Evan Forster advises MBA applicants how to escape the waitlists at Columbia.

Last week, I received a call from my MBA candidate, Dylan. This is his second shot at applying to business school (when he applied on his own last year, it was a close-but-no-cigar). He was recently waitlisted/deferred at Columbia. Why? Probably because of his GMAT score. It’s only a 710. But we all know how Columbia operates when it comes to numbers. It’s like that date who only wants to know how big your bank account is. Regardless, he got waitlisted—not denied.

He’s an incredible candidate—an Olympic athlete, a successful banker, and gorgeous head to toe: blonde mop, piercing blue eyes, a lean, mean soccer machine. Put him in a Paul Smith suit and he has you at “Cheerio.” So you can imagine my bafflement when Dylan whined, “My admissions coordinator at Columbia is making time to meet me this Thursday—but she didn’t sound overly excited to have me come into the office.” Apparently, during their brief phone call his admissions coordinator went on to say, “There’s nothing really more we need to know about your candidacy. We’ll have our decision by February 1.”

Dylan was hesitant and asked me, “So…should I go?” His voice was meek. Where was the confident athlete I had been working with for the past few months? Apparently, it was stuck somewhere beneath a waitlist letter, under the paragraph that reads: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” (Of course some programs offer the proverbial “the committee encourages you to let us know—via email or phone—of any significant new achievements since your application was submitted.” And you should.) But Dylan’s MBA letter was clear: “Due to the volume of applications we receive, we cannot accommodate individual requests [to speak/meet with candidates]. A member of the Admissions Committee will contact you if we have specific questions.”

So, Dylan wondered, should he actually visit? Put a face to the name?

My answer is simple: YES!

Let me put this into perspective: Thousands of people apply to the same schools and programs you do. Admissions officers are over-worked, underfed, and fed-up with every candidate trying to get a foot in the door. If you’ve been waitlisted or deferred, however, you have a foot in the door. So, buck up. Have a little self-confidence! Realize that one of your super powers is not mind reading: You have no idea what was going on in the moment you contacted that admissions officer about your candidacy. In the immortal words of Cher when she slaps Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!”

You don’t know what prompted the admissions officer’s seeming lack of enthusiasm. Was it a bad morning? A stop-and-roll ticket on the way into work? You simply don’t know. Nor do you need to.

What you need to do is be brave and bold and make sure you’ve taken every opportunity to let that school know how serious you are about attending—and how perfect you are. Because you are perfect. There is a 6’3” hot blonde soccer player in you somewhere. Even if you’re acting like a little wiry 14-year-old.

So if somebody gives you an opportunity to press the flesh and put a face to a name, take it. Don’t err on the side of, “Oh, maybe I’m overdoing it.” For example, if you’ve already visited campus, go visit again.

How to know if it’s time for another visit:

  1. You got waitlisted or deferred! This means the admissions office is serious about you. If they weren’t, you would have received a denial letter.
  2. Did you get a response to your email or phone call that agreed to a specific time to visit? If the answer is “yes” and a time was set, then ignore your inner weakling and summon your outer superhero. Go be your dazzling self.
  3. You’re still wondering whether it’s overkill to visit again because the response to your email or phone call was lukewarm? You don’t know what anyone is thinking. You are assuming that they don’t want to be “bothered.” This is your opportunity to pleasantly surprise them. Show them you know about the school by asking specific questions about classes, clubs and facilities. (I’m talking about questions that cannot be answered by looking on their website. Think “how” or “why” and nothing that can be answered with a “yes,” “no,” or a number. Because you are only a bother if you waste their time with questions you could get answered online.)
  4. You’ve never visited before? It’s a no-brainer. Get on a plane, train or automobile—now—even if you don’t get a response to your call or email. BTW—you live within three hours of campus, but you’ve never visited? You don’t deserve to be accepted. (If I were an admissions officer at that school, I’d certainly wonder whether you were actually going to say “yes” to an offer of acceptance if you had never inconvenienced yourself with a visit.)
  5. You Just Don’t Know – Stop making up reasons not to visit. Dylan did that for a while, and all it got him was fear and worry. But I guess we all need a little encouragement. I, for one, am frightened as hell of rejection. But you have an opportunity to do more than the minimum, to put a face to your name. Dylan had an opportunity to restate his goals and chat about his excitement about Columbia. As a result of doing so, he was so well-liked that the admissions coordinator introduced him to the Dean of Value Investing—his area of interest/goal.

Post-visit, when Dylan called me, he had that old Olympic tone in his voice when he said: “There are probably a 100 people vying for three spots, but now, at least when they decide, they will think of my face and not just my name or number—they’ll be thinking of me

And that’s why you go and visit. And Stay in touch after you do.

Read more about how to get off the waitlist.

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