What should an applicant do when placed on the waitlist at his or her dream school? While most applicants regard the waitlist in a negative light (we’ve even heard it described as “a sort of purgatory prior to getting dinged”), the best approach is to view the glass as being half-full (especially for R1 waitlisters). In all cases, getting waitlisted is much better than getting denied.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate this often difficult and mysterious process:
1) Know your file. Before you can develop a waitlist strategy you need to understand where you may have fallen short in the application process. Read over your file with a critical eye and try to identify any weaknesses. Talk to anyone you know who might be able to give you feedback (MBA students at the target school, former admissions officers, admissions consultants, etc).
2) Familiarize yourself with the school’s waitlist rules. Do you need to ‘opt-in’ in order to be on the list? Are you allowed to submit supplemental materials to bolster your case or inform the committee of changes to your candidacy? Does the school offer a chance for feedback via a phone session or interview with a ‘waitlist manager’?
3) Follow the waitlist rules.
CASE A: Schools that accept supplemental materials. If a school hints that you may want to provide a supplemental essay or recommendation letter, then by all means, take this offer seriously and get something together for them. Approach these materials in the same way that you would approach the application process (e.g. do not just send along something that you dash off in a matter of minutes). If you have several items you wish to send, it may make sense to spread them out over the course of a few weeks to demonstrate steady interest.
CASE B: Schools that do not accept supplemental materials. This may sound obvious, but if a school indicates that they do not want supplemental materials, then you should respect their guidelines. In other words, do not send along a new recommendation or an essay if the program has clearly indicated that you should not do so. There may be exceptions to this – for example, if a dramatic change has taken place in your candidacy – but in most cases, you should simply follow the rules. [Contact us to learn about other ways to improve your waitlist status with schools that frown on supplemental materials.]
4) Consider a school visit. It may make sense to visit the school, particularly if you have not been before. So many different things can happen on a visit:
a) You never know when you’ll have that chance meeting with an admissions officer who is willing to give you a little feedback (and who through the process of meeting you face to face might get a better sense of your candidacy)
b) A school may take note of your visit (if you sign in with the admissions office) and view it as a potential sign of your interest
c) You may interact with students or professors who can better inform you of opportunities at the school and provide you with helpful ‘content’ for any waitlist materials you go on to submit
d) By visiting, you may find out that school X is really not for you, enabling you to move on and remove yourself from the waitlist
Just as there are a number of waitlist to-do items, there are also countless things to avoid doing. We’ll devote another post to that at a later date. Please contact the Clear Admit offices for questions about waitlist strategy and our related services (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In addition, for valuable guidance about being on the waitlist, check out the Clear Admit Waitlist Guide. This guide will teach you to understand the ground rules of a program’s waitlist policy, formulate a plan to address weaknesses in your candidacy, craft effective communications to the admissions committee and explore every opportunity to boost your chances of acceptance. This 26-page PDF file, which includes school-specific waitlist policies and sample communication materials, is available for immediate download.
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