Guide to surviving waitlists

By Jessica Tomer

Get answers to your burning questions about being waitlisted from a law school, plus advice for improving your chances and a sample letter of continued interest.

Being waitlisted is tough.

You worked hard to find law schools that fit you, put tons of time and effort into your application, and then you get the waitlist decision…which isn’t really a decision at all.

But even though it’s disappointing, being waitlisted is not a rejection—there’s still a chance you could be admitted. Of course, there are no guarantees, but there are steps you can take to improve your chances.

We hope these questions, answers, and tips help.

What can I do to improve my odds of getting off the waitlist?

At the end of the day, you want to make sure the law school knows you would definitely accept if admitted, while reminding them how great you are. You can do this in several ways:

- Follow the school’s instructions to the letter. For example, some law schools will require waitlisted students to respond with an additional essay or other information. Your waitlist notification will likely describe the process, but if you’re unclear about your next steps, ask your admissions representative.

- Send a letter of continued interest (LOCI). This letter is your chance to let the law school know you’ll definitely attend if admitted and remind them of the specific reasons why you’re a strong fit for their institution. It’s also meant to update the admissions committee on anything new related to your candidacy, like an improved GPA or LSAT score. You’ll find a sample letter of continued interest and more detailed advice at the end of this article.

- Be persistent but not pushy. If you don’t hear anything from admissions, checking in every three to four weeks via email is sufficient. Anything more than that is overkill and can potentially hurt your chances if you appear aggressive.

- Submit a new letter of recommendation. Try to get a letter from someone who can add something new to your law school application. Who can offer a unique—and maybe even unexpected—perspective on who you are and why you belong in law school?

- Retake the LSAT—but only if you’re confident that you can improve your score.  Don’t just retake the test hoping to do better; make sure you have time to adequately prepare and study strategically.

- Maintain relationships with the admissions office. Genuine, personal interactions with admissions can help them remember you. Don’t try to butter them up. Just be yourself.

- Send a short hand-written thank-you note to the admissions folks you worked with. It may not be a game-changer, but this small gesture can set you apart. And it’s always appreciated.

- Consult your network. From the pre-law advisors at your undergraduate college (even after you’ve graduated!) to lawyers in your family to friends already in law school, ask them about their admission experience and explain your waitlist situation. They may have helpful insights to share.

- Keep working hard if you’re still in school. You’ll need to send your final transcript to your law schools, and you want it to be even better than when you first applied. 

- Have the right attitude. Be patient, polite, and positive in all of your interactions with the school. A positive attitude can work wonders for your own state of mind too. Remember: “It's not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters.” ―Epictetus (Greek Stoic philosopher)

Perhaps just as important, here are some things can hurt your chances of getting off the waitlist:

 - Being rude, confrontational, entitled, demanding, etc.

- Constant contact (Again, checking in every three to four weeks is enough.)

- Sharing a sob story

- Pitting schools against each other

- Stuffing your résumé

- Exaggerating or outright lying (Admissions folks find out, trust us.) 

- Doing nothing at all

Why was I waitlisted?

Getting into law school is competitive, so don’t despair if you find yourself on a waitlist. It means you’re qualified to attend the school, but, unfortunately, the applicant pool that particular year edged you out just enough. It’s certainly not a reflection of your worth as a person or even necessarily your ability to succeed in law school; it’s all a matter of how you compare to other applicants, and you never know who you’re up against.

Law school admission committees make their decisions based on myriad things, and every class is painstakingly assembled so there’s a balance of diverse interests, strengths, and backgrounds. Academic credentials are almost always the most important factor, so your stats might’ve put you just below what the school was looking for. If your GPA and/or LSAT aren’t where you hoped they’d be, and you didn’t discuss them in your original application, you may want to send in an addendum explaining why your stats suffered and what you did/are doing to improve.

How does the waitlist work, and how many students are admitted?

It can be heartening to know that law schools often admit some students from the waitlist. However, it varies a lot from school to school and even year to year. One year a school might admit a significant number from the waitlist while the next year it only takes a few.

However, don’t ask where you are on the waitlist. It puts admissions folks on the spot, and it’s usually not a simple list anyway, where whoever’s “next” automatically gets in. (This is law school, not a deli counter.) Rather, waitlists are in constant flux as schools hear back from admitted students, and the admissions committee will continue evaluating waitlisted students accordingly.

When will I get a waitlist decision?

Every law school is different, so the timeline for admitting waitlisted students will vary. It might be as early as May or as late as August.

If you are no longer interested in being on the waitlist at a particular school, you should let them know ASAP, so they can offer your spot to someone else.

If you’re waitlisted at a school you really want to go to, you may decide it’s worth hanging on until the bitter end. But it’s important to make alternative plans in the meantime, just in case.

How will being waitlisted affect my financial aid?

The good news: Your federal financial aid will not change, no matter what law school you go to or if you were waitlisted. Third-party scholarships likely won’t be affected either, unless they’re tied to you attending a particular school.

The bad news: Your institutional financial aid—aka money you would get from the school, including scholarships—will likely be less as a waitlisted student. You can certainly apply for student loans to cover the additional costs. But it’s also important to weigh the benefits of taking on additional student debt—especially if you got more financial aid from a school that admitted you outright.

No matter what happens, it’s important to file your federal and institutional financial aid paperwork on time, so you’re prepared for whatever admissions decisions you receive and wherever you choose to go. Not doing so could mean missing out on financial aid.

Should I reapply next year?

If you’re not admitted off the waitlist, you could decide to postpone entering law school and apply for a future admissions cycle. Your law school applications might even benefit from taking a couple years off, since you’ll accrue valuable life experiences and perspectives.You may be able to increase the likelihood of admission on reapplication by improving your LSAT score (especially if you only took the exam once) or by showing new or additional work experience, graduate work, or other law-related activity.

The toughest question of all

Why is it so important to go to the law school that waitlisted you? Especially when it comes to the merit aid you may be giving up at a school that admitted you outright, you need to consider if going to a waitlist school would be worth it.

It’s important to remember that law school (just like undergrad) is what you make of it, and you can get the education and experience you need to have a successful career as a lawyer at many different institutions. Who knows, your “backup” plan might end up becoming your dream school after all!

Letter of continued interest example and tips

This sample letter of continued interest (LOCI) is inspired by several real-world examples (changed to protect students’ anonymity) from waitlisted students who were ultimately admitted to New England Law | Boston.

Dear John Doe, Director of Admissions [1]:

I am writing to reiterate my continued and sincere interest in attending New England Law | Boston in the fall of this year [2]. I wanted to begin by thanking you for reviewing my application and considering my candidacy for your law program. New England Law remains my top choice [3]. If removed from the waitlist and granted admission, I would accept without hesitation [4].  

Your school is the perfect fit for my legal interests and career aspirations. Your Intellectual Property Concentration is particularly interesting to me; it is a field I would love to explore through your clinical programs, and I would be thrilled to learn from the program’s director, Peter Karol. I would also eagerly join one of your student organizations related to those studies, the Entertainment and Sports Law Organization [5].

In addition to my interest in intellectual property, I believe I will bring a unique perspective to your law program. My current position as a marketing assistant has contributed to my interest in law, and I would bring relevant real-life experiences to my studies [6]. My interests distinctly align with what New England Law has to offer, and I believe that my work ethic and motivation will lead to success in your program.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to update my application [7].  Since submitting my application, I have retaken the LSAT, increasing my score by three points; in turn, I hope it increases my chances of attending New England Law. In addition, within the past two months, I have worked with three other students to start a pre-law society on our campus; we have already recruited 37 members, using channels such as social media and campus advertising.

I would be honored if granted admission into your program. Thank you again for your consideration [8].

Sincerely [9],

Annie Nonymous

Tips

1. Look up the person you should send the letter to, and address it to them. Make sure you get the spelling of their name and title right too.

2. Your letter of continued interest should be tailored to the school—do not send a generic letter.

3. If the school is your top choice, say so.

4. Be crystal clear in your intent to enroll in the school if offered a spot. 

5. Give specific reasons why the school is the right choice for you. It shows your genuine interest in attending, and it means you took the time to really get to know the institution and its offerings.

6. You should also talk about the unique strengths and passions you can bring to the school.

7. Note anything you’ve accomplished since applying, including a significantly improved LSAT score (three points or more) if you retook the test. Otherwise, use your best judgment in sharing relevant updates, such as a promotion at work or winning a scholarship.  

8. Never be anything less than polite, patient, and pleasant. Waitlist etiquette is important!

9. Be professional, straightforward, and succinct. Keep your letter to one page, single-spaced.

Finally, make sure to edit your letter. Careless mistakes can cost you!

Conclusion

We hope these waitlist answers and advice are helpful to you as you near the final stretch of your law school admissions journey.

Continue to work hard, be mature and thoughtful, don’t give up—and you’ll be successful no matter where you go.


Jessica Tomer is the Web Content Manager for New England Law | Boston. Founded in 1908 as the first and only law school for women, today New England Law is coeducational and known for its rigorous academics, welcoming community, flexible programs, and ample real-world experiential learning opportunities.


 

 

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