How to Handle a Law School Application Waitlist

If you have applied for law school with strong qualifications but didn’t quite make the initial cut, many schools will put you on a waitlist. Some law schools that you would consider safety picks will wait-list you because they believe that you are unlikely to accept an offer (US News measures the percentage of accepted offers and considers this in the law school’s ranking).

On the whole, it’s best to consider the waitlist as a rejection. Still, every year students from the waitlist are offered seats, it just isn’t that common. Initially, law schools make more offers to potential students than they have seats available. As commitment deadlines pass, however, schools often have spots to fill. The waitlist is how they do this. Some years, a school never reaches its waitlist. In others, significant numbers come from the waitlist. There is no reliable way to predict. You of course can’t control what happens in this respect. You should focus on what you can control: how you respond.

The process of applying to law school is an advocacy challenge—precisely what you aspire to do as a lawyer. What a great opportunity to show off your skills! The admissions committee is going to take note of how you respond to this challenge. They are looking for clear, concise, and compelling presentations of information that persuades them to admit you. Consider this to be another test of your judgment, analytical skills, and oral and written advocacy skills. To call you from the waitlist a school needs to be convinced that you will jump at the chance for a seat.

Always use common sense. Harvard and Yale are everyone’s first choice; it won’t help to tell the highest-ranked schools that they are your first choice, they already know. If your top choice school waitlists you, you’ll have to deal with some uncertainty until school starts.

How to Research the Waitlist

The first step in handling a waitlist for any school is to conduct research about the school’s list. Read the letter carefully. It will often tell you if there are special rules the school wants you to follow. FOLLOW ALL DIRECTIONS PRECISELY. Sometimes a school requires that you inform them of your desire to remain on the waitlist. Additionally, it is usually acceptable to make a call to the admissions office at the school to understand exactly what the waitlist means for that school. When you call, get the following information:

• How many people are on the waitlist?

• Is the list ranked or categorized in anyway? Ranking is uncommon, but can still happen. If so, what is your ranking/category and how many people are in your category?

• What percentage of the list is usually offered a seat?

• Are applicants pulled from the list by academic strength or diversity needs?

• When are final decisions made about the list?

• Is there anything you can do that would increase your chance of being accepted?

Generally, law schools use the waitlist to maintain class balance from year to year. As the class starts to come together, the admissions officer will notice trends that develop. For instance if the class is heavy on regional females, the officer might go to the list looking for out-of-state males.

You will have no control over what spots open up. But if the school knows you are interested, they may think about you first. Admissions officers would rather fill the seat with one call than ten.

Waitlist Updates: Timing Your Follow-Ups

When you make your initial call to research the waitlist, you should make sure to express your interest in attending the school. If the school is your first choice, let them know you would attend if an offer is made. Remember that many of the schools will request a transcript at the end of the current semester; make sure it helps you. Be sure to respond promptly to any request for additional information.

It is alright to check on the status of the waitlist every three weeks. Be very polite and do not take up much time. Be ready to act on very short notice. The closer it gets to class-time, the harder it is for the admissions committee to fill seats. If you remain diligent, your chance for being offered any late-opening seat increases.

You should use any recent (occurring after the law school application was filed) significant, achievements as another excuse to update your file with the law school. If you get another semester’s worth of grades that raise your GPA or have been given a new honor, be sure to let the school know. You can also consider adding one additional letter of recommendation from an instructor who taught you either this semester or last. Use these opportunities as one of your status checks.


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