Get our weekly advice

Keep up-to-date with the latest advice from Abound MBA.

What to Do If You Are Waitlisted or Deferred From an MBA Program

Nathan Wilgeroth / Abound: MBA »

After all the frantic work that comes with putting together an application for an MBA program, waiting for an admissions decision can seem to take forever. Most applicants assume that they will eventually receive a letter with one of two outcomes: accepted or rejected. Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as a yes or no. As if college admissions weren’t confusing enough, there’s the possibility that you may receive the gray-area decision to be waitlisted or deferred. Is that frustrating? Maybe. Fortunately, however, it nevertheless means that you were not flat-out denied admission, which means you still have a fighting chance to get in! Read on to learn about what waitlisted and deferred even mean and what you can do to tip the scales in your favor and, ultimately, get accepted.

What Does “Waitlisted” Mean?

If your application is not the strongest, but you still show potential, a school may decide to put you on a waitlist until the enrollment period. Colleges put applications on the waitlist when they want to see which admitted applicants end up enrolling. 

Being on a waitlist typically means that you are placed within a “holding pattern” of sorts. Not all admitted students will enroll in the college that accepted them, so your prospective school might have some empty spots that need to be filled. In that case, the admissions office will begin reaching out to the next-best applicants, i.e. the ones that were waitlisted.

During this time, you might also be asked to improve your application and résumé so that the school can be more convinced that you can reach this greater potential. If a school receives the information it wants, it could end up admitting you earlier than during the last-minute enrollment period. In cases like these, it would always be helpful to improve your application as best as you can.

Waitlists are not just for weak applications that are below a certain standard; sometimes strong candidates are compared with one another if they are similar in demographic and background. MBA programs have limited spots, and some schools might prefer to admit and enroll a diverse cohort that varies by gender, nationality, professional experience, and career goals. Because of this, even impressive applications get put on the waitlist—the chances of getting accepted depend largely on the other applicants as opposed to your individual strengths.

What Does “Deferred” Even Mean?

You might have heard of being waitlisted and deferred while you were applying for undergrad. While waitlists function similarly, deferring an application tends to work differently in undergraduate and graduate programs.Waitlists and deferrals are two different things, but they share some similarities. While neither is an outright rejection, they both mean you will have to wait longer to see whether you will be admitted.

Deferrals for MBA and other graduate programs put applications on hold for entire terms, while those for undergrad are typically processed within the same admissions cycle. 

Deferrals in undergrad are most often given to applicants who apply during the Early Action period. A school may hold off making a decision for a student until it sees the rest of the applications that other students will eventually submit. When it comes to Early Action, schools are likely only to choose the strongest applicants with the highest level of interest in attending. Otherwise, admissions officers will want to understand what the pool of applicants look like as a whole.

When it comes to an MBA program, however, deferment can often be a strategically beneficial move for applicants of all levels of quality. If you are accepted to or even waitlisted for an MBA program, you can ask the admissions office to defer your application to be considered for another semester or year. In this case, you are able to avoid filling out an application all over again and leaving your record on file for the future.

There are a few common reasons why one might defer their application. Maybe an unexpected curveball is thrown at you in your personal or professional life (if, say, a pandemic wreaks havoc on the world). If you are accepted to a program but business school is no longer something you feel you can balance, deferment is a smart choice. But if you are not fully accepted and placed on a waitlist, you might be able to ask that your application be considered among future applications at another time. This would also give you the opportunity to gain more professional experience (often a prerequisite for MBA programs) or otherwise boost your application and résumé.

How Can I Help My Chances of Getting In?

There are a few ways in which you can strengthen an MBA application and make yourself a more desirable candidate. No matter what, a school will look favorably on candidates who show their interest in its program as well as their commitment to improvement. Take a look at your application and understand where your weaknesses might be. Retake the GRE/GMAT if you can, or get a colleague, mentor, or boss to write you another letter of recommendation. Especially for a business-related program, you can demonstrate your proficiency through proof of a raise or promotion at work. 

Whether you are deferred or waitlisted, avoid the temptation to pester the admissions office with sporadic, incessant letters and phone calls to the admissions department. In almost every case, this can have an adverse effect on your chances for admission. Instead, it is best to take a succinct, measured approach to your outreach with a single “letter of continued interest.” Similar to statements of purpose, these are one-page statements that express your desire to attend, the steps you’ve taken to improve your application, and any additional information that might help your standing. 

Before submitting new material, take note of the school’s protocol regarding waitlists and deferrals; some institutions even state in the letters that they do not take any additional letters of recommendation or phone calls on the student’s behalf. If the admissions office does need more materials, it is likely to state as such in the decision letter it sends you.

Stay Hopeful, But Also Realistic

Remember that if you have been waitlisted or deferred, you have not been denied admission; rather it’s as if you have been asked to stay in the waiting room a little longer while you await an ultimate decision. That said, it’s never wise to hedge your bets on a single option. Keep other schools in mind to ensure that you can still pursue the life-changing education of an MBA program. If you ultimately fail to get admitted, there are still many great schools and many other times to apply. Your hard work in your application is a great learning experience that might help you earn admission in the future. 

Have you been waitlisted or deferred? Are you still looking for which MBA program to apply to? We’re here to help! Abound: MBA’s college resource guide introduces you to pre-vetted schools that we can confirm meet our high standards of Affordability, Accessibility, Acceleration, and Advancement. Take a look at the schools we trust to find the MBA program that’s right for you.

Get our weekly advice

Keep up-to-date with the latest advice from Abound MBA.