Waiting Out the Waitlist

How to get into the ‘accepted’ pile sooner rather than later

Law school is a waiting game. You anxiously await your LSAT score. You wait for your professors’ letters of recommendations to come in. Then you wait for your LSAC file to be complete. Now that it’s winter, you are nervously waiting to hear back from schools with their admissions decisions. But what if you have to wait even longer? What if you are waitlisted at your dream school?

First the good news: The school obviously has positive feelings about you and thinks that you are capable of doing the work at their school, or they would have rejected you. You are under serious consideration. But what can you do to get out of limbo and into the “accepted” pile? It’s never too early to start strategizing about how to get off of the waitlist and into law school. There are some steps you can take that may help your chances of being accepted.

  No. 1: Read your waitlist letter carefully

Admissions officers that I know recommend that you carefully read your letter from the law school that has waitlisted you. Different schools may give you different indications of both how their own waitlist works, and what, if any, additional information they would like to receive from you while you are waitlisted to support your application. Some schools will give you an explanation of their waitlist. Follow their indications very carefully.

 No. 2: Keep in touch

In general, schools will welcome new information to add to your admissions file during the period of time that you are waitlisted. If you have something new and relevant to add to your file, such as an updated transcript, honors or awards you have received, a legally related job or internship, or a new recommendation letter, you can send it in. It will show the admissions committee that you are still interested in their school, and that you are continuing with achievements in your own life, while you are waiting for their final decision.

There’s a fine line, however, between updating them and stalking them. I would be careful to politely and periodically update them, but don’t harass them with constant phone calls and emails. You have to find the right balance.

No. 3: Be flexible

This is easier said than done, but try to remain completely flexible about where you are going to attend law school until the very last minute. I have known pre-law students to be accepted into their dream school off of the waitlist as late as the first day of classes. And guess what, some of them went. This of course may be a hassle for you, but ultimately once you settle in, you are at your top choice school. Think through the ramifications on both sides, discuss it with your family, and do what’s best for you.

 No. 4: It’s a waiting game for them too

Just as you are nervous about being in a state of limbo, remember that to some extent the admissions department is experiencing the same thing. They need to carefully balance their class; they don’t want to under enroll or over enroll their incoming class. They are waiting to see how many deposits they receive and withdrawals, at the same time that you are waiting to hear back from their waitlist. Admissions numbers fluctuate from year to year and are unpredictable, especially in this economy. So be aware that from both ends, it’s a balancing act, and don’t take the waitlist personally.

 No. 5: Good things may come to those who wait

Last summer, I was out for dinner and a Jeep screeched to a halt in front of me. One of my former students shouted excitedly out the window, “Hillary, I just heard back from Fordham. I finally got in!” In the end, it does not matter if you get into the school of your dreams in January or August. Once you are in, you’re in. You are just as welcome, ultimately, as the student who was accepted in the beginning of the admissions cycle. And finally, your long wait is over.

This guest post is authored by Hillary Mantis, a consultant to pre-law students, law students and lawyers. She is the director of Pre-Law Advising at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, the former director of Career Services at Fordham University School of Law, and the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers and Jobs for Lawyers. You can reach Hillary at [email protected]. 

This story was published in the Winter 2011 issue of preLaw Magazine.  Click herefor the digital edition of the Winter 2011 issue or visit the preLaw Magazine website for more great content about law school.