Accepted, Rejected, Waitlisted: What Should I Do?
Etiquette While Waiting
Congratulations, your applications are
in! Now you wait, and wait, and wait. The winter and early
spring can be a stressful time. Some students deal with the
stress by tuning out the law schools completely; other students
pester the law schools with phone calls enquiring about their
status. Neither of these approaches is ideal, and they can,
in fact, be downright detrimental. So as you wait, take the
Be sure that your applications for admission and your
applications for financial aid are complete. A law school
will not review your file until all of the information
is received and your file is deemed complete. You can
check the status of your transcripts, LSAT score, and
of recommendation by consulting the LSAC web site. LSAC
will tell you the date each piece of information was
sent out (usually electronically) to your law schools.
LSAC has confirmed that the information has been sent,
it is a good idea to call the law school to verify that
your application is complete. Do not call every day,
and do not be a pest. Do not expect instantaneous service—after
all, your application materials are arriving with hundreds
of others, and they all need to be organized by the admissions
committee staff. (Thus, if you figure your application
will take 2 days in the mail, do not call the third day
to verify its arrival. Be sensible about processing and
turnaround times.) Once you have confirmed that your
application is complete, STOP CALLING.
Believe it or not, parents are calling the law schools
in increasing numbers to check on their child's chance
of admission and the status of the decision making process.
This is a bad idea, and not at all helpful to you. Similarly,
parents call the law schools with questions about how
to complete financial aid paperwork. UGH! As a general
your parents or guardians should not be contacting the
law schools. You are a big kid now, too old to have your
parents doing your applications for you. If they have
questions, you should get the answers for them.
Maintain your dignity, and treat folks with respect.
Do not call the law schools every day, or every week. Do
not sound desperate or impatient. Do not yell at admissions
staff. It's rude. Moreover, as a practical matter, you
never know who is picking up the phone in the admissions
office—don't assume it's a work-study student or
secretarial staff. Admissions folks often make notes when
call to complain, and complaining does not endear you to
them. You need to handle your stress; do not take it out
on the law schools, or anyone else for that matter.
If you are accepted to one or
more schools, congratulations! You’ve made it. Now you need to select your school and
plan for your attendance. This is a good time to visit the schools,
if you haven’t already, to get a feel for which one is
best for you. Also, compare financial aid packages. If one is
more generous than another, you could call the other law schools’ financial
aid offices to ask if they might be able to do a bit better,
pointing out that you really want to go there, but XYZ school
offered you more money. (This strategy probably works best when
XYZ law school is higher ranked than the school you want to attend.)
If you try to negotiate for a better financial aid package, be
sure to (1) be very polite and diplomatic, not demanding; (2)
remember that it might work, but probably won’t, so don’t
get your hopes up.
Once you are accepted, you will
have to pay a seat deposit to hold your place in the class.
Usually the seat deposits
are due in May; May 1st or 15th is the most typical date. What
if you haven’t heard from all of your schools by then?
You need to decide whether you want to pay the seat deposit
or give up your seat. This happens all of the time—paying
a seat deposit simply to hold your place while you wait for
other schools is another predictable expense of the application
If you have been accepted into the law school of your choice,
you have pretty much reached the end of the application process.
You should work closely with the law school during the summer
to ensure a smooth transition. Finding housing near the school
will probably be a priority for you, since many law schools
have inadequate on-campus housing for graduate students.
A deferment is a request to a particular school to put off
your enrollment for a year. Usually an admitted student asks
for a deferment if something unexpected has occurred in his/her
life, such as a death in the family or, more positively, a new
travel or job opportunity that is too good to pass up. Generally,
working to save money for school is not the best reason to request
a deferment, but lately law schools have had so many applicants
that they have eased up a bit on granting them.
A deferment should be considered a contract with the one law
school you have chosen to attend. You CANNOT use your deferment
year to reapply to other schools. The law school has promised
to save a seat for you next year in exchange for your promise
that you will attend. Law schools take these mutual promises
very seriously, and become quite angry if students ignore their
deferment responsibilities to shop around at other law schools.
Sometimes a law school will even report to other schools that
the student has received a deferment and is, essentially, violating
its terms. That being said, if you are willing to commit to
a law school, requesting a deferment is a straightforward process,
and law schools are usually willing to accommodate these requests.
Warning: The downside to requesting a deferment is that you
almost always lose your existing financial aid package and
have no guarantee of another one. Be sure to discuss your financial
aid package, and the prospects for being re-awarded aid, before
you make a final decision on deferment.
Okay, it didn’t work out this
time. Now you need to decide how badly you want a legal career.
You can always reapply.
If you choose to reapply, you will NOT be at a disadvantage
because you were rejected in the past. The personnel on most
admissions committees tends to change every year, so you will
probably have a new person reading your file. Even if the committee
does not change, the members won’t remember you from
that stack of thousands of applications they read the year
Should you take the LSAT again to raise your score? Take another
look at the LSAT section of this CD. Basically, I do not recommend
retaking the LSAT unless you are convinced that you can do
better. Instead of retaking the LSAT, you might want to reconsider
the schools to which you applied: were they too competitive
for you? Were you a bit unrealistic in your choices? Are there
other schools that might be happy to admit you with your existing
GPA and LSAT scores?
Should you get another degree to
improve your application? I do not recommend obtaining a
graduate degree unless you really
want a graduate degree. Do not pursue an additional degree
just to make yourself look better to law schools. You’d
be better off spending the same amount of time working at a
law firm, or in some other legal environment, where you will
gain relevant experience about your chosen career. This experience
will be much more important to the admissions committee than
If you really want to go to law school,
you need to understand that sometimes a dream deferred is a
dream realized. It never
ceases to amaze me that students with their hearts set on law
school totally give up if they are rejected the first time
around. If you give up, you will never go to law school. If
you defer this dream you may, in fact, be successful someday.
To improve your chances of success the next time, you should
seriously consider waiting a year or more if you are a college
senior. Remember, the median age of the law school entering
class is 26 these days, and all of the evidence points to this
age going up, not down. Law schools want mature folks with
some distance from college who have worked in the real world
and thoughtfully reflected on their career choice. If this
is not you, then perhaps waiting a bit would be wise.
If you are waitlisted, you are
with a select group of applicants that are qualified to be
admitted, and will be admitted if
spots open up. Each law school has its own approach to the
Some schools rank folks—you might be, say, number 15 on
the waitlist. Many schools rank folks by quartile—you might
be one of the top 25 on the waitlist, but no student is ranked
within that quartile. Sometimes the law school will tell you
where you fall on the waitlist; sometimes it won’t.
If you are waitlisted, you will
be asked by the law school if you wish to remain on the list.
If you are still willing
to attend that school, there’s no real downside to sitting
on the waitlist. You may be sitting for a long time, so being
patient and being flexible with your plans would help. (I got
off the waitlist at the University of Virginia School of Law
in the first week of August, just 3 weeks before school started.
That was fine by me, because Virginia was worth the wait. I
showed up in Charlottesville with no place to live, knowing
no one, but eager to start my law school career.)
If you decide to remain on the waitlist,
DO NOT call the law school every other day to see how much
progress you are making
toward admission. If you want to be proactive, ask a faculty
member or employer to write a short letter of recommendation
to the admissions committee to augment your file. Sometimes
a pre-law advisor will make a phone call on your behalf, too.
If you have any additional information to add to your file,
you might wish to do so, because waitlist decisions are close
calls, and you’ll want to try to distinguish yourself
from others on the list. A good example of additional information
for graduating seniors would be an updated transcript that
shows outstanding spring semester grades. Send it along with
a short cover letter confirming your interest in the school,
and noting your accomplishment. Do not sound desperate when
you send additional information; be professional. Also, do
not paper the law school with tons of additional information—be
selective, and be patient.
It is very hard to predict how many
applicants will be taken off of the waitlist at any given
school. Spots open up when
accepted students decide not to attend. Typically, accepted
students drop out after they have been accepted to another
law school that they want more. For example, if someone gets
off the waitlist at Harvard and decides to go, his or her spot
at the University of Minnesota will open up. The person who
takes that spot at the U, in turn, will leave open a spot at
Hamline. In short, there’s a real domino effect with
waitlists. Students move off of waitlists all summer, which
in turn causes other students to move off of waitlists, and
Just a few years ago, it was not
uncommon to have significant movement off of the law schools’ waitlists.
In the past two years, however, the crush of applications
plus the bad
economy has resulted in students committing to law schools
early on and actually keeping those commitments. Some schools
had no movement at all off the waitlist during the summers
of 2002 and 2003.
If you are REALLY flexible about
your law school plans, you might want to show up at the school
on enrollment day. It’s
the ultimate last-ditch attempt to get off the waitlist, but
it occasionally does work. Two persons were admitted to my
entering class off of the waitlist on enrollment day, simply
because two spots opened up when two admitted students failed
to show up. An admitted student is supposed to inform the law
school when he/she decides not to attend, but sometimes they
If you are lucky, you might be in the right place at the right
time when this happens, and snag a spot. If you do this, be
sure to inform the law school in advance and on the day of
enrollment that you are there and are ready, willing, and able
to start immediately. Good luck!