My Top 3 Questions about the MBA Admissions Waitlist

The waitlist seems like purgatory — trust me, I know! I applied during the second Daytime MBA admission round last year, and was placed on the waitlist for 82 days (not that I was counting).

I was thinking about writing something on this blog about the waitlist and decided to sit down with Megan Overbay, Director of Admissions and Fuqua Class of 2003 … who was also admitted from the waitlist! I had a nice chat with Megan about the MBA waitlist process and wanted to share with you some key things that I wish I had known last year. Megan also blogs from an admissions perspective, so you may want to check out some of her posts, too.

There were really 3 burning questions on my mind: Why am I on the waitlist? What can I do now? When will I know my fate?

Why?

There are a variety of things that could place someone on the waitlist. I personally know someone with a strong undergrad GPA and a 99th percentile GMAT who was on the waitlist last year. I also know someone with impressive and extensive work experience who was on the waitlist. And I know people who are the perfect Fuqua fit, with good extracurriculars, who nailed their interview … who were also on the waitlist.

The best answer is that the admissions committee liked everything about you, but saw something in your application that gave the committee “pause” — meaning there was some part of your application package that was confusing, unclear, inconsistent, or simply not convincing. This could have been a weaker academic profile, a concerning recommendation, a gap in your story, unconvincing answers for “Why Duke,” etc.

What Can I Do?

In our perfect world the MBA admissions committee members would call everyone on the waitlist, talk with us for 2 hours, and provide detailed feedback about whatever aspects of the application held the committee back from an admission offer. But this would obviously be time consuming and would ultimately be giving us a fish, rather than teaching us how to fish. Hurdles and disappointments are a part of life, and resiliency and self-awareness are two characteristics that admissions committees seek in their applicants.

So instead, each waitlisted candidate needs to do some serious introspection and honest evaluation of his or her application package. Reread your essays and think about your recommendation writers. Ask yourself: Is this really presenting a full picture of who I am? Am I really conveying my reasons for why I want to be at Duke? Do I make a compelling case for what I’d contribute to the school? Is there anything that doesn’t make sense?

The truth is that the waitlist is really not the place for waiting. You have a wide-open spectrum to make the case for why you should be admitted. There are no word counts, criteria for recommenders, or subjects assigned. The goal is to essentially address any concerns, gaps, or confusion in your application file. This can be done by staying in touch with the admissions committee via mbawaitlist@fuqua.duke.edu. You can send them information like:

  • Rewritten essays
  • Reports of additional coursework
  • Updated test scores
  • Notifications of job changes or achievements
  • New letters of recommendation

But you aren’t restricted to just these items — you can be creative to further make your case, just be sure to address any area that you think may have been lacking in clarity or focus in your application package.

There are basically no rules for the waitlist other than the consideration: how will the admissions committee view this? Remember, you are coming to business school to get an education and ultimately get a job. As you “take advantage of the waitlist” with supplemental essays, letters, and so on, you should try to treat admissions as a prospective employer. If you are overbearing, too persistent, or fake, that isn’t going to help your case.

For more information, check out these Frequently Asked Questions about the waitlist.

When Will I Know?

The process is simple: basically, if you’re waitlisted, the next time you may hear from the admissions office is when decisions are released for the following Daytime MBA application round. So, Early Action waitlisted candidates will either hear a yes, no, or nothing (which means still on the waitlist) when Round 1 decisions are released. Any waitlisted candidates remaining from Early Action, as well as those waitlisted in Round 1, will be reviewed along with the Round 2 applicants. If your decision is updated to admit or deny, then you would hear something around the Round 2 decision release date. Similarly, all candidates on the waitlist from prior rounds are considered with the Round 3 applicants and would hear updates around the Round 3 decision release date. All of this communication will be via email — same as the rest of the applicant notification process.

After Round 3, things change somewhat. You could possibly hear from the admissions office at any point after Round 3. An invitation for admission would come by phone.

Given this timeline, you’ll want to be sure that any updated materials that you send are received by the MBA admissions committee at least 2 weeks before a round’s decision release. After Round 3, waitlisted applicants should keep the admissions office updated regularly through the summer, because the waitlist could be reviewed at any time.

Check the Daytime MBA apply page for decision release dates for each admissions round.

Final Thoughts

Being on the waitlist isn’t the ideal place to be, but it’s better than an outright “no.” The key is to stay positive, do your best, keep learning, and ultimately just let the chips fall where they may. I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and one way or another we all somehow land on our feet. Best of luck.

Matt Hamilton

More posts from Matt Hamilton

Daytime MBA, Class of 2014. Find out more about me...

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2 Responses to My Top 3 Questions about the MBA Admissions Waitlist

  1. River says:

    very nice reflections, Matt. I can’t agree more that we should treat MBA admissions as a prospective employer.

  2. Deepak Joshi says:

    Very useful article. Thanks.

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