develop a good relationship with a VIP from a cold start.

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When it comes to current students, start by looking at your network on LinkedIn and see who is currently at your target school. Look for shared connections such as employer, undergrad, or high school. If you find someone you know well, explain your situation and see if they are willing to vouch for your fit at the school to the Adcom, using your new awesome narrative (see point #1). 

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6. Be humble, be positive, be patient

Showing any sign of frustration with your situation is absolutely lethal to your application. Often, admissions deans are just itching to find reasons they can remove people from the waitlist – don’t give them one. Remember: you are the happy warrior, and the waitlist is a marathon, not a sprint.

7. Worst case scenario: use the lessons of the waitlist to make a better application next time.

Many schools look favorably on re-applicants and the classrooms are full of them. Next time, hire us the first time and we will make sure that you put your best foot forward.