I Am On A Law School Waitlist. What Now?

When a client calls me, distraught that he has been placed on a law school waitlist, I say, “Congratulations!” He then sounds very confused. On a law waiting list, you are still in the running. On a waiting list, you still have some control over your future. On a waiting list, you can get into your dream law school. That’s why I say “Congratulations!” A waiting list means hope! (As does a “held” and “reserve” decision, by the way).

However, it also means that you need to get used to waiting.

Most law schools don’t even think about the people on their waiting list until after they have the first deposits from those they have admitted. It’s pretty much a second admission cycle, so all those hopes you had of solidifying your decision by April 1 should be washed away. You see, only after schools see how those numbers come back do they start to evaluate waitlisted applicants.

When a law school reviews a waiting list to admit people, they may have specific needs. For example, if more women sent deposits than men, the school may need to balance out the class this way. If the LSAT numbers for the entering class are looking strong but the GPAs are looking lackluster, they may go to people with strong GPAs. They might see that they have too many people from a certain undergrad school and not enough from another, or by geographic region, or there is room to expand upon ethnic diversity. These are all considerations when deciding who will be admitted. 

And, within each of these categories that need to be filled, the Dean of Admissions is thinking, “Who do I like? Whose day do I want to make?” After all, this is one of the most fun things an admission officer gets to do. I want to call someone who I know is going to be very happy to hear from me. I get to be a hero today! So who do I call? That nice kid who has been in touch with me for six months! The guy who works down the street as a paralegal! The young woman who traveled from Ohio to visit the law school! This is where making effort makes all the difference. After all, I don’t want to have to make 5 calls to get someone who is happy to hear from me. I want the person who is the sure thing, because what I don’t want is to admit someone at this point in the year who does not want to attend. 

If you do absolutely nothing beyond accepting your place on the waiting list, you will not get into the law school. That’s all there is to it. You must go above and beyond. You must launch your campaign to get in.

If this seems more like pep talk than tips, it’s because I’ve seen too many people discouraged by a wait list decision when they should be encouraged by it. Just this week, I had a client tell me that he wasn’t going to pursue the waiting list at Catholic or American because he might not hear back until August and he didn’t want to move in August. “Hello?” I said. “It’s only March! Campaign now! Hang in there now! If you still haven’t heard in July and you don’t want to stay on the waiting list then, ok. But you could hear something in May or June if you campaign now.”

People give up too soon. Also, people assume there will be no scholarship offers from schools where they are admitted off the waiting list. This used to be the case, but in recent years this has changed and more schools are reserving (or redistributing) scholarship funds after deposit deadlines to both admitted students and those who are newly admitted from the waiting list.

Of course, I’ve had clients receive calls from their top choice law school while sitting in Orientation at their second choice law school. Sometimes this happens, and it can be an awesome (if stressful) thing. But most waitlist news comes in plenty of time for you to enter into a lease and buy books.

So, here is a schedule of things you can do when you find out you are waitlisted for law school:

  1. Immediately and enthusiastically accept a place on the waiting list. Refrain from immediately bombarding the law school with letters and additional information, especially if you get your wait list notification before March.
  2. Schedule a campus tour and visit if you have not already done so and if it is economically feasible for you to do so. If you live in the same city or state and haven’t visited, the school isn’t going to think you’re very interested in attending. Does this really help? People ask me that all the time. I had a client who was absolutely dying to go to law school and he didn’t care where so long as he could practice law one day. He flew himself across the country to visit a law school where he was waitlisted, where he’d been told he would have ten minutes with the assistant director of admissions. The ten minutes turned into an hour, and two days later he was admitted.
  3. During your visit, try to get some face-time (don’t ask for an interview!) with an admission counselor/officer. Ask about the waiting list and what they recommend in terms of keeping in touch, and then follow that to the “T”.  Talk to everyone you meet - ask students about their experiences at the law school, ask them what they did if they were waitlisted, introduce yourself to the professor whose class you are visiting, and follow up by writing thank-you notes (or emails) to each of them.
  4. Immediately after the deposit deadlines (since there is sometimes more than one) follow up with a letter expressing your interest in attending the law school - be specific!
  5. As you receive new (superb) grades and/or honors and/or promotions at work, or take on a new job or leadership position, email the admissions office with the news.
  6. Refrain from stalking the admissions office. Keep in touch every month until deposit deadlines have passed, then maybe every 2-4 weeks depending on the vibe you are getting from the school and whether you have real updates to pass along.
  7. If you feel very confident in your ability to raise your LSAT score by more than 2 points, then consider a June retake. You would probably still be on the waiting list in June, and improving your LSAT score could make the difference. 
  8. Some law schools specifically invite you to submit additional essays, including Penn Law, Northwestern Law, Michigan State, and Southwestern. If you pass this opportunity by, the law school will assume you are not interested in attending.

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10 law school application tips that pay big dividends

How To Start Studying For The LSAT

Ann K. Levine is the founder and chief law school admission consultant at Law School Expert. Before founding Law School Expert, Ann was Director of Admissions for Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and served as Director of Admissions for California Western School of Law in San Diego. As the director of admissions for two ABA-approved law schools, Ann reviewed thousands of applications each year and was primarily responsible for making all admission decisions including awarding scholarships. She is the author of the The Law School Admission Game: Play Like An Expert.