Law School Acceptance, Deferment, Rejection or Waitlisted
Etiquette While Waiting
Congratulations, your applications are in!
Now you wait, and wait, and wait. The winter and early spring can be
a stressful time. Some students deal with the stress by tuning out
the law schools completely; other students pester the law schools
with phone calls enquiring about their status. Neither of these
approaches is ideal, and they can, in fact, be downright
detrimental. So as you wait, take the following advice:
- Be sure that your applications for admission and your
applications for financial aid are complete. A law school
will not review your file until all of the information is
received and your file is deemed complete. You can check the
status of your transcripts, LSAT score, and letters of
recommendation by consulting the LSAC web site. LSAC will
tell you the date each piece of information was sent out
(usually electronically) to your law schools. Once LSAC has
confirmed that the information has been sent, it is a good
idea to call the law school to verify that your application
is complete. Do not call every day, and do not be a pest. Do
not expect instantaneous service—after all, your application
materials are arriving with hundreds of others, and they all
need to be organized by the admissions committee staff.
(Thus, if you figure your application will take 2 days in
the mail, do not call the third day to verify its arrival.
Be sensible about processing and turnaround times.) Once you
have confirmed that your application is complete, STOP
- Believe it or not, parents are calling the law schools
in increasing numbers to check on their child's chance of
admission and the status of the decision making process.
This is a bad idea, and not at all helpful to you.
Similarly, parents call the law schools with questions about
how to complete financial aid paperwork. UGH! As a general
rule, your parents or guardians should not be contacting the
law schools. You are a big kid now, too old to have your
parents doing your applications for you. If they have
questions, you should get the answers for them.
- Maintain your dignity, and treat folks with respect. Do
not call the law schools every day, or every week. Do not
sound desperate or impatient. Do not yell at admissions
staff. It's rude. Moreover, as a practical matter, you never
know who is picking up the phone in the admissions
office—don't assume it's a work-study student or secretarial
staff. Admissions folks often make notes when applicants
call to complain, and complaining does not endear you to
them. You need to handle your stress; do not take it out on
the law schools, or anyone else for that matter.
If you are accepted to one or more schools,
congratulations! You’ve made it. Now you need to select your school
and plan for your attendance. This is a good time to visit the
schools, if you haven’t already, to get a feel for which one is best
for you. Also, compare financial aid packages. If one is more
generous than another, you could call the other law schools’
financial aid offices to ask if they might be able to do a bit
better, pointing out that you really want to go there, but XYZ
school offered you more money. (This strategy probably works best
when XYZ law school is higher ranked than the school you want to
attend.) If you try to negotiate for a better financial aid package,
be sure to (1) be very polite and diplomatic, not demanding; (2)
remember that it might work, but probably won’t, so don’t get your
Once you are accepted, you will have to pay a
seat deposit to hold your place in the class. Usually the seat
deposits are due in May; May 1st or 15th is the most typical date.
What if you haven’t heard from all of your schools by then? You need
to decide whether you want to pay the seat deposit or give up your
seat. This happens all of the time—paying a seat deposit simply to
hold your place while you wait for other schools is another
predictable expense of the application process.
If you have been accepted into the law school
of your choice, you have pretty much reached the end of the
application process. You should work closely with the law school
during the summer to ensure a smooth transition. Finding housing
near the school will probably be a priority for you, since many law
schools have inadequate on-campus housing for graduate students.
A deferment is a request to a particular
school to put off your enrollment for a year. Usually an admitted
student asks for a deferment if something unexpected has occurred in
his/her life, such as a death in the family or, more positively, a
new travel or job opportunity that is too good to pass up.
Generally, working to save money for school is not the best reason
to request a deferment, but lately law schools have had so many
applicants that they have eased up a bit on granting them.
A deferment should be considered a contract
with the one law school you have chosen to attend. You CANNOT use
your deferment year to reapply to other schools. The law school has
promised to save a seat for you next year in exchange for your
promise that you will attend. Law schools take these mutual promises
very seriously, and become quite angry if students ignore their
deferment responsibilities to shop around at other law schools.
Sometimes a law school will even report to other schools that the
student has received a deferment and is, essentially, violating its
terms. That being said, if you are willing to commit to a law
school, requesting a deferment is a straightforward process, and law
schools are usually willing to accommodate these requests. Warning:
The downside to requesting a deferment is that you almost always
lose your existing financial aid package and have no guarantee of
another one. Be sure to discuss your financial aid package, and the
prospects for being re-awarded aid, before you make a final decision
Okay, it didn’t work out this time. Now you
need to decide how badly you want a legal career. You can always
reapply. If you choose to reapply, you will NOT be at a disadvantage
because you were rejected in the past. The personnel on most law
school admissions committees tends to change every year, so you will
probably have a new person reading your file. Even if the committee
does not change, the members won’t remember you from that stack of
thousands of applications they read the year before.
Should you take the LSAT again to raise your
score? Take another look at the LSAT section of this CD. Basically,
I do not recommend retaking the LSAT unless you are convinced that
you can do better. Instead of retaking the LSAT, you might want to
reconsider the schools to which you applied: were they too
competitive for you? Were you a bit unrealistic in your choices? Are
there other schools that might be happy to admit you with your
existing GPA and LSAT scores?
Should you get another degree to improve your
application? I do not recommend obtaining a graduate degree unless
you really want a graduate degree. Do not pursue an additional
degree just to make yourself look better to law schools. You’d be
better off spending the same amount of time working at a law firm,
or in some other legal environment, where you will gain relevant
experience about your chosen career. This experience will be much
more important to the admissions committee than another degree.
If you really want to go to law school, you
need to understand that sometimes a dream deferred is a dream
realized. It never ceases to amaze me that students with their
hearts set on law school totally give up if they are rejected the
first time around. If you give up, you will never go to law school.
If you defer this dream you may, in fact, be successful someday. To
improve your chances of success the next time, you should seriously
consider waiting a year or more if you are a college senior.
Remember, the median age of the law school entering class is 26
these days, and all of the evidence points to this age going up, not
down. Law schools want mature folks with some distance from college
who have worked in the real world and thoughtfully reflected on
their career choice. If this is not you, then perhaps waiting a bit
would be wise.
If you are waitlisted, you are with a select
group of applicants who are qualified to be admitted, and will be
admitted if spots open up. Each law school has its own approach to
the waitlist. Some schools rank folks—you might be, say, number 15
on the waitlist. Many schools rank folks by quartile—you might be
one of the top 25 on the waitlist, but no student is ranked within
that quartile. Sometimes the law school will tell you where you fall
on the waitlist; sometimes it won’t.
If you are waitlisted, you will be asked by
the law school if you wish to remain on the list. If you are still
willing to attend that school, there’s no real downside to sitting
on the waitlist. You may be sitting for a long time, so being
patient and being flexible with your plans would help. (I got off
the waitlist at the University of Virginia School of Law in the
first week of August, just 3 weeks before school started. That was
fine by me, because Virginia was worth the wait. I showed up in
Charlottesville with no place to live, knowing no one, but eager to
start my law school career.)
If you decide to remain on the waitlist, DO
NOT call the law school every other day to see how much progress you
are making toward admission. If you want to be proactive, ask a
faculty member or employer to write a short letter of recommendation
to the admissions committee to augment your file. Sometimes a
pre-law advisor will make a phone call on your behalf, too. If you
have any additional information to add to your file, you might wish
to do so, because waitlist decisions are close calls, and you’ll
want to try to distinguish yourself from others on the list. A good
example of additional information for graduating seniors would be an
updated transcript that shows outstanding spring semester grades.
Send it along with a short cover letter confirming your interest in
the school, and noting your accomplishment. Do not sound desperate
when you send additional information; be professional. Also, do not
paper the law school with tons of additional information—be
selective, and be patient.
It is very hard to predict how many
applicants will be taken off of the waitlist at any given school.
Spots open up when accepted students decide not to attend.
Typically, accepted students drop out after they have been accepted
to another law school that they want more. For example, if someone
gets off the waitlist at Harvard and decides to go, his or her spot
at the University of Minnesota will open up. The person who takes
that spot at the U, in turn, will leave open a spot at Hamline. In
short, there’s a real domino effect with waitlists. Students move
off of waitlists all summer, which in turn causes other students to
move off of waitlists, and so on.
Just a few years ago, it was not uncommon to
have significant movement off of the law schools’ waitlists. In the
past three years, however, the crush of applications plus the bad
economy has resulted in students committing to law schools early on
and actually keeping those commitments. Some schools had no movement
at all off the waitlist during the summers of 2002 and 2003. 2004
was not much better. However, the summer of 2005 showed movement off
of waitlists, even at the top schools! Hopefully this trend will
If you are REALLY flexible about your law
school plans, you might want to show up at the school on enrollment
day. It’s the ultimate last-ditch attempt to get off the waitlist,
but it occasionally does work. Two persons were admitted to my
entering class off of the waitlist on enrollment day, simply because
two spots opened up when two admitted students failed to show up. An
admitted student is supposed to inform the law school when he/she
decides not to attend, but sometimes they don’t. If you are lucky,
you might be in the right place at the right time when this happens,
and snag a spot. If you do this, be sure to inform the law school in
advance and on the day of enrollment that you are there and are
ready, willing, and able to start immediately. Good luck!