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

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.

376 thoughts on “How Law School Waitlists Work

  1. Seymore on said:

    Hi,

    I am an AA male and accepted to a T12 school and remain waitlisted at Chicago and Michigan. I am hoping/praying/fasting in order to get in UC. I have written a Why Chi on request and sent a mini-LOCI after the deposit deadline. I recently read something that they only accept 3% or so off the waitlist. Should I try to scrape some pennies and go visit next month and/or call mid-month next month? The waiting is killing me. I am ecstatic about the school I will be attending and the logistics wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if accepted later than preferred, but what can I do? I’m also scheduled for the July exam. #Thirsty for Windy Winters

  2. Christoph on said:

    Dear Ann,

    I was accepted at a law school last year and put down both seat deposits. But I decided to defer and was permitted to apply at other schools this year. I did so, and received scholarships at several schools. I’m also waitlisted at a fourth and have a few outstanding apps, including a school I’d really like to attend. While I’m trying to make up my mind, I’m also having some personal issues, so I asked for an extension on the date when I need to decide. Two gave me extensions into mid-June. But the original, which I am still seriously considering, refused, and I need to tell them tomorrow. If I tell them yes, and circumstances change for me, can I back out without repercussions that could affect my law career? As I mentioned, they have my deposit money already, and I would forfeit that if I don’t attend.

  3. Moody on said:

    Hey Ann, read the most recent edition of Law School Expert, enormous help! I got WL’d at Georgetown, I’ve been communicating with an alumni friend. When you say go to bat, what do you recommend?

    The alumni send an email on my behalf telling them that I’d be a great fit, or a formal LOR?

    Thank you.

  4. Hi Ann,

    Thanks for having such a helpful blog. I was recently waitlisted at Denver Law. It is my top choice for a ton of reasons… number 1 is that my S/O will be attending a graduate program in the Denver Area. If accepted off the waitlist, I would accept their offer without hesitation.., even without a scholarship. I am below their median LSAT and GPA, but I have good softs and I am a URM. I really want to attend Denver… What can I do to help? I am already writing a LOCI and I am visiting the campus. Does Denver take a decent amount of students off the waitlist?

  5. Hi Anne. Have you heard any info about the waitlist at Chicago Kent. It was a slight reach school for me and I was thrilled to be on the waitlist. What a dream it would be to get accepted. I completed my letter of interest and submitted a substantial third letter of recommendation. Is this a pipe dream given my scores are a tad under???

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