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Waitlisted by Law Schools? Here’s 5 Tips to Maximize Your Chances of Getting In

This is a guest post by Joel Butterly, a graduate of Dartmouth College and current student at Yale Law School. He’s also the co-founder of inGenius prep, an admission consulting firm.


We’ve all been waitlisted at one time or another. It sucks. It might even be worse than a flat-out rejection. Now, you have to wait around knowing that your chances of getting into your dream law school are slimmer than ever; that any day might be the day you receive the thin-envelope-of-death. A bitter reward after months spent on the LSAT and your LSAC application. Hope is low. Despair is at an all time high. So is your caloric intake.

We’ve had countless students come to us, desperate to receive help after getting waitlisted from their top choice law schools. What we’ve found is that students such as these – students unwilling to lay down and accept their waitlist-status as the final shot fired in their admissions campaign – tend to fare better in getting off of waitlists than their less proactive counterparts. Over time, we’ve developed a comprehensive strategy for dealing with waitlists.

Before I get into that, I want to emphasize that expectation management is important. Completing these steps is in no way a guarantee that you will get accepted. However, I am a firm believer that students unwilling to quit on their aspirations almost always end up succeeding. While the battle for this particular law school may eventually be lost, the war has just begun.

Here are few tips that should be helpful as you continue your fight to win a spot at your dream law schools.

1. Supplemental Essays or Materials

You never want to send so many essays or materials to a law school that you overwhelm the admissions officers. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t send valuable materials – especially when you’re waitlisted.

Good examples of supplemental essays or materials include update letters detailing any recent achievements or awards that you have received that may be relevant for the admissions office. For example, if you just had a paper published, or recently received an award for your academic work – you should feel free to let the admissions office know. You might even want to note an upward trend in grades or other, less visible accomplishments.

You are probably asking yourself, “how do I know what to send?” Good question. The answer is not as cut-and-dry as you may hope. However, here’s a good rule to follow: if the information you are sending is something which you deliberately or consciously omitted when you originally sent the application, then you should not send it now. For example, awards that you received years ago, or activities that you have participated in for years, but did not include on your application. Sending in long lists of achievements, awards, or experiences which you could have included on the application itself only alerts admissions officers to the fact that you are scrambling and desperate. That is not how you want to be perceived.

Exceptions to this rule might include experiences or achievements that you accidentally omitted, or only omitted due to space limitations.

2. Letter(s) of Continued Interest

Many law schools claim that they don’t want or need to hear why you wish to attend their law school. Do yourself a favor, and ignore these claims. Law schools – and particularly admissions offices – care a great deal about enrollment rates. If half of everyone they accept goes to a different law school, that reflects terribly on the admissions office, and the entire law school. They want to know that if they accept you, you will come.

Many individuals placed on the waitlist at top law schools will get into other top law schools. The admissions office knows this. If you are waitlisted at Columbia, there is a decent chance that you will be accepted at NYU, Chicago, etc. If you are one of the lucky few taken off of the waitlist, admissions officers want to know that you won’t just end up at one of these other schools.

How do you accomplish that? Simply, straightforwardly, and in a letter of continued interest. Send the letter shortly after you have been waitlisted. Let the admissions office know that you continue to be very interested in their school.

Explain why you are interested in their school. What makes them unique? Why can’t you get the same things from another law school? The more specific and detailed you are, the more likely that admissions officers will believe you.

In addition, be straightforward. If you are waitlisted at your top choice, tell them that they are your top choice. Don’t just say that you are “very interested.” If they are your top choice, you should make it very clear that you will be attending their school if you are accepted.

The letter of continued interest may be sent separately from your supplemental essays or materials. However, I would recommend that you send them together. At the bottom of your letter, you can mention that you’ve included additional materials that may be of help in assessing your application.

3. Send in Additional Recommendations

Recommendations are crucial. Students constantly underestimate how important recommendations are to their chances of being admitted. Recently, we interviewed Jean Webb, a counselor at inGenius and the former director of admissions at Yale Law School. In her interview, Jean explained how much weight admissions offices place on recommendations. Not just what is written in the recommendations, but also who wrote them. The recommendations are the only “objective,” third-party corroboration of your application.

Thus, if you have not already exhausted your pool of recommenders, now is the time to call in a favor. You should consider several things before you ask someone to write an additional letter:

First, you need to assess your application holistically. What weaknesses do you have? Why were you waitlisted? I know this can be difficult – and is little more than guesswork when you do it yourself – but you must assess your application impartially if you are to gain any meaningful insights. Maybe your test scores were too low, or maybe you didn’t have a high enough GPA. Maybe your resume did not look like it came from someone with a serious interest in law. Whatever the case may be, a frank assessment of what is lacking in your application is a critical first step. If you have trouble identifying your weaknesses, consider asking a current law student – if possible one from your target law school – to look over your application.

Second, try your best to figure out what your other recommenders have said about you. Having a third letter that simply restates the other letters won’t add anything to your application. You might consider letting your recommenders know that you have been waitlisted and are going to ask for another recommendation, but would first appreciate some insight into the topics they discussed in the letters they wrote for you. If you’re lucky, one of your recommenders might take some initiative and write a follow-up to the law school on your behalf. This is a real bonus, because a major component of how admissions officers assess letters of recommendation is how much time and effort your busy recommenders spent advocating for you.

Third, based on your assessment of your application’s weaknesses, and what the other recommenders have written, figure out who the best recommender will be, and what they need to talk about. For example, if your biggest weakness is your undergraduate GPA, and your recommenders did not discuss your academic excellence in depth, you might consider having a professor write about how you excel academically, and why your GPA may not be an accurate reflection of your quality and success as a student. Make sure that when you ask for the recommendation, you make it absolutely clear what you need them to say for you. If they are not comfortable saying those things, move on.

4. Consider Taking Time Off

The average age of law students – particularly at the top-ranked schools – has increased significantly in the past several years. Older applicants tend to fare better because they’ve had more time to accrue experiences, achievements, and awards – something which is very difficult for a younger applicant to compete with.

If you are waitlisted at your top schools, taking time off may be the most effective course of action. If you take a gap year, you can easily add the “missing ingredients” to your application. In addition, schools tend to view persistence (within reason) positively. Showing that you are willing to make the necessary changes, and that you will not quit on these aspirations, says a lot about you as a person, and as a prospective student.

5. Consider the Possibility of Transferring

Law school applicants rarely think that transferring is an option. Certainly, it’s not an easy process. However, for some, transferring to their top choice school(s) is a lot easier than applying directly. For example, if you are one of the many students whose application is dragged down considerably by their LSAT score, you are an ideal transfer applicant.

Why? Because the LSAT is intended to serve as a predictor of a student’s performance in their first year of law school. If you work tirelessly in that first year – and achieve high grades and a top class ranking – you will obviate the need for an admissions officer to look at your LSAT score. After all, why look at a “predictor” when you can look at the real thing?

Thus, transferring may be the easiest way for you to accomplish your goals. In the end, your diploma will look the same as everyone else who attended your top choice law school since day one.

To repeat: the battle to get into your dream schools isn’t over until you’ve said it’s over. Understanding that the current admissions cycle isn’t the end of the road will help you get where you need to go.


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