Life on the Law School Wait List
February 20, 2013
There’s no doubt that waiting is one of the toughest things to do – especially for type-A personality law school applicants. So, what’s a go-getter to do when faced with an interminable stay on a law school wait list?
First, it’s important to understand how wait lists work. There are quite a few myths out there, so it’s vital to know what you’re actually up against. Most wait lists are not, contrary to some beliefs, static – in other words, at most schools you don’t hold a fixed place on the list. I’m not saying that schools who tell you “you’re number 13 on the wait list” are fibbing, just that most schools refuse to give out specific rankings because strict rankings don’t actually exist.
Most law schools try to create a diverse class – they don’t necessarily have quotas (although some certainly do), but they want a mix of backgrounds for a variety of reasons. They certainly want racial/religious/gender diversity, but they also want experiential diversity, to allow the proliferation of different perspectives at the school. After all, if your class is made up of 60 poli-sci majors your class discussions are going to get pretty boring pretty quickly. When you throw in a mix of different disciplines, however, things get much more interesting.
Consequently, when an engineer who was offered a spot changes her mind, the school is likely to try to fill that spot with a similar candidate – not necessarily the person with the next highest GPA and LSAT score.
Lists are also dynamic for another reason – and this is the one that’s most important to prospective students: actions you take while on the wait list can influence your chance to get accepted.
Applying to law school is very different from applying to undergrad. When you apply to university for the first time you’re not overly involved in the process. For the vast majority of students, the process involves sending in your application and waiting by the mailbox hoping to get the fat envelope instead of the thin one. When you apply to a graduate program, however, you should be much more proactive and get involved in the process. This advice continues to hold when you’re on a wait list.
So, what can you do to improve your chances of getting off the wait list in the right direction? Start by contacting the school and asking if there’s any particular reason why you didn’t make the first cut – some schools will be forthright and give specifics, others won’t disclose, but it can’t hurt to ask. If you do get a specific reason, find out if you can make up for the deficiencies (e.g. submit an extra letter of recommendation, take summer courses to raise your GPA or even write the June LSAT to present a better score).
Next, send the school a letter (or email, if that’s the school’s preferred mode of communication) of continuing interest – everyone wants to be wanted, after all! Don’t overdo the letter (avoid the scent of desperation!), but let the school know that it’s your first choice and that, if granted a spot, you’d take it. If your previous investigation uncovered why you were wait-listed, address those issues – let the school k now what steps you’re taking to become a more attractive applicant.
Continue to reach out to the school throughout the spring/summer, but be careful – there’s a fine line between proactivity and stalking! If you’re not sure where that line is or exactly what you should do, ask for help.
While waiting, keep yourself informed. For Canadian applicants, for example, there are forums in which the wait-listed discuss their status. Also, be courteous to others in similar situations – don’t give up your spot at a school if you’re still considering going there, but if you’re 100% sure that you’re going to turn a school down, do so as soon as you make that decision.
Finally, don’t give up hope – if you’re still on the wait list there’s always a chance that you’ll get one of those coveted 1L spots. My best friend at UBC Law found out that he got accepted the week before law school began – over the course of a weekend he packed up, moved from Toronto to Vancouver, found a place to live and began his legal journey.