The HBS Waitlist Strategy

On the waitlist for HBS? Read this article for information on your chances, how to get off, and what to do in the meantime.

Geri T.

By Geri T.

Posted January 9, 2024

Free Event

The Summer Before Round 1: Setting Yourself Up for Success

Tuesday, May 28

3:00 PM UTC · 45 minutes

undefined's profile

Featuring Victoria G.

Table of Contents

Harvard Business School is one of the most prestigious graduate programs in the world. The application process is difficult and the competition is fierce - so you should feel good about making it to the waitlist! At this stage, you’ve got your foot in the door. Now it’s a waiting game - which is understandably difficult, especially for such a major decision. However, there are certain things you can do (and not do), to improve your chances of gaining admission.

What is an MBA waitlist and why are you on it?

MBA programs use waitlists to manage the applicant pool over the course of several rounds. This ensures they build the strongest class possible at the end of the full application cycle. Being waitlisted is not the end of the road and actually signals that the AdCom thinks highly of your application. The school may not be ready to extend you an offer, but they like what they see.

There are various reasons why an applicant is placed on the waitlist. Some of these may involve hesitancy over a particular factor in the applicant’s profile, such as test scores or years of experience. Schools could also be holding spots for future rounds in order to compare applicants of a similar profile. Regardless, the quality of MBA applicants is consistently strong and programs are becoming more and more competitive - which means the waitlist is likely here to stay.

Harvard Business School Waitlist

According to the HBS website, an invitation to join their waitlist is “a positive indication of our Admission Board’s interest.” The Admissions Board does not “rank” waitlist candidates nor is there a specific target for the number of candidates placed on the waitlist. Decisions are all made on an individual basis and the number of applicants placed on the waitlist varies from year to year. The board reviews candidates on an ongoing basis as spaces open up. The waitlist decisions do not follow the formal application round schedules. And sometimes people are kept on the waitlist for quite some time. However, all decisions are made by the end of July.

Free trial!

Access a library of videos, templates, and examples curated by Leland’s top coaches.

undefined's profileundefined's profileundefined's profile

From 110 top coaches

Example Essays

Example Essays Image

Example Resumes

Example Resumes Image

Application Prep

Application Prep Image

Video Courses

Video Courses Image

HBS Waitlist Strategy

After being put on the waitlist, there are a few things you can do to make yourself a more competitive candidate and increase your chances of MBA admissions success.

1. Accept and Confirm Your Waitlist Placement

Show your commitment to the program by accepting your waitlist spot; this shows the AdCom that you are dedicated to the school. Make sure to keep your tone professional throughout the process. This will show that you are dedicated to the program. And, keep an eye out for any HBS activities that may be available so you can continue to get to know the school (see here).

2. Update Your Contact Information

Email is the primary means of communication from HBS regarding your admissions status. So, make sure to keep your email address and mailing address up to date on your Applicant Status Page.

3. Review Your Application

Reassess your complete application, from essays to test scores to recommendation letters. Ask for help from peers and mentors to identify potential places of weakness. Harvard Business School allows you to submit updated information in March. Think about ways you might mitigate any weaknesses by sharing information about a new role or project at work or new extracurricular involvement. More information on how to complete your update be provided by the waitlist manager, Eileen Chang.

MBA Admissions Coach Recommendations

These highly-rated, expert admissions coaches can help you formulate your waitlist strategy and strengthen your application. Book a free intro call on their Leland profiles to get started.

4. Follow the Program’s Rules

Note: While HBS offers an opportunity to provide one update, each school has different waitlist policies and it is important to follow the school’s specific guidelines. Some will not want any communication from applicants while others will encourage profile updates. Read any information you receive from the Admissions Board carefully and follow their instructions.

5. Offer a Supplementary Letter of Support

HBS does not accept additional letters of recommendation or letters of support. However, other schools may be more flexible. To highlight that you are a good fit for the school, consider having a mentor or member of the school community send in a letter of support to the Admissions Board. A one-page email is satisfactory; sending in a flood of emails or communications may harm your candidacy. Again, if the school doesn’t accept additional materials, accept the policy and refrain from sending anything in.

6. Have Hope, and Consider Plan B

Being put on a waitlist can be a disappointment, but it is not the end of your MBA journey. Do what you can to show your commitment and excitement to join the MBA program. But you should also think through a plan B if you aren’t admitted – think about your career goals and whether you might want to reapply to the program in an upcoming year. If so, look for ways to strengthen your application and talk to members of the school’s community for insights into the application process and strategy.

Geri T. is a former member of the HBS MBA Admissions Board where she reviewed thousands of applications and conducted hundreds of interviews. She also helped launch the HBS 2+2 program for deferred MBA candidates. Book a FREE intro call with Geri today!

Read these next:

Browse hundreds of expert coaches

Leland coaches have helped thousands of people achieve their goals. A dedicated mentor can make all the difference.

Browse Related Articles