Navigating the Law School Waitlist: Steps to Take

Padya Paramita

Navigating the Law School Waitlist: Steps to Take

After a stressful few months of working hard on your essays and perfecting your LSAT score, you might be disheartened to find out that you’ve been waitlisted at your dream law school. But don’t give up - you still have a chance of getting accepted! Depending on the applications they receive and what they are looking for from the incoming class, law schools might not have a place for you just yet. But this could change in the upcoming months. In order to make sure you take advantage of the law school waitlist, you must follow certain steps to bump your candidacy in a positive direction.

Long story short, if you just accept your place on the waitlist and leave it at that, you have very little chance of getting accepted. To guide you through navigating the law school waitlist, I’ve outlined the reasons behind students being waitlisted, how to frame your letter of continued interest, other positive steps you can take, and what your chances of gaining admission look like.

Why Are Students Waitlisted

Like you might have seen with undergraduate institutions, JD programs maintain a waitlist for their yield. It’s hard for admissions officers to determine whether the number of students who enroll in the school will be greater or fewer than the number of seats available. Candidates who are well-qualified and have the potential to succeed in the program but have a low LSAT score or weak GPA might be placed on the law school waitlist for further consideration.

Law schools also don’t want all of the members of their incoming class to bring the same stories and backgrounds. If your resumé is similar to another applicant who is a shoo-in, admissions officers might want to wait and see whether you would be able to uniquely contribute to the program. On the other hand, schools might think you’re a better fit for a different school, and thus put you on the waitlist.

So, if you’ve been waitlisted, the decision could still go for or against you. If you haven’t been accepted elsewhere that you’re as excited about, take your place on the waitlist enthusiastically. 

How to Write a Letter of Continued Interest

Law schools typically don’t look at waitlists until April or May after they’ve accepted all candidates. Once you’ve confirmed your place, don’t start frantically calling the admissions office and telling them about why they must admit you. The protocol for any waitlist is to send in a letter of continued interest. The letter doesn’t have to be ridiculously long, but it should include the following:

  • Reiteration of your interest in the program Obviously, it’s very important that your note to the law school conveys your wish to get off the waitlist. If it’s your first-choice school, let the admissions officers know that! Admissions officers take statements such as, “I will attend if accepted” very seriously when deciding who to take off the list. Discuss why you want to attend the institution, how you can benefit from it, and what you like about it. If you already wrote a similar supplemental essay, don’t be afraid to refer to it - while still adding new points. Talk about classes you’re excited for, on-campus resources that can benefit you, and how the school will help you reach your goals in law. If the law school isn’t your first choice, stay honest. Don’t make these statements just to get on their good side.
  • Any new achievements – You might have received your senior fall grades since applying to law school if you’re still in college, or you could have recently received a promotion at work. Including such updates would definitely beef up your letter of continued interest.
  • Why you’re unique - Your personal statement should have already provided the admissions officers with a clear picture of who you are and what makes you exceptional. While you don’t need to write another two-page essay, you can add a couple of lines in your letter about how your experiences have prepared you to fit in with the campus community and make meaningful contributions. 

If you don’t hear back from the school, don’t lose patience. According to InGenius Prep counselor Christina Chong, who is a former Assistant Director of Admissions at NYU School of Law, “What you send depends on the circumstance. Usually the school will tell you what they want.” She added, “so, send in the letter of continued interest but don’t overwhelm them. Law schools use rolling admissions, so it’s best not to overwhelm them until all decisions are out in April.” 

Law schools will take note of your enthusiasm. Don’t overdo it - hunting down admissions officers’ personal email addresses or calling them on their cellphones to pester them will work against you.

Other Steps to Take

Alongside sending the note, here are some other ways to demonstrate your interest in order to get off the law school waitlist.

Add any relevant updates and materials

Besides including application updates in your letter, you should also add new transcripts and LSAT scores (if applicable) to your CAS account. Some schools, such as UPenn and Northwestern, specifically ask waitlisted candidates to submit additional essays. If you have this chance, don’t ignore it, or admissions officers will conclude that you’re no longer interested. Take quick advantage of such components!

Visit campus

If it’s feasible, take a trip to the law school campus to indicate your commitment. During your visit, see if you can sit down for a chat (but not an interview!) with an admissions office employee. It’s okay to tell them you’re on the waitlist, ask about what you can do in terms of keeping in touch and follow those protocols. While on campus, talk to current students about their experiences, inquire whether they have any tips for you, sit in on classes if you’re able to, introduce yourself to professors, and send thank you notes to the people you connect with on the trip.

Additional Recommendation

You don’t have to send an additional letter of recommendation, especially if the content repeats what your other recommenders have already mentioned. That being said, if your recommender is an alum, their reference can advocate for you as a candidate at the specific school. If an additional letter would capture a new side of your candidacy, this could also benefit you. This would be a valuable addition if you’ve been placed on the law school waitlist. 

What are Your Chances of Getting off the Law School Waitlist?

Realistically, it’s hard to predict your chances right off the bat: it varies on what the school is looking for in the incoming class. Admissions officers might want to raise the median LSAT. They might also be looking for students from a certain location or trying to admit an equal number of men and women. It will depend on the law school waitlist policy at the particular institution – some schools have thousands of students on the waitlist, while others have a much shorter list. While there isn’t exact data out on how many candidates have historically gotten of the waitlist at top schools, in a recent survey, about 60% of law school deans stated that the LSAT score and undergraduate GPA are the most significant factors when deciding which applicants to admit off of the waitlist.

Spots might open up depending on whether admitted candidates submitted their first deposit and second deposit, or if they opted out due to an unforeseen circumstance. You could get an email on very short notice, so don’t give up hope. While you can’t predict the fate of your application, you must keep asserting your dedication to the institution if you truly wish to gain acceptance.

Even though being put on the law school waitlist isn’t ideal, your journey to your top-choice law school hasn’t necessarily ended yet. Keep demonstrating your enthusiasm for the institution through letters, visits (if possible) and updates. Reiterate your interest in the program and let them know why you’re a good fit - all while remaining professional. You’ve got this!

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