MBA Waitlist Strategy: Do Additional Letters of Support Help?

Every spring, we get lots of questions from waitlisted applicants about whether or not they should solicit additional letters of support from their past supervisors and co-workers. Assuming that your target school welcomes additional input, such letters can help, but only if they meet certain criteria.

Just last week we spoke with an applicant who was ready to get two former co-workers, both of whom are current students at Fuqua (the applicant’s target MBA program), to write letters of recommendation for him. While it can certainly seem like knowing someone “on the inside” has got to help, that’s not necessarily the case.

In general, we do advise waitlisted MBA applicants to be fairly aggressive in communicating with the admissions office, especially with programs (like Fuqua) that are open to hearing from you. However, as was the case with this applicant, many applicants tend to overestimate the effectiveness of letters from current students. These letters often say nothing more than, “He’s a really good guy and he REALLY wants to come to Fuqua,” which the admissions office probably already knows. It’s nice to communicate your enthusiasm (and you should certainly do that when the situation calls for it), but a current student probably won’t be able to add that much to your application.

The more important question is whether or not an additional letter of support can bolster themes in that applicant’s application or address any perceived weaknesses in his profile. Perhaps he hasn’t held any official management roles yet, but an additional letter of support could highlight new examples of how he displayed leadership skills, got a team organized to tackle a problem, etc. This is what matters to MBA admissions officers, not that he knows current Fuqua students and therefore is probably Fuqua material by association.

When possible, it can help to get an additional letter of support from a supervisor or someone else who normally serves in a supervisory role and has a great deal of experience mentoring and/or evaluating people.This should be someone who hasn’t already written a recommendation for you, for that school. If that person can say, “I’ve worked with this applicant for the last few years, and I can confidently say he’s a strong performer with a great deal of potential,” that certainly helps. At worst, it doesn’t hurt you. That letter can also emphasize your enthusiasm for the school, but “enthusiasm” by itself won’t be enough… You need to give them another reason to consider you when they start to select applicants from the waitlist.

As far as giving your target school significant updates goes, don’t underestimate the importance of this. If you’re able to get your waitlist contact on the phone, see if there’s anything specific that would help, such as a higher GMAT score or some additional college coursework. Frequently the conversation will tend towards very obvious weaknesses — e.g., a relatively low undergraduate GPA — but use this conversation to learn as much as you can about why they waitlisted you and (perhaps even more importantly) why they DIDN’T reject you despite the weaknesses in your application. They couldn’t admit you, but they decided not to reject you… Knowing why can help you craft a successful waitlist strategy.

For more advice on getting off the waitlist and into a top-ten MBA program, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the business school application process!

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