Waitlists and Retaking the LSAT

Hi all! In a previous podcast Mike Spivey talked about how the rest of this cycle might be slow, and more competitive at the top, and possibly elsewhere. This could especially be the case if a significant number of schools target LSAT median increases — and we can speculate some will almost certainly do so. Unfortunately that can mean more waitlists for strong applicants, and it’s the time of year when those start really rolling in.

The waitlist is a tough place to be. It’s better than being rejected, but usually it’s tough to tell where you stand. Consultant Joe Pollak tells his clients it’s “the most opaque part of the admissions process." Most schools waitlist a significant portion of their applicants; others only put a select few on it. Some rank their waitlist, others seem to draw from it almost at random. In the face of uncertainty many applicants feel like there’s nothing they can do. But there is!

Why Retake the LSAT and How Can It Help?

One of the best ways to better your chances of getting off the waitlist is to improve your LSAT. A Barbri survey of admissions deans showed that when deciding who to take off the waitlist 61% said that the impact of that applicants GPA and LSAT would most significantly impact their decision. This lines up with our experience working in admissions.  The very last thing an admissions officer wants is to hurt their medians when pulling from the waitlist.

For most of you, GPA isn’t going to change (but if you’re wrapping up your final semester, make sure you submit your final transcript!). What do you have the most control over? Your LSAT score. Unfortunately, improving it will mean dusting off those old study guides and signing up for another test.

Luckily for applicants, LSAC has significantly expanded their testing schedule. The two dates most relevant to anyone who wants a new LSAT score as a way of improving their waitlist chances are the March 30th and April 25th tests. Act quickly for March though- registration closes today!

Those are prime dates to get a new score in before 90% of the waitlist movement is done in mid/late summer. And per LSAC’s own data, re-takers tend to improve a couple points, which can be more than enough to get off the waitlist!

We actually got to see a bit of this strategy in action last cycle, which was the first time LSAC offered any testing dates between January/February and June. Limitations on the granularity of our data make it impossible for us to know exactly how many people who had already submitted retook the test, but we do know that at least a hundred did so and scored well enough to move into the 165+ band (unfortunately it’s impossible to estimate below that range). In fact, half the March 2019 takers had already taken an LSAT, well above the average retake proportion. This could be a sign of serious interest in a spring retake as a waitlist tool.

That’s rough news for anyone on the waitlist this year. Why? Well think about it. Every single one of those people is a potential competitor who has suddenly improved their attractiveness to an admissions office. Essentially, you’re standing still while your peers are making their application better. That could be even more prevalent this year, with an extra test on the schedule.

Is a Retake Right for You?

A retake isn’t always the right answer of course. First, if you strongly think you’ll score lower than your existing score, it’s probably not a good idea. Schools generally won’t “average” your scores, but a lower score when you’re on the waitlist isn’t a great look at a time you want to put your best foot forward. Don’t just assume you’ll do worse though. You’d be surprised how quickly the LSAT muscles come back. Give it a week or so of serious study before you make a determination as to how you might do on another test. April especially gives you plenty of time to prepare.

Second, if your LSAT score is already above a schools median- and especially if it’s above the 75th- there are diminishing returns for your chances. If you, an applicant with a 162, are waitlisted at a school with a 158 median, a 164 probably won’t be much more use than your original 162 was.

But for most applicants, those at or below the LSAT median at the school they’ve been waitlisted at, a retake can be the single biggest difference maker in whether or not you’re ultimately accepted.

Other Considerations

If you sign up for a new LSAT you might want to prepare for questions from schools that have previously admitted you, or that you’re waiting on decisions at. Any school which you’ve applied to will be able to see a pending LSAT registration. Our consultants suggest not calling their attention to your pending registration, but if asked be honest. You can explain that you want to maximize your chances for scholarships, or even tell them you want to be a more competitive waitlist candidate (they'll assume that's what you're doing anyways). As our consultant Nathan Neely says, "You have every right to put yourself in the best position possible."

Want reassurance? No ABA accredited school we know of will pull your acceptance because you signed up for another test. March’s LSAT could delay your admissions at schools where you haven’t received a decision yet, though as we’re getting later in the cycle this is less of a concern. This will vary from school to school and we suggest reviewing their specific policies or asking them if you have questions. April’s test will release results after deposit deadlines so it shouldn’t have any delaying effect on your decisions.

One other thing to keep in mind is financial aid. Even if an improved LSAT score doesn’t get you off the waitlist, it can be a strong negotiating chip to leverage additional scholarships at schools to which you’ve been admitted! Thinking of tens of thousands in scholarship dollars can be a great study motivator.

Final Thoughts

The LSAT sucks. Trust us, we know- the author took it 3 times. No one wants to have to go through it again, especially after you thought you were done. But it can be the difference maker that gets you off the waitlist. And wouldn’t that be worth it? Admissions officers want to admit you. Give them a reason to.

We also have some other collected waitlist wisdom here. We hope you find it useful.