What to do on a Waiting List


When a client calls me, distraught that he has been waitlisted, I say, “Congratulations!” He then sounds very confused. On a 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 the people they’ve admitted. It’s pretty much a second admission cycle, so all those hopes you had of solidifying your life by April 1 should be washed away. You see, only once schools see how those numbers come back do they start to evaluate their waitlisted applicants.

When a law school starts to review a waiting list to admit people, they may have specific needs. For example, if more women sent deposits than men they 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 is not going 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 chapter is more 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.

  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.

18 thoughts on “What to do on a Waiting List

  1. Amanda on said:

    Hey Ann, thank you so much for this blog post. I just got wait listed at my top choice and I am unsure what to do from there.
    They said that their wait list is unranked, is there any chance that I can improve or stand out in a pool of…the same unranked people as I?
    I am too scared to even email the admissions people to thank them. I don’t know when to send an LOCI.
    I accepted a place on the waiting list but that is about it right now.
    What should I do?

    Thank you so much

      • Cristal on said:

        Why can’t you tell more than one school that you’d absolutely attend if admitted? I don’t see what the consequence of that would be given that a) they are not aware of it and b) they all look for this attribute when deciding who to admit from the wait list. It seems like not saying this could easily take you out of the running, especially when it comes to the top 20 schools.

  2. Jasmin on said:

    I’m waitlisted at my top choice but I submitted a seat deposit at my backup. Their second deposit is due in June and since I am doing to LSAT June retake, I am assuming I won’t hear back from my waitlist until after scores are released July 6. So should I send an email to the school with my seat deposit and ask for an extension regarding my second one? And if so, what do I say?

    Thank you!

  3. Elsa on said:

    Hello Ann! I got waitlisted for Emory University but live so far that it is not feasible for me to do a campus tour. In lieu of the tour, should I request a conversation with an admission’s officer? I have done everything mentioned above but can’t do a tour and don’t want it to hurt me during this process.

    • Hi Elsa,
      It won’t hurt you. Emory is a school that doesn’t like a lot of communications from WL applicants. Write the letter they ask for and update them as necessary – just follow their directions.

  4. Hi Ann,
    I am waitlisted at Pepperdine Law, and it is my first choice school. I accepted my place on the waitlist and sent in a letter of continued interest within a day of being waitlisted. A few weeks later I also sent in an additional letter of recommendation. I feel like I should be doing something else, but I don’t want to annoy the admission office. I have already visited Pepperdine Law earlier in the year two different times so I have no desire to spend the money to visit a third time. However, I feel like the admission office might want me to visit? What should I do to improve my chances of getting off the waitlist? Should I even do anything else?

  5. Lilyanne on said:

    Hi Ann,

    I was placed on the Priority Waitlist at my dream school in mid-March. Since then, I have submitted two letters of continued interest, spoken with two different admissions team members to pose questions, submitted a resume update re job promotion, and expressed my interest in short form via email. My last form of contact was mid-June at which point applicants were soon after informed via email that the class was full and that waitlisted applicants would be reviewed whenever spots become available on a rolling basis.

    Is there anything you feel I can or should do at this time to distinguish myself or have I done everything I can feasibly do at this point? Is sending another quick email to this school expressing my interest and 100% plan to attend if admitted advised?

    Thank you so much for your input.

  6. Ann,
    I have a seat deposit that is due on Friday (school awarded me a 100% scholarship), but a school that I am more interested in is still pending on a decision. Is it acceptable to email the school where my application is still in review and let them know that the other school requires a seat deposit in a couple days and notify them of how big of a scholarship they offered me? Please let me know.

  7. Devon on said:

    Hi Ann,

    Read your book; thanks for you help and insight!
    I was waitlisted late in the cycle. Like, early July late. My application was submitted months after the school deadline. I have already submitted a LOCI.

    I have two questions:

    1) Is a late waitlist decision indicative of anything?
    2) With school right around the corner, is there anything I can do at this point to boost my chances?

    Thank you

  8. Devon on said:

    Hi Ann,

    Read your book; thanks for your help and insight!
    I was waitlisted late in the cycle. Like, early July late. My application was submitted months after the school deadline. I have already submitted a LOCI.

    I have two questions:

    1) Is a late waitlist decision indicative of anything?
    2) With school right around the corner, is there anything I can do at this point to boost my chances?

    Thank you

    • Hi Devon,
      I’m not sure what you mean by #1…. IT probably means that if you’d applied earlier, you would’ve been admitted. Is that what you’re asking?
      One LOCI probably isn’t enough. I would make sure a school knows you’d attend if admitted. But, mentally, I’d prepare to reapply early this cycle.

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