MBA Admissions Myths Destroyed: The Closed Waitlist Is a Test!

You have waited and waited for your admissions decision.  Finally, you see a status update and your heart skips a beat. You quickly scroll down, looking for “congratulations,” but instead you see those dreaded words: “You have been placed on the waitlist.” As you read on to find out how you can manage the waitlist process, you discover that your target school states that you should not send any follow-up material—that you should just wait.

This may seem obvious to some, but if the admissions committee tells you to not send follow-up material of any sort, then you should not yield to temptation and send material that you think will bolster your case and give you an advantage over your otherwise silent peers. Doing so will only cause you to identify yourself in a negative way. Wharton explicitly tells candidates in its waitlist letter, “In the spirit of fairness and equity towards all candidates, we will not accept additional materials for inclusion in your application. Thank you in advance for honoring this policy.”

When mbaMission interviewed Wharton’s Director of Admissions J.J. Cutler, we asked him just how serious he was about limiting correspondence:

mbaMission: Another thing you’ve been very clear about on your blog is that you don’t want to hear from people on the waitlist. But candidates seem to believe that there’s some trickery in this, that they can beat down your door in some way, and that this is some sort of test. So can you be unequivocal both in terms of candidate communication and third-party communication about candidates who are on the waitlist?

JJC: Sure…. we’re very serious when we say we don’t want people to contact us. It’s not a joke. It’s not a test. It’s not a trick. We really don’t want to hear anything else. And there are really a couple of reasons for that. One is we want to be fair to everyone. Two is the factors we’re waiting for have nothing to do with the applicant at that point. They’ve put their application together, like everybody else, and we are unable yet to make a final decision on their application…. So more information about the applicant isn’t what’s causing our decision not to yet be made. It’s that we need more time to see what happens with other things that are outside the application. And that can be around class size. It can be that we need to see what the next round looks like. It could be that we need to see what decisions are made by other applicants.

Like Wharton, Harvard Business School has a closed waitlist policy and is serious about maintaining a level playing field. On its Web site, the HBS Admissions committee offers the following information about its waitlist process:

HBS waitlist policies differ from those at most other MBA programs. We request that you not send additional materials, nor can we accommodate requests for meetings or interviews.

HBS is fully committed to the online application process. We cannot consider materials submitted outside the online application. This includes recommendations: additional letters of recommendation cannot be considered once your application has been submitted.

We are also committed to fair and equitable consideration of all candidates. For this reason, we must reinforce our by-invitation-only interview process.

So, again, you should not be persistent and defy the schools’ explicit requests. Tread carefully on the waitlist, be patient and always consider the school’s policies before acting. The admissions committees are increasingly transparent—take them at their word.

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