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No one has ever said that the law school admissions process was fun. What can make it even worse is finding out one or several of your top law school choices have decided to place you on the waitlist. For many students, placing on the waitlist can be difficult to navigate. I mean, being put on the waitlist means that they don’t like you, right? WRONG.
As a law school admissions representative, I guide students through this process on a regular basis. To them, it’s as cold as being outright rejected, but as confusing as an advanced physics problem. Rest assured, however, the waitlist is not your enemy. Then why do law schools have it, you ask? There are typically two reasons.
The first reason comes down to credentials. Students who land on the waitlist typically have strong credentials, but are competing for a seat that is traditionally reserved for students with slightly better credentials. This is not meant to suggest students on the waitlist are less qualified or capable; however, law schools, like students, must consider their options when building their strongest law school class.
This leads me to the second reason law schools have waitlists—to fill its incoming class. Law schools are aware that not every student it admits will matriculate. In fact, law schools would not survive if that happened because they would be overextended. By continuously running projections, law schools know how many students to admit, roughly how many students will accept those offers of admission, and how many students can be put on and/or taken off of the waitlist to build the best incoming class. These projections are not always perfect, but tend to be the best way a law school can ensure a full class for the fall.
For the sake of being thorough, I will also point out that the waitlist is used to help build the strongest, most well-rounded class that a law school can. Law schools do not want classrooms filled with cookie cutter students with the same undergraduate degree from the same university with the same backstory. Having a balanced class ensures that students are receiving the best education the law school can provide. For example, at Michigan State University College of Law (“MSU Law”), we pride ourselves on our national and international name appeal. If our law school only admitted Michigan residents, we would not be able to maintain this reputation. In this situation, the waitlist can be helpful if we find our incoming class lacks geographic diversity.
Now that we have identified several of the reasons behind the waitlist, I want to discuss with you several ways to get yourself off of the waitlist.
Letters of Continued Interest: When placed on the waitlist, a law school will typically provide you with steps that you can take to notify them of your continued interest in its program. The most common way to let a law school know you’re still interested is by sending in a letter of continued interest. In it, students should discuss why they remain interested in earning a seat to that particular program and perhaps, also, why they feel they would be a good fit in this program. Keep this letter at an appropriate length. There is no need to send a five page essay when you can easily articulate yourself in one.
Supplemental Material: This category is really a catch-all for students. Supplemental material should really be used to show the admissions committee that you have made or experienced academic and/or professional growth and development since you originally applied. A few ways of doing this includes sending in an updated resume, transcript, or even new LSAT score. At MSU Law, we even ask students for a supplemental phone or video interview. However, be reasonable and use your best judgment. Not everything may be as impactful as you think it is.
Letters of Recommendation (“LOR”): This is a helpful way of supplementing your application that tends to be underutilized. LOR are a great way for admissions committees to get to know the applicant from a third party perspective. When seeking additional LOR, consider your audience and think about what is important for an admissions committee to know about you that they may not have gathered from your original application. Be aware of guidelines set by law schools before sending in additional LOR, however. Some law schools may have restrictions on how many they will accept regardless of your admissions status.
Visiting the Law School or Connecting with an Admissions Coordinator: When in doubt, reach out. If you are having questions or want to express your interest in a program, most law school admissions offices want to hear from you. Have a purpose for the contact you are making. Do not visit the law school or call in with the intent of selling yourself to the admissions counselor. More often than not, they do not have anything to do with the actual admissions decision process. Remember, your goal is not to overwhelm the admissions office. Instead, it should be to gain more information about the program and to provide deeper insight into who you are as a candidate.
Transferring Law Schools or Taking Time Off: These two options tend to be pretty scary for law school applicants to consider and require more than just a few sentences worth of attention when discussing them as they relate to your future. For a fantastic summary on these two options, click here.
I hope this article has helped shed some light on the dreaded law school waitlist. If you have any questions or have any additional insight to share, I would encourage you to post your comments here or to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject “Law School Waitlist Question”.
*Courtney Gabbara is a licensed attorney in Michigan and is currently the Associate Director of Admissions at Michigan State University College of Law.
(This blog post was originally published on the Ms. JD blog on 3/23/15)
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