2018-2019 Waitlist Movement and Advice, Mid-May Update

It's that time of year: waitlist movement time. Many first and second deposit deadlines have passed, and schools are starting the process of finalizing their entering 2019 classes. That's good news for thousands of nervous applicants who are sitting on waitlists anxiously hoping for news.

Those of you who were around in the 2017-2018 cycle remember it as a summer of disappointment. The dramatic 7.9% increase in LSAT applicants in that cycle overwhelmed many schools unprepared for such drastic volume changes. In particular, the absurd increase in high scoring applicants threw off the normal process of waitlist movement. In that cycle, applicants with a 170 or above were up by 22.2% over the prior year. Schools who had for years been forced to carefully manage their admissions so as to maintain medians (or at least control the decline) suddenly had their pick of incredibly well credentialed applicants.

This year things should be different. For one, application volume overall is fairly flat. As of today there is a 1.7% increase in total LSAT applicants, a 3.2% increase in total applicants, and a decline in total applications by 1.9%. Schools are less overwhelmed this year, and were better prepared to manage the volume of applications they received.

For another, high scoring applicants are down. Total applicants with an LSAT of 170+ are down by 6.6% year over year.

Generally WL movement occurs in a domino like fashion, schools at the very top take 'x' number of admits, which then means a percentage of those who have deposited at schools (most often) slightly below in the rankings then withdraw from where they are deposited and accept the WL admit. Therefore that cohort of schools will then turn to their WL, impacting the schools immediately below them and so on. All the way down the list of schools. It is a true wave.  

We've already seen this process begin. Harvard Law School has started pulling applicants off its waitlist. We anticipate that this will launch a domino effect down the line. There should be another T6 that also admits their own batch soon as well.

There are some caveats. While high scorers are down they remain at high levels; 16.4% above 2016-2017 cycle levels. Additionally, a number of law schools overenrolled last year and deferred many admitted students into the Fall 2019 starting class. At those schools it is less likely there will be large waitlist movement. And compared to last year, any waitlist movement at all is an improvement. Nonetheless we anticipate this year will see better waitlist movement than in 2017-2018.

What can you do to better your chances of getting off the waitlist? Well according to a Barbri study, for 61.33% of law school admissions deans the most important factor when considering whether to pull someone off the waitlist is the impact of that applicant's LSAT and uGPA.

What's that mean? It means numbers matter. You can improve your odds by improving your numbers. For most folks it's too late to boost the uGPA, but many applicants may be re-taking the LSAT in June in hopes of getting a better score and becoming more appealing. Last year 6,972 applicants did exactly that. As we discuss here, retaking is absolutely a viable strategy.

If you're planning to retake, it's best to let the schools you are waitlisted at know you plan to retake. They may even have helpful information for you on that process.  You should also be aware the school you have committed to will be able to see you are registered for the LSAT, and will almost certainly ask you about it. Fortunately, per LSAC rules of good conduct (since put behind an access wall but still in effect), a school cannot drop you from its entering class for retaking the LSAT for the purpose of getting off the waitlist at another institution. As we say in this blog

Still want some reassurance? In over 100 years of experience working in law school admissions, no one at Spivey Consulting has ever seen a single instance of an offer being rescinded simply and for the sole reason of retaking the LSAT. If a school asks why you're retaking, be honest and tell them! A polite, honest response won't be held against you.

As the June registration deadline is passed, if you want to retake the LSAT to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist your only remaining option is July. Registration for July closes on June 4th. You should also be aware that the July test will be 50% traditional paper, 50% digitally administered. Additionally, the release date for July test scores has not yet been published by LSAC, likely due to the need for caution with the digital transition. It's possible July scores will not come out until second week of August, which is very late. Before signing up for July and spending $200, reach out to schools you are waitlisted at to ask if they'll consider a July score.

There are plenty of other things you can do to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist. Again, per the Barbri study nearly 40% are being pulled for reasons beyond LSAT or uGPA. While we unfortunately can't provide specific advice to everyone, we do have a collection of blog posts with advice that you can find here. Our best general advice? Talk to the schools. Stay in touch with schools. Stay upbeat and positive when you talk to them! Ask them how often they'd like you to stay in touch, and what information is most useful for them in evaluating you while on the waitlist. Be polite and be patient and you may be rewarded.  And good luck to everyone out there!

Written by Justin Kane and Mike Spivey