Two years ago, JC Chang found himself on the waitlist for Chicago Booth. He asked himself, “What could I have done differently? Was it something I said during my interview? Why did the school admit my colleague with similar scores and experiences and put me on the waitlist? What can I do?”
Now, as a current student at Booth and VP of Culture and Tradition on the executive body of the Graduate Business Council, JC shares what he did do while on the waitlist and how he moved up from waiting to being admitted.
Part One: Getting into the right mindset
First off, it’s important to lay down the foundations to having the right mindset to tackle the waitlist process. You are (still) a superstar candidate. Let’s acknowledge that being on the waitlist — this vortex of ambiguity and doubt — is by no means a negative reflection of you and your potential. There should be no doubt that you are a superstar candidate and getting waitlisted is a reflection of that.
This is an opportunity to shine — not a check the box activity
I thought of this opportunity as a way to improve my candidacy and show even more of my stellar-ness rather than treating this as a check-the-box activity. Once I began to frame it along those lines, the rest came more naturally.
Take some time off and reflect
Externally, I thanked my recommenders and supporters and updated them on my waitlist status. Internally, I took a critical eye on the application I had submitted and began to identify where I may have had gaps relative to the evaluation criteria disclosed by Booth. Then I took an inventory of what I’ve done since the application and identified what could be used to either shore up some of the perceived weaknesses in my application or alternatively, used to further exemplify my strengths.
Connect your ambition to the school’s DNA
I dove even deeper to know Booth’s DNA and connected my ambitions to that DNA. In order to do this effectively, I had to be introspective and get even more specific on how Booth would get me there.
For example, I was interested in Booth’s entrepreneurship program. By asking more specific questions to alums and attending entrepreneurship-specific events held by Booth, I was able to change my narrative from something generic (i.e., “Booth has a great entrepreneurship program that I want to be a part of”) to something far more specific (i.e., “based on the Entrepreneurship Symposium, I know Professor Waverly Deutsch’s Building the New Venture class will help me develop an idea and potentially, bring that idea to market through the New Venture Challenge while I am at Booth”).
Part Two: Tactics
A number of schools allow candidates to provide additional materials to explain any new material developments. From my perspective, I defined “material” as a new experience of significance like doing pro-bono international consulting work or volunteering to be a mentor to diversity candidates for the year. Normal course of business like another consulting project where I ran point on the analytics was kept out.
In my specific waitlist case, Booth allowed supplemental materials (e.g., updated resume, letter, etc.) as well as providing a unique opportunity to send an optional 90-second video.
Overall, there were three guiding principles that I anchored my approach to: 1.) addressing any perceived “weaknesses” by showing concentrated effort to improve on those weaknesses, 2.) doubling down on any particular characteristics that made me a great applicant to begin with, and 3.) further establishing my personal case for “Why that specific school?”
For anyone having trouble pinpointing specific areas of weakness, I would highly encourage you to either have a trusted friend or mentor read your application with fresh eyes and offer their perspectives.
How each piece of the puzzle fits
Now that I had defined my overall strategy and anchored the direction of my supplemental materials on these three key areas, I rolled up my sleeves and got specific on how individual components of the supplemental materials could communicate my story.
(Note: The supplemental materials listed below were relevant to my waitlist experience at Booth. Use your own judgement in what applies to you and what is consistent with the story you want Booth Admissions Officers to know.)
Letter to the Admissions Committee
Why: Provide context on what I was including in my supplemental materials and why. Big picture, I viewed this letter as my take on writing a professional document, while simultaneously laying out the groundwork for what supplemental materials I was providing and why.
Why: Inform the Admissions Committee of most recent work accomplishments (e.g., pro bono consulting project work for a start-up in Guatemala) and current consulting project from when I submitted my application to the submission deadline. Big picture, I viewed the updated resume as a broad overview of some new themes expounded upon in the remainder of the supplemental materials. Provide an updated resume if and only if you have material developments.
Updated GMAT/GRE score
Though I did not do this, I know others who have successfully navigated the waitlist process that have taken this approach.
The effort I put into these materials was well worth it. My experience at Booth has been by far the most professionally challenging and personally fulfilling learning experience I have had. I am continuously impressed by the passion and sheer intellectual ability of my peers and professors, and I feel my time at Booth thus far has been truly transformational.
This post was adapted from JC Chang’s article “So you’ve been waitlisted… now what?” published on Medium in December, 2016. The above is an account of JC’s experience. Any current Booth waitlister is advised to check the guidelines and additional material options for their specific round. JC is now a second year student at Booth.