Wednesday, April 01, 2015 at 5am

The Waitlist Doldrums: TopDogMBA and Wharton

Wharton waitlist

As many of you know, I was in that lucky group of individuals who got an interview invite from Wharton, my top choice business school, last November. The news came through an update on the MBA application website after a long and stressful day waiting for that admit call. By that stage I was pretty sure I was dinged, so an offer to stay on the waitlist was actually a small relief…one that quickly turned into frustration about why I'd not been admitted and then despair at the prospect of months on the waitlist.

I set out to find as much information as I could about how others had handled the waitlist (some tips here). Wharton has a strict policy regarding no additional information being submitted by waitlisted applicants. At first, I saw this as a good thing (just sit back and wait) but then released it's an incredibly limiting policy. I had a lot of time on my hands (no more applications to write, thankfully) and there was probably only a small flaw in my MBA application which was enough to deny me an offer but still keep me on the waitlist. I knew from reading a lot of blogs and forum posts from last season (when I applied to, and was dinged by, five top business schools) that the worst approach was to inundate the admissions department with begging correspondence, closely followed by the second-worst approach: doing absolutely nothing!

I spoke to consultants, current students and the alumni network from Wharton and other top business schools. I searched through the historical threads on forums and whatever articles I could find from consultants and MBA websites. The consistent advice was to find the missing link in my MBA application and fix it - this was easier said than done! For example, my 720 GMAT score might have been too low, but it wasn't a bad score. Should I retake the GMAT? Did I need that hassle and risk that my new score might be lower!? There were also a lot of exciting things happening in my workplace too, things that I would have loved to write about in my original applications: incredible mandates from my clients that could make a great letter of recommendation; representing foreign government banks in my home market, but ultimately I decided not to write about these as my MBA application was already well focused on my existing career achievements.

What I decided to write about were specific and measurable things I was doing to deliver on my vision in my application. So, as I'd written about using my existing career as a springboard to launch a new business, I wanted to write about what I'm doing to start that new business, not about how great my existing career is going. The tone of my email was therefore more like 'Hey Wharton, I'm still doing this with or without you, but it would be great if I could do it with you'. Once I got that in my head, I was able to identify three or four big things that I could write about. Choosing between those (given Wharton's instructions, I only felt comfortable writing two or three paragraphs which didn't leave a lot of space) was not easy but if you've been through the essay writing process once already you know what I'm talking about.

The other key message to get across is that, “If admitted, I will come to Wharton.” I gambled that there were a lot of people on the waitlist sitting on offers from other business schools and just hoping that Wharton will eventually admit them for pride's sake. If they don't then go to Wharton that hits the school's yield percentage, so me being keen and reinforcing the message that I would go there if admitted should give me an advantage over the competition who were just sitting and waiting for good news.

The big challenge I faced was finding suitable Wharton alumni to write a supportive email, not a new letter of recommendation, to the admissions department, something along the lines of, “I have been to Wharton, I know what you're all about and this guy is it.” This was tricky though as if I'd already found someone like that, why didn't I use them in my original letter of recommendation? What I discovered is that some in the alumni network I had spoken to when I was initially researching business schools who were lukewarm about my chances saw me in a new light after they heard I was waitlisted. Plus, I'd been keeping them updated and they saw that passion and commitment to Wharton and my perseverance in the face of possible defeat. They had become wholehearted supporters who were suddenly willing to step up and write a positive endorsement. My advice is to keep everyone who's helped you in the loop, send them updates every now and again and always be open to their feedback. You never know when you might need them to write a supportive email or new letter of recommendation!

Current students and those in the alumni network also helped me stay positive during the waitlist process. It turned out that lots of students were admitted from the waitlist; almost everyone I asked had a close friend in their cohort who came from that situation. It started to become a fun challenge for them to get me admitted! Of course, having offers from the other schools I applied to helped a lot. I knew I was going to business school one way or another and, if not to my top choice school, then still a top-10 business school that I had researched well. This relieved a lot of the pressure. I also thought about how far I'd come from last season when I had to deal with five dings over two rounds – that was my low point and certainly put the waitlist process into perspective! I tried to invoke the positive outlook I had when I started this process and hold true to my vision no matter what.

I hope the above provides some additional insight to what I wrote in my recent blog post. Best of luck to you!



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