The Waitlist Misnomer

The Waitlist Misnomer

Yesterday, after long awaited anticipation, I received the admission decision from my dream school. I’ll let you read it the same as I did.

I’ve been waitlisted.

Oh, the waitlist. It’s like playing a long, hard-fought game of baseball, going late into the extra innings, only to end in a tie. It’s like asking your crush out on a date and getting the … text status only to end the night with no reply. You want to believe that it means you are a qualified applicant worthy of admission and they are on the brink of admitting you, but on the other hand it means you have a glaring weakness in your application that held you back.

I am extremely grateful to have received an admit from Carnegie Mellon, a world class program, and I in no way want to sound unappreciative, but I know that Texas is the school for me. This rejection comment on clearadmit says its all:

“If you get through the marathon of the top 15/20 b-school app process with even one acceptance, you are a rare bird.”

I created a personalized ranking methodology for my target schools, and to give you perspective, Cornell, UNC, and Carnegie Mellon are within .1 of each other and Texas is a full 3.5 points ahead. Texas has the strongest program in the world for Renewable Energy through their CleanTech Fellows program, they send the highest % of any Top 20 b-school into the Energy industry, they are located in the most kickass city in American (Austin, Texas), AND they have they have the lowest tuition cost ($110k vs. $130k at UNC, Cornell and Tepper). I would do almost anything to get into their program.

What Now? How to navigate the waitlist

Let’s get down to brass tax, the waitlist can be dire. The average admission rate for waitlisted applicants at Top 20 schools is 15-30%! That is LOWER than the admission % for overall applicants… crazy, I know.

Here’s the silver lining. I was waitlisted after interview, which is not the case for all who reside in this admission limbo. Also, according to GMATClub and Clearadmit, I have the single lowest GMAT score of anyone on this waitlist. I wear this like a badge of honor because it means that in spite of my dismal statistics, the McCombs Admission Committee knew that I was such a good fit for their program that they had to interview me to hear more and they simply couldn’t reject me.

This is actually a really positive signal. It means that out of ALL of the waitlisted applicants, I am the one with the most upside.

In the 24 hours since this waitlist notification I have been scrambling to conduct as much research as possible on best practices for getting off the waitlist and it has become clear that there is a set approach.

  1. Diagnose you weakness

If you landed on the waitlist it means there was a red flag in your application that held you back from earning admission.

“A lot people think oh you know what schools do is they take the best people and the people who are second best get relegated to the waitlist. That’s actually not true. Usually the people are wildly qualified. The people who are put on the waitlist are the people who have gotten stuck. There was something off in their application, and usually it’s just one thing. There’s something that gave the admission committee cause to pause.”

How do you identify this weakness?

  • Be self-aware enough to self-diagnose
  • Seek feedback directly from the school
  • Seek external assessment via an admission consultant
  1. Work as hard as possible to improve this weakness.
  2. Submit an update letter to the school which 1) signals your dedication to their program (You are my #1 choice and I will pay my deposit the same day I receive and admission). This will help them with their yield rate (the % of admitted students who accept the offer). And 2) Highlights how you have directly addressed their concerns and improved your weakness.

My Plan

The waitlist may indicate it is a decision status for waiting and seeing, however it is anything but.

I spent all day reaching out to admissions consultants asking for waitlist strategy quotes, the responses I received were, per usual, astronomically overpriced. For instance here is my option with going with the admissions consultant who delivered my Mock Interview Prep for McCombs (by the way, this consultant was worth every penny and this is in no way meant to criticize her expertise, she is truly great at what she does).

“Hi Nick,

It sounds like you have clear program prioritization. Where does Cornell fall in the mix?

The waitlist strategy + brainstorming session would include general and school-specific waitlist guidance, creation of a waitlist strategic action plan, and brainstorming for the initial waitlist letter. An application review would be 1 additional hour.

3 hours would cover: (1) application review, (2) waitlist strategy + brainstorming session, and (3) review of the initial waitlist letter. Please let Mariah know ASAP as to how you’d like to proceed – my calendar for next week is nearly full. Once payment is received, and I’ve received the go-ahead from our team, you can send me your application materials, and we’ll schedule our strategy + brainstorming call.”


The price tag for those 3 hours…. $900.

But in the course of writing this out, what I have known all along has revealed itself. My weakness is the GMAT. 100%, no questions asked. I am perfect candidate for their program. I wrote my strongest essays for Texas. I drove 1000 miles to visit their campus and then opted to interview on campus again and absolutely CRUSHED my interview. I have extensively networked with their students. I have succinct and realistic career goals and I know how I will spend my time at McCombs to ensure these goals are achieved. I have signaled that they are my top choice which removes their doubt of yield rate. I have done everything right… except I have a low GMAT.

So here’s the plan. I am going to save my $900 and spend the next month of my life studying tirelessly for my least favorite, most soul-crushing, bane of my existence test—the GMAT. For a THIRD time.


You can knock me down, Texas, but I am going to prove to you that I deserve a seat.



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