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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:

    1. 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 CALLING.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 hopes up.

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 on deferment.


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 continue.

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!


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