Applicant Question: Playing the MBA Wait-List Game

What’s going on everyone. We’re one week into the 2010 year here at Northwestern. Hope everyone is still keeping up with those New Year’s resolutions! But don’t worry, I won’t hold you to them to keep reading. I’ve definitely got a couple resolutions myself, including a pretty big one that relates to my website. But you’ll have to stay tuned a bit longer to watch it unfold. I also have a pretty large number of ideas cooking up for future posts and articles, but today I’m going to keep them on the back burner because I’ve got something a little better than that, at least for a select few of you.

Now that we’re right in the middle of the MBA application season, I’ve been getting lots of messages so I thought I’d share a couple of my responses here on my website. I figured I’d start with a recent question I received about being on the Northwestern JD-MBA waitlist. It sounds like my reader feels like he’s stuck in limbo and is ready to be rescued or at least get a little closure from Kellogg. I don’t blame him, I usually like to have closure myself.

But I’d like to add one caveat before I give out any information, which is to keep in mind that I don’t work for Kellogg and that I’m not a member on their MBA Admission team. Instead, I’m a student at Northwestern who is simply offering my time and personal website to respond to a few email questions and ultimately share some really good information with applicants in the b-school world, as I’m sure quite a few of you will appreciate the favor. As readers on my site, I also hope that you will feel free to return the favor, and leave comments and send messages when something peaks your interest.

Okay, so to get back to business, I suspect there are a number of readers all across the U.S. sitting on the edge of their seats and hitting the refresh button every couple of minutes as they wait for update emails, pondering this exact same question. “What do I do now?”

So I’ve decided to answer the question as broadly as possible so that more people might benefit. Take a look below for my reader’s question, and then look below that for my response.

Good luck on your quests everyone !

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READER’S EMAIL TO ME

Dear Jeremy,

Hi, my name is (REMOVED) from (REMOVED). I was introduced to your blog by a friend a few months back and since have been following your entries closely. Think it’s just awesome that you can maintain such a resourceful blog while on your 1st year at law school!

To give you a quick introduction of myself and my situation, I’ve done 4 years of investment banking (REMOVED) in (REMOVED) and also understanding the potential synergies from a mix of business and law knowledge and experiences, am too seeking a JD/MBA degree. Thus, I had resigned (voluntary) from (REMOVED) in October to sit the December LSAT. My initial plan was to apply to a bunch (top 10) of MBAs and Law schools and go the one that I get acceptance from both (excluding of course Northwestern, NYU and Duke where they have integrated applications).. But I guess 2 months was not enough to get me fully prepped for the LSAT. Did not feel good about the test and had to cancel. Also I’ve naturally applied to the Northwestern 3yr JD/MBA but was notified this past week that I am waitlisted. Very frustrated as Northwestern was of course my #1 choice with the 3 yr program and the most integrated curriculum..

I was wondering if you would have any insight or tips, waitlist strategies.. For Kellogg in general and if any different, JD/MBA program specific. Any classmates who got admission after being waitlisted, what actions they took after being waitlisted etc. Also do you think the admissions committee be impressed if one makes a campus visit? You understand the state of mind I am in right? Think I can do just about anything for admission but just feeling helpless..

I saw from your blog that school started again this past week, hope I’m not bothering you too much. Any information, tips, stories would be greatly helpful. Many thanks in advance!

Best regards,

(NAME)

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MY RESPONSE TO READER’S EMAIL

Hello (REMOVED),

I hope this message finds you well and finds you in time. I know you probably feel pretty tense right now. It’s a tough year for applying to school and you’ve almost made it across the finish line here in round one, so congratulations. But I know congratulations is the last thing you want to hear, so I’ll try to focus mostly on the tangible steps that someone on the waitlist may or may not want to take.

First off, students on the waitlist get in to top schools every year. For many of them, the waitlist ends up being nothing more than a long line at a new movie, and after standing in line for a bit they are granted a ticket of admission. I know a couple of Kellogg students who got in last year, and there are also students here in the JD-MBA program that had the same experience. For others, the waitlist ends up being more like purgatory and requires a serious gut check, because there’s really not much you can do but wait to see how the school responds. At the end of the day, there are a lot of factors that admissions teams are balancing–individual fit, class composition, predictability of the next round of applicants, employability, diversity, current school needs, and more–so it’s impossible for me, and probably even them, to tell you exactly how things will turn out so early in the game. But I’ll start with a few general ideas and go from there.

As a general reference point for everyone, you should always follow the directions in your decision letter to a ‘T’. If a school tells you they don’t want updates, then don’t shoot yourself in the foot by sending them extra information. Instead sit back, relax, put your feet up on the couch, and wait for them to come calling. But, if a school tells you that they do want to hear updates, than don’t even think about downshifting gears, because you’ve got some work to do if you really want in.

Generally, the waitlisted applicants are considered solid candidates, even star candidates. Now is the time to showcase more subtle aspects of your profile. Be ready to articulate your story again, but this time better. Give them a few golden nuggets you may have forgotten to dig out from your past and put in your essays. Also, distinguish how you stand out from the other number-crunching bankers, consultants, or whatever professional you are (emailer in this case was a banker) and how you can add perspective to the classroom. And be more introspective the next few weeks, so that you’re better prepared to talk about your leadership or entrepreneurial goals. Instead of using industry buzz words, overused resume verbs, and clichéd MBA language, think more deeply about your leadership style and talk more about stuff that motivates you, what you did, how you felt, and what you learned. And if you’re really up to it, try really spilling your guts a bit more and really putting the details out there—always remembering to stay professional of course, as this is business school—because this might just be your last chance.

In your specific case (NAME REMOVED), you should definitely take a bit more of a deep breadth. Making the waitlist in a class that only targets 25 students is a big accomplishment. To that end, I’ll note that your request for a distinction between Kellogg and the JD-MBA program is not relevant for you. As an applicant to the dual program, you are not an applicant to Kellogg. Personally, I’ve never heard of any changes of that sort, and if it did happen, it would have to be highly discretionary. But in regards to the JD-MBA waitlist, I don’t have any factual information to share (and if I did, it’d probably be top secret anyhow) but my impression, as I mentioned above, is that JD-MBA students do get off the waitlist fairly regularly. Of course, the odds could sway like a pendulum from year to year, depending on the number of applicants, the yield rate from round one, the caliber of applicants (and subsequent yield rate) from round two, and the number of applicants in round three, leaving you potentially swimming in a pool with a tank of MBA sharks on the worst of years and still leaving you in limbo most every other year. But that’s pretty hard to predict. The good news about getting waitlisted in round one is that you still have two more rounds to get accepted. And if this is your top choice, you’ll still be there sticking it out on the WL while the faint of heart and risk averse go running off to other schools. The real irony with that is that lawyers tend to be risk averse, so staying around might be a catch-22. And the bad news is that exact same fact, that you may have to wait two more rounds before finding out, and that will feel like an eternity, especially if things don’t go according to plan.

Also (REMOVED), from what I’ve heard about Kellogg—though I can’t say anything for certain–is that they are one of those schools that may decide they want more information from you down the line. So while it’s never smart to pester admissions, you should be sure to be ready in case they do ask you for more information. As I said above, take a look in your letter, and if you’re uncertain utilize the Kellogg Admissions office just to be sure.

If at some point now or later they do ask for information, then that is your chance to shine. Think about the suggestions I mentioned above. And since the JD-MBA program here is so small and customized, you might also think about ways to show why want both degrees and what you plan to do with them. That’s something that most, if not all, the JD-MBAs did well in the application process. Further, you may want to discuss how those career goals came about. Are they rooted somewhere in your past or present, or are you simply hoping to stack up a couple more degrees and make some cash when you graduate–don’t let them assume it’s the second by not clearly saying! And once you do that, then you might think about what you’ve done so far to prove that passion and how you can continue at Northwestern, and doing so by differentiating both schools. And just to cover my bases, I’ll also say that every year students from all schools retake GMATs, take extra courses, figure out ways to cover weaknesses, tell them about promotions, and more. It’s up to you whether you think that will help, and unfortunately I don’t have any data at all on how many people here have done or have considered doing that. I suspect that it would be fewer than more, but that’s simply a guess. And every year, the stars do align for a lucky few candidates, even here in the JD-MBA program. So try to stay positive for now, it’s still early.

Now finally, I’ve included a few more pieces of information. First, is a response to your question about visiting campus. Kellogg clearly states on it website (click here), that visint will not increase your chances of admission Though in all your decisions, you should keep in mind that Kellogg and Northwestern JD-MBA are not run exactly the same, and that who knows what someone may take into account when the margins are small enough.

Second, check out the Kellogg admissions blog to see if they have any updates for the JD-MBA program. Click here for the site. Doesn’t look they post regularly, but might be worth taking a look.

And finally, I’ve included a link to an OLD thread in a Businessweek MBA forum. It relates to Kellogg only, but it’s one of the few pieces of information about Kellogg’s waitlist preferences online. Given its date I strongly suggest NOT relying on it, but it might be a useful reference point for some readers. Click here for the link.

Best of luck (REMOVED) !

Monday, January 11th, 2010 Admissions

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6 Comments to Applicant Question: Playing the MBA Wait-List Game

Anonymous
January 17, 2010

Jeremy, thanks for writing the general post. This is definitely helpful information for others online.

Jeremy C Wilson
January 17, 2010

Thanks for reading! And best of luck with upcoming applications that you may have.

Archit
January 21, 2010

Thanks a ton for this jeremy, God bless you! I’ve been waitlisted by Kellogg too and have been frantically trying to find out ways that I can demonstrate my passion for the school and updates in my work profile so that I can convert this into an Admit. I’ve still not been able to talk with my waitlist manager, but I’m trying everyday :)

I’m not sure, so I’d like to ask this: Do the Kellogg waitlist managers offer feedback? I read somewhere that they do and somewhere else that they dont. Would you know anything about this?

Thanks!

Anonymous
January 22, 2010

Hello.

I am an undergraduate Business Management Major. I was wandering if I should work for probably 2 years after I graduate which would be in one semester. so fall 2010. I am debating whether or going to law school or not. I am unsure about law school should I still apply?? Or go do my MBA after I work for two years? Please let me know. I just want to get a better resume and specialize in something. I am taking the LSAT but I am not sure about the law degree. If I am not sure should I still try law??

Jeremy C Wilson
January 23, 2010

Hi (Anonymous). Thanks for posting your comment (question) and for taking the time to read my blog. I think I’ve got a few piece of information that will help. Check back here at my site, as I’ll plan to post the question and answer as I’ve been doing for other recent question. But one quick comment I’d like to make here beforehand is that that law school and business school are both very different programs, in almost every regard. And usually, either law school or business school is a far better fit a prospective applicant.

Also, in the future, please feel free to reach me using the contact me link, which is located on the tab bar right at the top of the page.

Jeremy C. Wilson
January 31, 2010

@Archit Hi Archit, glad the post was helpful to you. Showing passion and giving updates to the school are great ideas. But here are a couple of tips. First, be sure to follow school guidelines as you do so. I suspect waitlist managers are contacted frequently, so you don’t want to stand out as the applicant that was not patient in the process. Second, some schools do offer feedback, some don’t, and some are less clear. Be sure to find out which school is which. One way to do that is by asking the committee directly. Best of luck.

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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