Should I Write Waitlist Letters?


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!


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)


(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). 


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.

"Narrative" vs "Brand" - Which is best?

Many admissions consultants focus on "brand" while we at Ivy Admissions Group focus on "narrative." Every future leader who works with us on a Complete School Package has their personal narrative developed through our proprietary Narrative Bootcamp.

What is the difference? Which should you maximize in your application? 



A brand statement is a pithy phrase used to describe an admissions candidate. In 25 words or fewer these statements seek to capture the essence of who you are, what you have done, and where you are headed. These statements are relatively easy for people to write themselves. For example, 

Battle-tested female veteran accomplished in leading analytical teams in high pressure environments seeking a job as an investment banker in Chicago.

Athletic and analytical male ex-consultant with start-up experience seeking to build competencies as a general manager at a large manufacturing conglomerate.

The problem with these statements is that they just sort candidates into buckets. All they do is tell the admissions committee who they are supposed to compare the candidate against, not why this candidate is the best one. In this way, brand statements for people are just like brand statements for cereal -- they tell us that Lucky Charms is different than Shredded Wheat, but don't offer a compelling reason why it is the best.



In contrast to the who, what, and where of a brand statement, a personal narrative focuses on the why. Whereas the brand statement distills the facts on your resume, the personal narrative is a story arc that connects your personal inspirations and motivations to your career aspirations. In the case of an MBA application, a personal narrative will inform the admissions committee how you ended up on your current life story arc, show where this arc will take you by projecting it into future, and then argue why business school is the logical next step in your career because it is the perfect bridge to connect the two. Consider a narrative we can tell for the military officer in the first brand statement above:

I joined the military as an intelligence briefer because I wanted to personally advise senior leaders, work with top-talent peers, and thrive in a team-first culture. As I complete my service, I'm applying for an MBA because I want to transition to investment banking where I can still experience all the best qualities of my former job, while also helping reinvigorate businesses back home in the Midwest. 

This narrative is much more compelling than the brand statement above because it explains to the admissions committee why the applicant did what she did, what she values, where she is going, and how an MBA will help. It makes total sense why she is going to business school and the admissions committee should give her a spot in the class. She is a person, not a product.

How to get off the MBA waitlist (Part 1)

Being put on the waitlist is disappointing – I would know.


When I applied to business school I was waitlisted by my top three choices: Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and Wharton. Getting stuck on those waitlists was frustrating and demoralizing; I had spent so much effort studying for tests, getting recommendations, and writing essays only to come up short.

Unfortunately, few admissions consultants if any offer help to those on the waitlist! I knew that I couldn’t leave my fate to a dice roll of the waitlist officer, so I did a ton of research, worked with every mentor I had, and executed my action plan -- it worked! By late spring I had been admitted to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.

While getting off the waitlist is a very difficult task, my personal experience and the subsequent work I’ve done with the admissions officers at Harvard Business School have taught me how to give an individual applicant their best shot as success.

Ivy Admissions Group offers a complete package of services that examines what went wrong in waitlist applications and develops a comprehensive plan to correct it. We work with you to refine your personal narrative, bolster personal areas of weakness, and communicate with the waitlist committee in the most effective way.

My 7-Step Plan for Getting off the Harvard / Stanford / Wharton MBA Waitlist:

1. Re-examine your narrative

If you’re on the waitlist, you're likely “good enough” to be admitted, but you lack that special something that puts you over the top. By putting you on the waitlist, the admissions committee is asking why the final spot in the class should go to you and not one of the dozens of similarly qualified candidates in the applicant pool. This question is not rhetorical. They want an answer.

Most often that special something you’re missing is a compelling narrative. Crafting such a narrative is extremely difficult. First, it requires considerable skill at writing. Second, most applicants aren’t able to step out of their own bodies long enough to see their experiences, motivations, and interests in a holistic manner. And third, most admissions consultants are more focused on sorting their many clients into buckets (consultants, ex-military, etc.), rather than developing unique story arcs for each.

Having a compelling, credible narrative is imperative to getting off the waitlist. As the admissions officers buzz about in their offices, deciding who should get the last spot off the waitlist, you need them to have the ability to describe you in a quick synopsis. For example, as that “clean water gal” or that “urban development guy.” If you don’t build this narrative for them, they will (1) likely forget you and (2) likely not champion your candidacy in committee. Admissions officers will not infer your narrative for you. You need to explicitly spell it out.

2. Evaluate your weaknesses

Everyone has a weak point in their application. Did you sufficiently address yours? 

It is the job of the Adcom to ensure that every student admitted will thrive academically and socially. Could the Adcom wonder whether you would succeed in the classroom? Whether you’ll be able to keep up in finance class? Whether you will be the kind of person who enriches the school community?  Re-read your application and develop a hypothesis as to what the hang-up is. We read tons of applications and have the expertise to help you see where you need to improve.

3. Start credibly fixing your weaknesses

Show the admissions committee that you have the self-awareness to know your weaknesses, the humility to admit them, and the drive to fix them. Have a low GMAT? Consider studying up and re-taking it. Some schools jealously protect their average GMAT score and hunt for applicants who will improve it. Others just want to see scores that are “good enough.” Often when you take the GRE instead, the school has more flexibility in admitting you since it doesn't impact their GMAT average.

Missing that all-important “impact”? Look for quick quantifiable wins at work or in your volunteer activities. Think the Adcom has trouble imagining you as the leader of a student club? Join a local community organization or non-profit that fits with your narrative. Better yet, found one! Not all titles and achievements are treated the same. Go for the ones that have the greatest institutional prestige.

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4. Don’t stay silent

Some Admissions Committees specifically welcome updates. Others say they are not necessary. Regardless, if you know how to communicate with the Adcom, there is a lot of upside and very little downside to providing substantive, well-written updates. The problem is that it is pretty easy for a novice to write a bad update – the kind that makes you seem mediocre, annoying, or worse.

These updates can serve two purposes: first, show improvement upon the application in the areas of weakness discussed above, and second, reaffirm commitment to the school (i.e. prove to them that you are guaranteed to accept their admissions offer and boost their all-important yield).

Some waitlisted applicants are hesitant to send updates because they think it requires judgement and writing talent, which it does. Clearly more of the same from your original application will not help push you over the top. The key is having an advisor who is a good writer, has navigate the process already, and can effectively “sell” you to the Adcom.

Story continued in Part 2