S2S MBA Guide

Navigating the Waitlist

After months of preparation, grueling hours of drills, excruciating over resume bullets, fine-tuning essays, and interviewing at your dream school, notification day finally arrives – and you’ve been waitlisted. So, what do you do now?
The fact of the matter is that business schools make judicious use of waitlists to shape each class. Consider that “yield” is a factor in several MBA rankings, and those rankings will shape applicant views on the prestige of each program. Business schools are thus incentivized not to extend an offer of admissions unless they believe a candidate is genuinely interested and likely to matriculate. During years with exceptionally high numbers of applications, such as the 2020-2021 admission cycle, Round 1 and Round 2 candidates can expect to see the waitlist used much more frequently. Applicants may even be waitlisted for multiple rounds or kept on through the summer.
However, the Admissions Committee likes you enough to keep you in consideration, so being waitlisted means you’re still in the fight – keep thinking in those terms.


Evaluate your candidacy to find where your weaknesses are, employing your S2S ambassador or utilizing your contacts at the veteran’s club at your target school. Some items on your application are rounds downrange, such as your undergrad GPA and letters of recommendation, so there’s no sense in worrying about them now. If you already addressed a GPA below 3.4 in the optional essay offered by most applications, there’s no sense in revisiting it now. Focus on efforts on what you can affect: your waitlist package, your standardized test scores, your professional life, your community involvement, your perceived level of interest, and clarification of your MBA goals.


GMAT scores are a hefty portion of your application package. Strongly consider retaking the GMAT/GRE if you’re under the average score for your target school. It’s not a test of how smart you are, just a test of how well you know those problem sets – and they do succumb to brute force study efforts eventually. Veritas Advanced Verbal and Manhattan Prep Advanced Quant are next level materials for when you're at V40 and Q48 and need that little extra push.
If you’re a Round 1 applicant who struggled with the GMAT Quant section and you have ample spare time, you could consider switching to the GRE to play to your strengths in the verbal section. This approach is not recommended for Round 2 candidates since there is limited time to get sped up on a new style of test.
Veteran applicants who find themselves stuck with at a certain score above the 90th percentile but below the school average should not write off their chances. Veterans are “leadership admits” above all, so it’s conceivable that you can still be accepted. The school will find its perfect 800 GMAT whiz elsewhere. However, this is still an area which can move the needle significantly in your favor since they can still only take so many candidates with lower scores. Removing this potential red flag is in your best interests.
For schools with Grade Non-Disclosure such as Booth, Columbia, Haas, Ross, Stanford GSB, and Wharton; employers will not be provided with information on your academic performance during your MBA. This means that employers could index more heavily on your GMAT or GRE score, so pumping up your stats has broader implications for recruiting. This being said, your interactions with firm representatives is likely a more significant factor than a test score anyway.


If your undergrad GPA was below 3.4, consider taking a course at a nearby school in a quant-heavy class. Recently completed graduate degrees will also contribute to a better academic package. However, online courses are also helpful. There are courses you can complete during the trial period with Coursera if you are willing to give up some evenings and weekends. Other online options like MBAmath, HBXcore, and EdX come at a cost. In any case, performing well in these courses and making the Admissions Committee aware of the results is a powerful signal of your commitment to academic success. You would want this course to add to your skillset and make sense within the overall context of your candidacy. Attach any paperwork you receive to your waitlist periodic updates.


Poorly formatted resumes are common application weaknesses. This is where the veterans’ clubs can really add value, providing examples from current members in the format approved by their own Career Services. Ensure that your resume matches the school’s format.
Re-evaluate the content of your resume and update it accordingly. Purge any bullets that are purely job responsibilities with no indication of how well you performed a given task. Use the following formula check your work:
Action Verb (conveying a skill) + Situation or Tasks (conveying scale) + Result = Great Resume Bullet
At a high level, the action verbs you use should translate to the mix of skills you want to demonstrate and not lean too heavily on just one type of skill. Leadership, problem solving, quantitative analysis, creativity, and collaboration are all worth highlighting. Also consider what recent changes in your career could add value to your resume. While promotions only come so often in the military, changes in responsibility are common. Painting those billet changes as a promotion is well within your right, especially since your resume is likely organized by your key billets anyway. Earmark these changes for inclusion on your resume if not at least for your communications with the Admissions Committee. If you have no accomplishments to report yet, nesting “Selected for [billet] ahead of X peers”.
Many business school resumes have “additional information” sections which include fun facts about what you do in your spare time. This can humanize your application and allow the Admissions Committee (and prospective employers) to relate to you at a more personal level. Do not simply list out that you “enjoy movies, working out, and hiking” – instead, mention in-depth details like “Attended every Marvel movie premiere in costume” or “Hiked Mount Fuji in Japan and Mt. McKinley in Alaska – Mount Kilimanjaro is next”. Making yourself relatable can only help your candidacy.


Your application is more than just the sum of your achievements at work and school. You are competing against people who have started their own nonprofits, taken service trips to dig wells for starving refugees, and who mentor inner-city school kids with leprosy while balancing highly successful careers. Building out or accelerating your own “extras” will immensely help your case.
Veterans are often subject to deployments and high operational tempos which prevent similar ventures. However, you may have volunteer opportunities in the form of collateral duties. Getting involved with your command’s efforts to solicit charitable donations, receiving training as a Victim Advocate or Casualty Assistance Officer, or simply helping registering service members to vote are all worthwhile efforts. Your volunteerism should make sense within your overall story and ideally fit your vision for how you would get involved at business school as well. If you take on a new “extra” activity, weaving it into your overall story will keep it from being discarded as an irrelevant fun fact.
Corporate fellowships like Hire Our Heroes or Deloitte CORE, internships offered by DoD Skill Bridge or Career Skills Program, and business school programs like Stanford Ignite or Tuck Next Step can serve as strong credible signals of interest that provide you with a good professional network before even getting into business school. Pursue these opportunities regardless of your business school application outcome.


It can be hard to convey long-term goals at times and even harder to convince a school that you would go to them over a competitor with similar offerings. Sometimes, the weakest point in the application is reasoning for why you want to go to a certain school in the first place. Essays which have not been peer reviewed sometimes list prospective activities that are easily found on the front pages of the school’s website and do not provide an adequate vision for student involvement. Avoid the temptation of listing the many programs and classes you would simply join if given the opportunity. Instead, think strategically: if you’re a leadership admit conducting a career change, where are you going to focus your limited leadership bandwidth outside of academics and recruiting?
Offering your target school, a vision for how you’d get involved as a leader of the school’s first Rugby Club, how you’d partner with local veteran incubators like Bunker Labs to assist founders, or how you’d lead the Net Impact club in serving struggling communities is much more compelling than talking about how you’d simply be a member of a certain club. Are there opportunities in the school’s existing structure for you to be a value add as a resilient leader or is there an initiative you’d like to spearhead? Be imaginative and thoughtful.
If you choose existing academic or extracurricular offerings, do your homework by connecting with current members and asking about their experiences to validate or disconfirm your idea. It’s often helpful if the offering is unique to your target school so you can demonstrate to the Admissions Committee that their school is absolutely the only one tailor-made for you. If you haven't already, download the free Insider Guides on MBAmission.com and dig into them to find more information on classes, culture, events, etc. You can showcase those items as well as your findings from conversations with current students in your waitlist package.
Be prepared to tie those interests, in any case, to your long-term or short-term goals. You may need to take another crack at why you’re choosing a given route if you get feedback that your reasoning wasn’t compelling. Lean on your S2S Ambassador or trusted veteran’s club contacts to give you those hard critiques.


Upon receiving the waitlist notification, the Admissions Committee will usually direct you to a website to familiarize you with the process. Carefully read all the guidelines and restrain yourself from immediately contacting the school. Do not be the one who can’t follow simple instructions. Your communications with Admissions should be carefully crafted and infrequent, so responding within the first week is likely not a great idea. You’ll want to balance your communications to be top of mind for the Admissions Committee without becoming annoying.
If you’re given an opportunity to write another essay or submit a video, the video is often the stronger choice. You’ve already taken a crack at conveying your interest in written form and you’ll continue to do so with future waitlist updates. Video offers another chance for you to charm the Admissions Committee and to showcase your personality, but it’s only 1-2 minutes in length. You’ll need to take the time to write a quality script, set the stage, and suit up to look the part. Given the short window, you may save precious seconds by adding post-production text to introduce yourself or thank the Admissions Committee, allowing more time for the key messages in your talk track. Do not try to cover every topic under the sun or revisit topics addressed in your essay. This is an addendum to your existing application so it’s better to add value than regurgitate old talking points. Pick one or two key messages that fit the video prompt, addressing assessed weaknesses if possible, and go deep on those topics.
If you’re given an assigned Admissions Officer, send an email every 3-4 weeks with updates to your candidacy, but ONLY if you can share substantive information. Awards, promotions, and upcoming decision deadlines are all fair game. Reiterate your interest and enthusiasm and give these update emails a significant amount of scrutiny, leveraging your vet club contacts or your S2S Ambassador for edits. If you receive other offers of admission, you may choose to pay the deposit to secure your spot but remain on the waitlist at your target school. If you are extended an at your target school, just be sure to update those where you already made a deposit so that slot can be opened for someone else.


Finally, understand that Admissions is a black box. At most schools, Admissions will likely not say anything to you and your updates may go unanswered. You won't be able to get on a call with anyone and the Admissions Committee will likely just refer you to the waitlist FAQ page if you ask any questions. You won't know if you're doing well or if you're last in line.
Be honest with yourself about your appetite for risk but understand that you're still very much in the running. There is movement on the waitlist in every round. Those websites collecting data on waitlists have not done so with the veteran population in mind. You are not subject to those same statistics, so shake off the noise and don’t let anyone tell you the odds.