Mistake #4: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

There is nothing more difficult in the admissions process than being wait-listed. For fifteen years I have helped students who have been admitted, wait-listed and denied, and they nearly universally express that the denial was easier than languishing on a wait-list for a drawn-out period. The irony is that just about every applicant is wait-listed somewhere, because just about every applicant is a splitter at a school to which they applied. The fact that just about every applicant has been wait-listed somewhere creates two interesting facts:

  1. There are a good deal of people on the wait-list at just about every law school.

  2. A large number of people are admitted off the wait-list at almost every law school almost every year.

Let’s look at each.

Law schools wait-list larger portions of their applicant pool than most prospective students realize. I have heard up to 50% at some schools. That’s right, if the school gets 5,000 applicants and admits 500 initially, they are wait-listing another 2,500. Only 2,000 of the 5,000 applicants are flat-out denied. This math is not so rare — many law schools use proportions like this. Of course, this is not great news if you are wait-listed and you are, like most applicants, not aware of these numbers. When you are on the wait-list, you are in a large pool. Not good…

That said, a number (that again) most prospective students are not aware of is that often up to 50% of the entering class was initially wait-listed. Think about that on your first day  at “Princeton Law School” after being admitted off of the wait list, as you look around thinking you do not fit in (a phenomena I have probably seen a thousand or more times). Half of the class is thinking the exact same thing!

So the backdrop to the wait-list strategy is that it is highly likely you are part of a large pool, and it is equally likely that a good deal of people are coming out of this pool and in to law school. What is the single most important thing that will get you admitted off of the wait-list? Unfortunately, it is something entirely out of your control, as it relates to the needs of the law school. They will run weekly or daily reports on their class statistics, namely (and in rank order): LSAT, uGPA, URM, Male/Female ratio, Geographic Diversity, Work Experience, etc. This is like Maslow’s Hiearchy of Needs, but it is The Admissions Hierarchy of Needs, i.e., if LSAT checks out, then uGPA is up next; if uGPA is okay, then next is URM, etc etc. Certainly if the school needs uGPA (not until the very very end will LSAT and uGPA be “ok” for all but maybe one school) and also female and also geographic diversity AND you have all of that, BINGO hello admit. But the needs of the law school and how you fit in these needs are beyond your control.

What you can control is the next most important thing. Does the school think you will matriculate if admitted. This is supremely important. This is why in 99% of cases when people on sites like Top-Law-Schools.com ask “should I send in my LOCI now or wait,” my reply is, “NOW NOW NOW.” It is why, if you can, visit as many law schools at which you are wait-listed as possible. It is a fine needle to thread, but you want to be* professionally persistent without being a pest* (copyright, Spivey Consulting).

Are there strategies to find out what a law school’s particular needs are at any given point? Of course, and they are pretty easy to employ. Are there strategies to CREATE YOUR OWN NEED IN THE EYES OF THE SCHOOL. Heck yes. There are a tremendous array of exercises in proactivity that you can do to turn your wait-list into an admit. It is one of the things I get hired for the most and it is perhaps the most enjoyable thing I do.