How Law School Waitlists Work
(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
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.