How Law School Waitlists Work

Law School Expert Blog

(This post was originally from 2009 but remains one of the most popular Law School Expert posts of all time, so I’m updating it a bit below in 2019 – an oldie but a goodie). FOR MORE INFORMATION Listen to The Law School Admission Game: Play Like an Expert Chapter 14: Pursuing a Waiting List on Spotify

A client sent me this e-mail:

I was wondering if you could give me (or blog about) a little more insight about how wait lists usually work. Is there a weighted order in which applicants are ranked and then applicants are taken off according to that? Is the ranking based on their admissions index number or the order in which they received apps? Would retaking the LSAT in June and getting a higher score give them more of a reason to take an applicant off the WL?

As a director of admission for a law school, I looked at my waitlist for a combination of the following:

1. Likelihood of attendance if offered admission

2. Numbers

I didn’t have time to make phone calls going down the list – I wanted to make one call to an applicant who I knew would be thrilled to hear from me and who would commit to my school practically on the spot.

This is why Letters of Continued Interest are so important. This is why like-ability is a factor. Whose day do I want to make? That’s what I would think about.

When Will I Get A Waitlist Decision?

Keep in mind, not every school uses its waitlist in the same way, and not every school uses its waitlist the same way from year to year. Everything depends on that particular admission cycle, how many admitted students have deposited, how many have pulled out to attend a different school, and how the numbers and demographics are looking. Some law schools do place people in quartiles or priority lists. Others use numbers only or residents first or perhaps even take diversity factors back into account depending on how it seems the class is shaping up so far. You can’t predict what will happen, and nothing I tell you will change that.

The key thing to keep in mind is that, yes, people do get into their dream schools off the waitlist. Absolutely. And at some schools a significant percentage of the class may be admitted that way. So, if it’s important to you, then pursue it. Just be prepared to actually wait – it can take a while. If you’re staying on the waitlist just to get another acceptance letter in your portfolio, then perhaps consider a polite bowing out in favor of that applicant who would be thrilled at the acceptance. Just because the law schools play games doesn’t mean you have to. : )

Lastly, I have seen people improve on the June LSAT and be admitted off a wait list as a result. Yes. For example, I had a client with a 165 waitlisted at Northwestern. He came back with a 170 on the June LSAT and was admitted.

I’m sure there will be a few comments on this post, and I’m happy to answer questions. Just keep in mind I can’t give individual advice about your personal “waitlist campaign” in this format.

379 Responses

  1. Hi Ms. Levine,

    Thanks for the time you put into your blog! What time of year should students start sending letters of continues interest to WL schools? Does it make sense to wait until after the rush of April deposit season?

    Thanks,

    Anthony

  2. Hi Ms. Levine,

    It is such a coincidence that you posted this blog b/c I have just been waitlisted at my top 2 choices and I have been battling with when to send my LOCI. After reading your blog, I will send them out within the next week and continue to follow up. One of the schools is in the state I live in so I plan on making a visit to show even more interest. Do you believe visits help any?

    Thank you for this blog…I cannot tell you how helpful it was.

  3. Hi Ms. Levine,

    I was placed on hold at my top choice during the EA period (LSAT is out of range so gave me a great deal of hope) and am anxiously awaiting a response which should come soon. In the meantime, I have sent extra letters of reference, an LOCI, and visited the institution which is quite far from where I am living currently.

    I went over some of the materials submitted on my behalf and noticed a mistake on one of my job titles on my resume is worded differently than the title used in one of my letters of reference. The substantiative description of the job is the same and the titles are not dramatically different. I technically work for two separate entities at once and its not unusual for there to be a disconnect between the two in terms of job titles.

    Should I follow up to correct this? I feel like I have submitted so many extra materials it might be best to slide.

  4. Hello Ms. Levine,

    I have a question about what I should do. I am a female minority and was placed at my top choice (American University) waitlist. Honestly, I did not even think they would consider my application because it is a long shot for me. My GPA is in their 25th percentile with a 3.34 and LSAT is no where on the radar, 144. In my case, should I consider the waitlist a rejection if they are Yield protecting? Or do I have any chance of getting off, and if so, what should I do? (I sent a letter of continued interest and spoke with the Dean of Diversity Affairs and an alumnae professor there about my file).

    1. Hi Jasmine,
      It sounds like you’re doing everything right. I have seen American make HUGE exceptions on LSAT in order to admit minorities. If they weren’t going to consider you seriously, they would have outright rejected you. I think your chances will depend on how many deposits they get from URM admitted applicants.
      I wish you the best of luck!

  5. Hi Ann,
    Thank you for blogging for those of us that can’t quite afford a full consultant right now. My LSAT is 4 points above the 75th percentile at my first choice school (South Texas C of L), but I just got waitlisted. Lower GPA probably hurt. In your experience, is a school like this likely to admit off the list, and if so, would a letter campaign on my part really help? Thanks again, even if you can’t respond.

  6. I am curious if you have seen what Wisconsin is doing this year. They are waitlisting students with substantially higher LSAT numbers than their medians, along with other normally admitted students. They will send an offer of admission for the following year as a transfer if you’re in the top half of your class as a 1L at another school, but then bait you into submitting a letter of continued interest and it specifically asks you to do so and explain why you like Wisconsin.

    Have you ever seen anything quite like this? Are they most likely just trying to yield protect or boost their median numbers?

    Thanks.

  7. Dear Ann,

    Thank you for your blog. It has been very useful to me throughout the admissions process thus far.

    I have been waitlisted at Pepperdine University. Through much soul searching, visiting the campus, and even more research, I know this is the school I want to attend. I decided that if called, no matter how late in the academic year, I will go.

    I was wondering how many LOCI’s you recommend sending. Is once a month too much? Or should I do it every, say, two months, etc.

    I would also like to get in contact with several professors at the school who are alums at my undergrad. Ask for advice and possibly for some help. Is this going too far?

    Lastly, based on the admissions cycle thus far and throwing the recession into the mix, how likely do you think schools like Pepperdine will dip into their wait list. I know last year they didn’t dip at all but the year before they pulled out 25-30 students.

    One last thing. I have been asked to model for a bikini photo shoot for a military fundraising calendar. I was wondering if this is worth mentioning to the school or does it not matter? Or even worse, would schools look at this negatively?

    Thank you so much for your advice.

    1. Hi fellow Californian,
      First, this is Pepperdine. So please do not model in your bikini. Or, if you do, please don’t tell them or let it come up in any google searches. Please.
      Second, once a month is fine – you can mix it up with a phone cal instead of a letter.
      Professors at the law school who went to your undergrad? That relationship seems a bit tenuous….
      I can’t predict which schools will use their waitlists or the extent to which they’ll use them. Just hang in there!
      And thanks for reading the blog!
      Ann

  8. Hi Ann
    I got waitlisted at UC Hastings, and I know thats the school where I want to go. I have visited the school once after receiving the email that I was waitlisted, and I plan on going again, but in the email they clearly said they did not want any emails or phone calls, and they said to just check my email for further instructions. So far, they haven’t emailed me anything . I know they said no email or calls, but do you think its ok to send a LOCI?

    Also, my LSAT is below the range, do you think there is any chance of getting off their waitlist? I have heard UC hastings is big on the yield protecting.

    And just one more thing, with seat deposits due in just a few days, would Hastings not consider me if I put a seat deposit elsewhere while I wait for their decision?

    Sorry for all the questions, thanks so much

    ELLA

    1. Ella, you must put down a seat deposit at another school. You’d be an idiot not to. It won’t hurt you at Hastings to do so. Rather, you need to communicate to Hastings that it’s your first choice and you’d go there under pretty much any circumstances. Follow the school’s instructions re: appropriate communication, but still communicate with them. Good luck!

  9. have a question about what I should do. I was waitlisted at Villanova Law (my top choice). Honestly, I did not even think they would consider my application because of my numbers. My GPA is in their 2.75 (1.5 first year and jumped 3.00 to 3.30 (senior year) and LSAT is in 150s, but was accommodated). In my case, should I consider the wait list a rejection ? Or do I have any chance of getting off, and if so, what should I do? (I sent a letter of continued interest

  10. Hi Ann, wonderful website!

    I’ve been waitlisted by American, William and Mary, Iowa, and Loyola Chicago. My LSAT 161, I’m Asian.

    What would you recommend getting off the waitlist? American is my first choice, then Iowa.

    1. Catherine, Glad you like the site! You need to demonstrate your likelihood of attendance if selected. American’s waitlist is about 100 miles long this year, so one of the others might be easier. Therefore, don’t put all your eggs in the “American” basket. Good luck!

  11. Anne,

    I saw you mentioned that American’s waitlist is “100 miles long this year” – I’m on the waitlist and have already sent in a LOCI, but I wanted to know, based on your experience, if you believe the waitlist will be opening up? What do you think the chances are of anyone getting off the waitlist? Do you know when they typically will start to make decisions? Any knowledge you can share would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you so much!

    1. Ashley, it’s impossible to predict what any one school will do from year to year with their waitlists but American’s feels pretty hefty… All I can say for advice is this: Better to be proactive and not get in than to wonder “what if I’d made more of an effort?”
      Good luck!

  12. Hi Ann,
    I am curious if you have any insight into the University of Houston’s waitlist this year? I know that they got about 20% more apps this year than last.

    1. Hi Joe,
      UH is a regional-based school so they won’t play games with their WL. They are just trying to see how many spots they have and how many people (and what kind of people – GPAs, LSATs, diversity, male v. female, etc.) they need to balance out the class (just like any other school really).
      My standard mantra on being on the WL is: If you do nothing, you won’t get it. If you campaign for it, at least you’ll know you did everything within your power to try.
      Good luck!
      Ann

  13. Ann, THANK YOU for your blog and book! I have relied heavily on both during my admissions cycle.

    I’ve been placed on Columbia’s Reserve/WL (1st choice), which I’ve heard is pretty substantial. Realistically, when does CLS make offers to the Reserve, if at all? I’m Asian, LSAT 25th percentile. I’m sending a strong LOCI and am visiting campus again (live very far from NYC). Given my numbers, what else should I add to my campaign?

    At this point, how often should I follow up with Admissions? I’ve heard once a month to several times a week. Lastly, would it help to mention other admissions/scholarship offers from other schools (T25, T50)? Thanks so much!

    1. Hopeful,
      I’m so glad the blog and book have been helpful. (If you’re so inclined, I love to collect more 5-star reviews on Amazon!)
      Once a month isn’t enough, and several times a week is psychotic. Try every 2-3 weeks – and remember it doesn’t have to be substantial letters each time. Demonstrating your sincere and absolute commitment is key.
      Visiting is good, LOCI is good, if they will accept additional LORs then you could consider that. Update transcripts if you have new grades.
      However, telling them about other admission offers and scholarships is USELESS> why would Columbia care that you’ve been admitted to T25, T50 schools?? Does that make you more desirable to Columbia??? It’s not relevant to Columbia. What are your ties to NY? How long will you stay on the WL? These are the essential facts to show since you are not nearby.
      Good luck with the wait list!

      1. Hi Anne!

        Thank you so much for offering such valuable information on the law school process. I have a few questions about how to manage my waitlists.

        I have miraculously been placed on Columbia’s Reserve/WL despite having extremely low stats (3.58/147). Perhaps it’s because I am an African American female? Although it was always out of reach, Columbia is my dream school and since I’ve been given a chance I want to do everything possible to enhance my chances of being admitted. In early February I was notified/placed on the Waitlist. Soon after, I submitted the Reserve Response Form, confirming my desire to remain on the Waitlist. In March I submitted a detailed letter of continued interest stating my strong desire to attend and absolute commitment. I also attached a strong letter of recommendation from a partner at my law firm. In early April Columbia thanked me for my continued interest in their school and stated that it was added to my file.

        At this point I am not certain what else I should do. As I was reading the other blog posts I noticed that some students reached out to law professors and even made campus visits. I live in California and this would be quite a trip, but I am more than willing to do so if it could better my chances. Should I send another, shorter letter of continued interest reiterating my strong desire to attend?

        I would be grateful for any input you could offer! Thank you!

        1. Hi- I want to warn you that the Columbia reserve/WL is a long list. Keep doing what you are doing, and what you are able to do in terms of visiting, and I hope it all works out. Remember that if it doesn’t, you can do well in law school wherever you attend and try to transfer to Columbia next year.

          1. Thank you! I’m set to visit the campus next week and will send another short LOCI before then.

  14. Ann, THANK YOU for your blog and book! Both have been a huge help during my admissions cycle.

    I’ve been placed on Columbia’s Reserve/WL (1st choice), which I’ve heard is pretty substantial. Realistically, when does CLS make offers to the Reserve, if at all? I’m Asian, LSAT 25th percentile. I’m sending a strong LOCI and am visiting campus again (live very far from NYC). Given my numbers, what else should I add to my campaign?

    At this point, how often should I follow up with Admissions? I’ve heard once a month to several times a week. Lastly, would it help to mention other admissions/scholarship offers from other schools (T25, T50)? Thanks so much!

  15. Ann,

    I know you hear it from everyone, but thank you so much for your advice! It’s so helpful.

    My question regarding waitlists is about the timeframe…

    I’ve been waitlisted at 7 schools that I would rather go to than the the 2 I’ve been accepted to (and put down seat deposits at). I feel like I can postpone my life to remain on the waitlists until the end of July. However, at some point, I will need to find an apartment, sign a lease, and move (etc.). My current plan is to do all of the above at the beginning of August in time for the start of class in mid/late August.

    My question is: do most schools call people off their waitlists in late August, days before classes? Or are you just as likely to get called off a waitlist in June/July?
    Is it pointless to remain on the waitlist if I can only stay on till August 1st.

    My biggest fear is that I will finalize at one school and then get the call off the waitlist at my dream school.

    Thanks for any advice!

    1. Sam! I can never hear it enough ; ) Thanks for taking the time to tell me.
      Some schools will pull from waitlists in June/July but if you’re willing, you can get a call on the first day of classes too… If at some point you can’t justify moving, then you know to take yourself off the WL. Of course, people may also just do extended stay or corporate hou