Landing on a waitlist can be a nerve-wracking experience. As a result, sometimes waitlisted applicants let their anxiety or disappointment get the better of them. But the application process is not over for waitlisted applicants! “Waitlisted” is not “rejected.” If you play your cards right, you still have a fighting chance of getting into your dream school. Now’s not the time to slack off, and it’s certainly not the time to give up.
We prepared this guide to show you how to make the most of this opportunity to get from waitlisted to accepted.
Let’s start by warning you to avoid some of the ill-considered behavior that really turns adcom members off to your application. The most flagrant violators that adcom members complain about are applicants who react emotionally to the news and behave in ways that are demanding, rude, disrespectful, or otherwise inappropriate, either in their emails, calls, or even unscheduled drop-in visits to their offices. There may be 200 or more waitlisted applicants at your school, but even if there were only 20, these types of responses reveal immaturity and lack of judgment. This behavior is duly noted and will work against you.
If the adcom has waitlisted you, it means they are still very interested in you. You’re still a contender. Maximize your chances of turning your waitlist status into an acceptance by following the school’s instructions precisely: Send what they ask for. Don’t send what they don’t want.
For example, be sure that your target school is open to receiving waitlist letters or letters of continued interest. If the school states explicitly that it doesn’t want to hear from you, then do not contact them – doing so will only hurt your case.
For programs that are open to receiving these letters, writing a well crafted waitlist update letter or letter of continued interest, and having letters of support written by other people sent in on your behalf, can tilt the odds in your favor. These letters should focus on three areas: your growing list of qualifications, the steps you’ve taken to ameliorate shortcomings, and the ways in which you are the perfect fit for the school.
5 rules to write a waitlist letter that will get you OFF the waitlist:
- Keep it short – no more than two pages, double-spaced.
Use this valuable space to focus on what you have accomplished since applying. When you’re at the brainstorming stage of the letter, and then again once you’re done writing, check and then double check that you haven’t repeated material already in your application – you don’t want to waste anyone’s time!
- Begin your letter by briefly thanking the school for considering your application.
Reiterate your commitment to the school and your belief that its philosophy and approach are an ideal fit for your educational preferences and goals.
- Update your qualifications.
What is new and improved since you submitted your application? Ideally, you should relate these new achievements to some of the themes or experiences you addressed in your essays.
Some examples could include a recent promotion; freshly minted A’s in relevant courses; a new leadership role in a project or organization; a recent volunteer experience; initiatives you’ve taken in your department, business, or club; or additional work responsibilities.
- Talk about the measures you’ve taken to strengthen areas of weakness or other shortcomings.
Reinforce the idea that you are working to grow professionally and personally. Instead of dwelling on an actual shortcoming, instead, focus on the specific actions you’ve taken to become stronger in that area. For example, if you have or have had weak communication skills, discuss how you enrolled in Toastmasters and how the experience influenced and inspired you. Examine, identify, and address weaknesses in your education, career, and community life.
Also, if you have plans for additional classes or work but they have not yet taken place, get specific: Report when and where you plan to take them, and state your willingness to enroll in any additional courses or follow any additional instructions that the school recommends or provides.
- Emphasize your fit with the school.
If you are sure that upon acceptance you would attend, tell the school of your commitment. The message you want to get across is this: You were born to attend this school and this school was created just for you. Your fit is as perfect as a cozy glove on a cold hand.
How can you show the school you’re a perfect fit for their program? Prove it by explaining what else you have done to further your knowledge of their program and build your network there. You may already have mentioned in your application or in an interview how the school’s philosophy and approach match your educational preferences and goals. In a waitlist letter, cite new examples that illustrate this match. For example, if you have visited the campus (post-submission), mention which class you sat in on, who taught it, and what your impressions were.
Similarly, mention recent email exchanges with alumni or students. What new aspect of the program that jives with your interests have you discovered through these connections? Connecting with the school, its students, and resources demonstrates that you feel invested in attending. It will help drive home the message that this school is the best place for someone with your post-MBA goals.
Remember, admissions directors want waitlisted applicants to show passion, but not obsession. Follow these steps and you can be sure that schools will respond to this extra personal effort – provided that your sincerity is matched by an equal measure of professionalism, maturity, and courtesy.
Writing Effective Waitlist Letters: A Quiz
So, do you know how to write an effective waitlist letter? Test your knowledge with this quiz:
1. Waitlist letters may be three or more single-spaced pages long:
(a) if the applicant has a lot of accomplishments to talk about
(b) they should never exceed two pages
(c) if they are law school waitlist letters only
(d) if you are not enclosing an additional letter of recommendation
2. Expressing frustration or disappointment in the waitlist letter about not being immediately accepted is:
(a) OK if the school is really your number-one choice
(b) appropriate if it reflects how you honestly feel
(c) never a good idea
(d) useful in the letter’s conclusion to elicit sympathy
3. During the waitlist process, you should generally aim to contact the waitlisting school:
(a) every other day if it’s really your number-one choice
(b) weekly by email or mail
(c) only when prompted by the school
(d) every three to four weeks (if the school allows contact)
4. The main topics of a waitlist letter should be:
(a) your recent professional achievements
(b) additional reasons why this school is a good fit for you
(c) developments in your community work since applying
(d) any substantial recent examples that show you have worked to strengthen areas of weaknesses of your application
(e) all of the above
5. It’s acceptable to repeat wording from your application essays in the waitlist letter:
(b) if you are in a rush to get the letter done on time
(c) if it was an especially strong part of your application
(d) if you think it’s important enough to reinforce
[Answers: 1b, 2c, 3d, 4e, 5a]
How’d you do? Are you confident that you have a solid understanding of how waitlist letters work? Would you still benefit from expert guidance as you draft a waitlist letter that will turn the school’s unsure verdict into a solid, resounding acceptance?
Accepted’s admissions experts are ready to help you get off the waitlist and into the school of your dreams. We’ll help you identify areas you can highlight in your waitlist letter, assist with strategy, and help you edit your letter so that you can be sure it makes the best possible case for your admission. Check out our waitlist services and let’s get started.
By Judy Gruen, former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a Master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
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