Podcast: No Admits to Six Admits (Law School Applicant Diaries #3)

In this episode, Mike speaks again with "Barb," an applicant this 2021-2022 cycle with a ~177 LSAT, a ~3.3 GPA, and ten years of work experience. The last time we spoke with Barb, which was in December, she had submitted most of her applications but hadn't yet heard back from any schools, and her anxiety was mounting. She now has six admits (in addition to one waitlist, one priority hold, and three denials), and we spend this podcast talking about her thought process for each of those schools, plus discussing and giving advice on next steps, including assessing whether to pursue the waitlist, navigating scholarship negotiation and seat deposit deadlines, and deciding where to attend.

You can listen and subscribe to Status Check with Spivey on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Google Podcasts.


Mike: Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, law school admissions, a little bit of everything. Today, we are rejoined with Barb. And I think this is going to be the most exciting of the three times we interview her, because last we spoke, she had applied to 15 schools, complete radio silence. Now, she has heard from all but four, with six admits — and we're going to get into that because two are from elite schools, but the other two are schools who gave her a tremendous amount of money — she has a waitlist, a priority hold, three rejections, and four schools she hasn't heard from. We slalom through all that second level process. How do you handle the schools you haven't heard from, how do you consider the priority hold and the waitlist, and how do you choose between substantial, almost free tuition to two schools versus nothing yet from two other schools? And how could you possibly get those two elite schools to give you money? Without further delay, let me hand it over to Barb.

Today, I am joined for the third time with Barb, an applicant. It’s March, and things have changed. So, let's talk about that change. Barb, you applied when?

Barb: Most of my applications were submitted the week of Thanksgiving, a few in early December, and then a few I didn't submit until early January.

Mike: And I think you applied to, based on our review of your results, 15 schools, is that right?

Barb: Yes, that's correct.

Mike: When did you hear from the first school, and what was it?

Barb: My first responses, I got two acceptances on the same day on December 30th. It was completely surprising. The fact that anyone was working on admissions decisions the week between Christmas and New Year’s really surprised me. And then to get two on the same day was very surprising. So, I had a very positive start to my cycle, for sure.

Mike: So, the delta between your first submission, was what date?

Barb: November 21st was my first application submission date. And actually, both acceptances I got on December 30th, those applications were submitted November 21st.

Mike: Interesting, small numbers of data, but that is interesting, the first two you submitted. Are you comfortable saying what those two schools are?

Barb: Yeah, absolutely. One was the University of Washington in Seattle and the other one was Ohio State University. So, both large public institutions.

Mike: Okay. Got it. What happened with you from November 21st when we first talked to you and December 29th? I am extraordinarily interested in your state of mind. We won't do this, but almost like on a week-by-week basis, did it get more anxious?

Barb: Oh, absolutely. I think you knew the answer to that question before you asked me. I really wasn't expecting to hear anything before Christmas, I was really trying to make my peace with that. That did turn out to be the case, but man, you start seeing spam calls from area codes where some of the schools are located. It's like a jump scare every time your phone rings. Every time you see if something hit your email inbox, even if I logically knew not to expect any results in that timeframe, knowing that and behaving that way are different things. So, it was definitely just a gradual increase in anxiety as time went on.

Mike: Is it fair to say that — we all have an intellectual side of our mind and the emotional side — as time went on the intellectual part sort of lessened, the emotional part sort of increased? Is that accurate?

Barb: Oh, for sure. For sure. That's exactly what has happened, and it's still happening, frankly.

Mike: Got it, interesting. Even with six admits now. So, you started reading, and I think you finished, it Unwinding Anxiety by Dr. Judson Brewer, correct?

Barb: Yes. So I'm so excited to hear the interview with him.

Mike: Wasn't that hilarious? You recommended him to us, and Anna and I were like, “Okay, we'll reach out to him.” I know who he is, there’s no way, I was like, “There's like a 1% chance he has time for us.” But he has time for us.

Barb: I think that makes me an influencer, right?

Mike: Yes. You're an influencer.

Barb: I should update my resume and send it to all the schools. So, they have my most recent resume. I'm now an influencer. So –

Mike: Well, it's also an allegory for shooting your shot, as you all say in admissions.

Barb: Absolutely.

Mike: We don't care if Brewer says no to us, we just move on to Matthew McConaughey or whoever.

Barb: I looked at it that way too. You know, I did well in the LSAT, better than I had expected to do. And it felt like I could buy a lottery ticket if that makes sense. So, I did apply to Yale and Harvard. Got rejected by both in the same day, actually, which was pretty funny. But again, like I said, to me it felt like buying a lottery ticket. You know, I knew my odds of getting in were incredibly small, but they weren't zero. If I hadn't applied, it would've been zero. That was how I looked at it.

Mike: Do you follow their podcast?

Barb: Which podcast?

Mike: The one that Yale and Harvard did.

Barb: Yeah, I do.

Mike: Has it been helpful for you?

Barb: Yeah. I will say, once I started submitting applications, I really had to like taper off on how much admissions content I was absorbing to not try to go back and re-analyze, you know, kind of dig up things I wish I had done better. At that point it was done. So, I haven't listened to it in a little bit, but when I was actively working on my applications, I found it incredibly helpful. And even though I'm not going to either of their schools, I'm still grateful to have heard the perspective from inside the admissions department. I found that really valuable.

Mike: Exactly. If I was going to plug another podcast — I'm not sure if I've listened to any of theirs, I know I've received notes on some of theirs — but that would be the one I would plug, because it's two people who do admissions.

Okay. So, let's move on. December 30th, what happens with your level of anxiety, does it drop off the charts, or does it drop off the charts for a day and then it just spikes right back up?

Barb: You know, it's hard. My job was very crazy that couple of weeks. So, I was fairly distracted by other things, but it was a great first day. I really think my anxiety dropped for maybe a week or so. Because again, I knew, oh New Year’s, you know, it’ll take everybody a bit to get back into the office. And then I think it was really that second week in January where I kind of started looking at the calendar going, “Okay, where is everybody else?”

Mike: Right.

Barb: “Let's get the show on the road.”

Mike: You have these expectations now that you're going to get more admits, right. And usually for the vast majority of applicants, the first decisions are admits, because of the way schools sort applications.

Barb: Oh really?

Mike: Yeah, you're a very strong applicant for Washington and Ohio State. They don't read by date submitted. I mean maybe a few schools do. So, that's why almost everyone who gets admitted — it doesn't matter, you could have a 175/3.9 or 150/3.0 — the schools that are going to read you first are the schools you're strong for. Those decisions will usually be admits.

Barb: Yeah, it's interesting you bring that up, because one of the big things that was getting talked about a lot on the subreddit and on podcasts — you know, people are looking at data and they're going, “Well, you need to apply early, your odds are way better. You know, people who apply early get into more places.” I didn't submit a single application until November. In fact, the few applications I submitted in early January, I'll just go ahead and say, I submitted to Boston College on January 14th, I heard back on February 3rd with an acceptance. So, I think it's just a compelling argument that you need to submit your applications when they're at their most complete, at their highest quality level, when you feel like you've given it everything you could. And I'll be honest, I was really beating myself up in September and October for not being done. Just kind of the sense of, “I should be done by now. I should have submitted. All these people are submitting.” You know, “There goes that extra little bump I could have by submitting right when the cycle opens.” And maybe it can help, but it's not probably a deal breaker, if it's already a school that you're a good fit for.

Mike: The biggest myth in admissions used to be that schools average LSATs, LSAT scores. And then finally most people realized they really care about the high score. So, now the current biggest myth is you get a bump for applying early. To begin with, even early decision programs often don't give you a bump. They favor the house. It's like a Las Vegas casino, why would you have a table in there that didn't win more than it lost? So, what early decision programs do is, most often they favor the house. They lock in people with strong numbers.

Now, when you control for the fact that people who apply September, October, or November generally have better numbers, when you control for that variable, you don't see a bump in their applying. So, every year we're trying to double click on what you just said, apply when you have your best application, not by some arbitrary deadline because some LSAT test prep company says, “If you don't apply in September, don't apply at all.” I mean that's malpractice-like advice.

Barb: Yeah. Well, I mean, it's even the case on the subreddit, you know? And I refer to that a lot because that's how I got connected with you all. It's how you found me. I feel like it's the perspective I can offer on the podcast, is you'll see people posting, “Here's my stats. Here's what I'm interested in. Is it too late to apply?” “Is it too late for me to apply this cycle?” “Do I have a chance if I apply now?” And those posts started going up in like October, November. You would see people crowdsourcing this information, and there would be people that would respond — and again, you don't know who these people are, you don't know what their background experience, if they have any idea what they're talking about. Clearly, they didn't — saying, “Oh no, it's pretty late. You should just wait until next cycle.” Or, “Oh if you apply now, there's no chance.” That clearly wasn't the case.

Mike: I'm not alleging anything, this is hypothetical, but you could see one of those responders being an LSAT prep company. It's to their favor for you to keep taking the LSAT, taking more money.

Barb: Well, that's what I was thinking too. It's like on the sub, you know, we're all competing for — unfortunately, it's a bit of a zero-sum game. You know, a spot that someone else gets is a spot you can't have. Who's to say someone isn't just rampaging all over the board telling people not to apply, because they think it's going to increase their chances at their school of choice? I don't know how that misinformation got out there, but hopefully that stops.

Mike: Yeah, we're working on it. I feel like when I say it in September no one listens, because there are just other things are on people's mind.

Barb: I can say from my perspective, if I had applied in September, I think my anxiety would've gone through the roof. I wasn't ready to submit in September. And I think if I had had that time — and it has been a slow cycle, exactly like you said it was going to be — it would've been three months of sitting around just thinking about my applications. I would've been rehashing everything, wishing I'd done things differently. Waiting until I had no regrets or nothing to change about my applications was the best decision I could have made for myself.

Mike: If you don't take one of these schools up on your offer — Let's go to the happiest of news: yesterday you were admitted, I don't know if this was happiest, yesterday you were admitted to Penn.

Barb: Certainly the most surprising, given my GPA, that they were interested in my application, that was a shock. They call you too, so you get a phone call.

Mike: Was it Renee Post who called you?

Barb: I'm going to be honest with you, Mike. Once the woman said she was calling from the Penn admissions department, I kind of blacked out, and I did not retain the person's name one bit. So, I apologize to that person if they're listening to the podcast, I didn't retain a single detail about who they are.

Mike: They're very used to that. That's actually pretty common. Karen Buttenbaum, a partner of mine in my firm, she used to be the Director of Admission at Harvard, and she called and admitted someone and that there was a pause. And then the person said, “Mooom!”

Barb: Yeah, I was actually sitting in my office at work, and I shared it with another person. He overheard the call and then I hung up and explained the situation, why I was behaving so strangely. So, yeah, I can imagine they've all got great stories to tell from having the opportunity to give people that information.

Mike: I could just do a podcast on those stories.

So, you have six admits, three denials. You all call them rejections; you're a little hard on yourselves. One priority hold, and four you haven't heard back from. What would you like to talk about? We could talk about how to decide where to go. We could talk about how to move past the rejections. I think you're fine with that. We could talk about the priority hold first or the unheard-of ones.

Barb: I would like to talk about the priority hold first. Not necessarily because it's a school that's one I put like right at the top of my list, but I've been reaching out and connecting with alums from various schools, networking, and I've mentioned this priority hold, and people are saying, “I don't know what that is. I have never heard of that before.” And I feel like I'm seeing it online a little bit too. It seems to be some kind of new category of applicant status, and no one really seems to know what to make of it.

Mike: Do you want to guess, or do you want me to just tell you?

Barb: I'm done guessing, just tell me.

Mike: Yeah. So, you know last year a lot of schools were fooled by the data, not their fault for multiple reasons. So, understandably, schools are going slower. So all a priority hold means is — well, this is my estimate, I'm not going to say this as an absolute because I hate absolutes —but with a high degree of confidence, all a priority hold means is, “We want to admit you, but we have a large applicant pool, and we were fooled last year, and we also think maybe you might say no to us, which hurts us at the very tiniest of margins on selectivity. So, we want to hear back from you.” I suspect if you sent them a well-worded letter of continued interest, they would admit you.

Barb: Yeah. The email was kind of baffling too. It felt a bit apologetic, but it was also saying they were very excited about me. It was sort of, it was hard to parse, frankly.

Mike: To me that sounds like yield protect. “We don't know what this person's going to do. Let's not turn them away. So, let's be apologetic, but let's gauge their interest level.” This strikes me very much as sort of like, “Well, we'd be interested in her, but we first want to make sure she's interested in us.”

Barb: Yeah. So, what is your perspective on scholarship funds being available to somebody on that list?

Mike: On the priority hold, there's probably a lot of money available for you, if they make a decision that you're very interested in them. Which is different from the school you're waitlisted at, where I would say you shouldn't expect much scholarship money from.

Barb: Okay. That was kind of my impression too. So, it's nice to hear that from you.

Mike: What are you going to do about the waitlist school?

Barb: Again, I'll speak freely, it's Michigan. And if you look at the numbers online — again, assuming a certain percentage of people are lying — still, they have waitlisted enough to fill their first-year class like two times over. So, I don't feel that it's worth my mental and emotional energy, given that I have acceptances to other places. Now, did I very much want to attend Michigan? Yes. If I'd gotten in, gotten a straight acceptance, would have been incredibly excited. But I have other options, so I have decided to put my energy there rather than working the waitlist.

Mike: That's fair. It's not dissimilar, Barb, to thinking about retaking the LSAT. Do you want to emotionally invest in another test? Do you have the resources and time? It's a little different because we very much tilt towards trying to tell people, unless this thing's going to psychologically damage you, retake it if you think you can be better. Here, I wouldn't be nearly this pushy, other than I also think if this is a school you adore, sending a letter of continued interest is worth the 30 minutes it would take to do it. That's just my thought; it's not what you should or shouldn't do.

Barb: No, that's interesting. What do you think is the appropriate amount of letters of continuing interest to send to a school?

Mike: I mean, there's formal and informal. So I think it’s okay to send one to two formal — so you attach it as a PDF, “Dear Dean Zearfoss and the Office of Admissions” or the admissions committee. Let me let you in on a little secret, there are very few admissions committees. We don't get together at these like beautiful long tables with beautiful chairs and coffee platters and talk about applicants. So, admissions committee is kind of a misnomer in admissions. But if you did one to two formal ones, I think it’s okay to ping a school, if you have a good reason, once every month and a half.

But this is what I mean by “good reason” — most of the time, applicants reach out to schools throughout the summer to alleviate their anxiety, their uncertainty. And there's no value adding that for the school. So what you have to do as an applicant is be very introspective. Is the information I'm providing them, “Hey, I wanted you to know I have six admits now, but you're still at the top of my list”? That's valuable to them. They might not believe you, because they hear that every year and then people don't go to their school after they admit them. But if you reach out and just say, “Hey, I'm still interested and I haven't heard from you,” all you're really doing is like dating or whatever — yeah, I hate dating analogies. I very rarely use them. They used to creep me out when I was in law school administration and other deans would use them — but it's no different. Are you providing valuable information or are you just wanting the person to show you love back? And if it's in second category, don't fire that cannonball. Hold on to it.

Barb: That makes sense. Part of the thinking around my one waitlist and the hold is, money is a big factor for me. I have a spouse with their own job and career, and relocating is a big decision. You know I already work for the government, have worked for the government, and I envision myself continuing down that path. So, I was on an admissions event for a school — I won't name them. The tuition is high, the cost is high, but they're an extremely prestigious institution, and a lot of people feel that the debt is worth it. And the admission staffer was talking about that and talking about their job outcome statistics and saying that she felt that the amount of people pursuing public interest, the amount of alums pursuing public interest, was higher than was reported, because she said a lot of people transition to public interest further along in their career. And then this is what she said that blew my mind. She said, “A lot of our grads go spend 5, 7, 10 years working at a law firm to pay off their loans.” And she said that as if that was no big deal. “And then they go do what they actually want to do.” And that was what she said.

Mike: I'm kind of blown away because — was this an admissions person or a career service person talking to you?

Barb: Admissions.

Mike: On the one hand, kudos off the face of the earth to that person for being so candid, because that's very true. People who want to do public interest, and people who write these beautiful personal statements about wanting to change this part of society, very often have to spend 5 to 10 years in big law paying off their debt before they can do that. So, again, let me just pay props to whoever said that, but that's not like a great admission sales pitch.

Barb: It's really not. It was more the way it was being talked about. It felt like they were kind of normalizing, like, yes, you're going to spend an enormous amount of money to go here. And then in about 10 years, you'll be able to do what you actually want to do. And I'm older, I'm in my 30s. I don't want to lose 10 years not doing what I feel reasonably certain I want to be doing once I graduate. So, it's just not a viable option for me. And that's why, as I look at my acceptances so far, they're kind of separating out into what I think is going to make financial sense. So, we talked about my admit to Penn. I've also been admitted to Georgetown, which is incredibly exciting. Both of those schools would be incredible.

Mike: Right. You're used to DC!

Barb: Yeah, I've lived there before. I have family in Pennsylvania. There'd be huge advantages to being in Philadelphia as well. But boy, when you look at their cost of attendance, those are some big numbers. Those are some really big numbers. And then when you look at the cost of an OSU, University of Washington, those are very different sets of numbers. And this is something — I would really like your perspective on this. In addition to slow admissions decisions, the merit aid, the scholarship information has been incredibly slow. So, out of the six admits I've received ,only two have gotten back to me with merit aid. And what I'm worried about, one of the schools, one of my really viable options, their first seat deposit deadline is April 1st. It's one of the smaller ones, I think it's either $250 or $500. It's not nothing.

Mike: Look, I left $60 in the stupid cash machine at the grocery store like four months ago, I still beat myself up for that. You can say to that school a few days before the deposit deadline, “I've heard from other schools about merit aid, but I've yet to hear in respect to my desire to attend your school. Is there any way you can move the seat deposit back to when I would have a merit aid offer?” Some will, some won't. If you say it politely, they're not going to hold it against you. They hear that 600 times a year.

Barb: Okay. That's good to know because as you know, we're getting into March, some of these deadlines are coming up really quickly. And particularly Penn and Georgetown, where merit aid is essentially going to be the make or break for me whether or not these become viable offers. Georgetown has just started considering merit aid. They said that in a Zoom info session earlier in the week. And again, I'm not judging anyone for this. I know we are in unprecedented times, everything is moving on a different set of dates and schedules than it ever has before. I want to make it clear, I'm not angry, I'm not mad. I'm not upset with anyone. It's — I just feel like it's going to change the timeline of being able to make decisions, and the seat deposit deadlines don't reflect this new reality. So I'm starting to think about how I'm going to deal with that when those deadlines get closer.

Mike: Right. Well, there's a couple positives here. The first thing is, you can get angry or mad, that's why we gave you a fake name. Were you the one that says you're surprised I can always get your fake name right or is that the other person?

Barb: Yeah, I have been surprised by how easily you remember!

Mike: Number two, you could see more schools being more pressured to extend seat deposit deadlines, because of the slow pace and the discrepancy between aid and admit.

And number three, the slower money goes out — yeah, that's bad, but it also means, undeniably, that means there's more money that's still available, that will go out. So, you can think about it in those terms. These schools have money, they're given money every year. Penn is given money. Georgetown is given money. So, if they haven't given much out yet, that just means there's a larger chunk that's coming. I'm not saying I know it's coming to you, I have no idea. But at the macro level, that's a larger portion of money that's going to be going out to people in March, April.

Barb: I’ve tried to remind myself too, that that means by the time they're getting around to making these merit aid decisions, there will be people that have already withdrawn applications or decided they're going elsewhere, that there might be fewer people to potentially spread the merit aid around. So, that's something I have said to try and make myself feel better. I don’t know if that's true or not. But I am trying to look on the positive side.

Mike: The last podcast we do is, we'll shake out what happened with aid, but certainly you can extend deadlines. Certainly you can tell schools that you've heard from other schools about merit aid and that's been helpful. And it's hard to make an apples-to-apples decision, which is an incredibly important decision that really hinges in part on your ability to afford your legal education. So, certainly, you can signal that to all the schools. What they're probably going to do is they're going to say, “Can you show us the scholarship letters from the other schools?” That's sort of pro forma of what schools do these days.

Barb: Yeah. That's what it sounds like too, from what I've heard. And it's interesting because the offers I've received are very similar. So, there's not really a difference in terms of saying, “Look at what I have here.” Because the two I have heard back from so far were nearly identical.

Mike: So, you've been admitted to Georgetown, Penn, Washington, Ohio State, what are the other two?

Barb: Boston College in UC Boulder. I also have family in Colorado, so that was another reason that was in there.

Mike: Which two schools have you heard from [about merit aid]?

Barb: OSU and Colorado.

Mike: Okay. I was going to guess Washington and Colorado. You're probably going to hear more soon. It's unlikely that they're going to be similar in numbers, just FYI.

Barb: Yeah. A lot of the schools gave vague timelines. You know, “We hope to have this out by late February.” University of Washington flat out said, “March 15th, don't expect anything before then,” which frankly I appreciated. Colorado was very quick, very very quick. So quick it surprised me actually. So, it's been a little all over the place. These are good problems to have.

Mike: You have a lot of good problems. You have Georgetown and Penn as a problem. You have scholarship money at Colorado and Ohio State as a problem. Those are good problems, Barb.

Barb: You are correct. You're correct. They are.

Mike: Is there any other questions you have for me, as far as the unheard-from schools?

Barb: What is happening at Northwestern? They are one of the schools that I haven't heard from. It seems like they are even slower than people would've predicted. Do you think that's the case or is that just the opinion of the subreddit?

Mike: No, I think it's the case, and I know for a fact they have a new dean. And they have a new dean that came froma school that had good admissions results last cycle, by going slowly. So, to me, one plus one makes two. Last cycle, the schools that went slowly almost all were the schools that won the cycle.

Barb: Interesting. I didn't realize the background of the new dean.

Mike: That would be my best guess. I don't know this for a fact, but again, I can take that portion of it. Her school last year did well, and they went slowly in admissions. And then until she goes to a new school, what's the first thing she's probably going to say to admissions?

Barb: Slow it down.

Mike: Right. Northwestern has two people that have been there in admissions for a long time. A guy named Don Rebstock whose name you probably haven't heard. He is the sort of associate dean of strategy, and I believe admissions likely reports to that person. And then a guy named Johann Lee, a guy whose name you probably have heard, who's been there for a long time. So, they have two people who have been there for a long time, so they’ve probably built up a lot of political capital. If they really wanted to start hurrying things up, I bet you they'll be able to do it. I would imagine Northwestern is going to pick up the pace pretty soon.

Barb: Yeah, it's interesting because, before I started applying, conventional wisdom — for whatever that's worth — had said someone like me would be a compelling candidate there. A splitter, older, work experience, you know, the internet thinks I am a attractive candidate to them. So it's been interesting that it's been so quiet on that front.

Mike: New deans bring new directives. And I still suspect you're going to hear from Northwestern within the next, I would say this month.

Barb: Because you say they're running out of time.

Mike: Right, exactly. I bet you we see on Reddit — there's no telling when the day, but soon — of this wave of Northwestern decisions.

I'll end my portion on this note then. I try to respond when people tag me or send me messages. I don't respond to chats, it's just too much chat requests. But to the extent that I can respond, I do. In some weeks I have more time, and I do. And then some weeks I'm working round the clock and I'm not able to respond. So, for everyone on Reddit who tagged me and I don't respond, because someone actually asked me, it doesn't mean you said anything wrong. It just means I happen to be busy at that moment.

Barb: That's fair.

Mike: Any final thoughts from you, Barb?

Barb: No. If anyone out there is listening with some large pot of money they don’t know what to do with, get in touch. Other than that, I think just gotta wait and make some decisions soon.

Mike: I don't want to flatter myself to think that many admissions deans are listening to this podcast, but maybe. I'm pretty sure they could figure out who you are with the data they have versus the data you've given. So, maybe you'll see some money coming your way. Thanks for your time.

Barb: Very happy to do it.

Mike: Thanks for the Dr. Brewer recommendation. He's next, so hit subscribe. That book was wonderful, right, Unwinding Anxiety?

Barb: So good. So good.

Mike: I'm going to pick that guy's huge Princeton, Brown brain, about how to unwind anxiety.

Barb: I can't wait to hear an Ivy League educated person talk about all the anxiety they had attending Ivy League school. So, it's going to be good. I’m excited.

Mike: I will ask him which school of all those schools gave him the most anxiety.

Barb: Oh yeah.

Mike: Thanks again, Barb.

Barb: Thank you!