10 tips for getting off the law school waitlist from actual admissions deans

Are you on the law school waitlist? Well, you’re not alone. According to the Law School Admissions Council, law school applications are up substantially compared to 2020. That means more competition and higher chances of landing a spot on the waitlist.  

Some people attribute the increase in law school applicants to the death of Justice Ginsberg (a.k.a. “Notorious R.G.B.”) in September 2020, and a renewed appreciation for her work advancing gender equality and woman’s rights as a reason for the uptick.   

Others believe that the social movements and election law disputes in 2020 brought clarity to many about how law permeates every aspect of our lives.  

Still, others blame the COVID-19 pandemic for a generation’s renewed interest in the law. Once the pandemic passes, it’s universally accepted that lawyers will be needed to employ legal solutions to fix the broken systems this devastating virus has exposed. 

Whatever the reason for the increase, the 2020-21 law school admissions cycle is shaping up to be one for the record books. More importantly to those currently applying, the applicant pool’s overall quality (based upon LSAT score) has also dramatically increased over previous cycles

How a rise in law school applicants impacts the waitlist 

During the last admissions cycle (2019-20), many law schools allowed admitted students to defer their start dates until Fall 2021 because of the uncertainty surrounding in-person classroom learning necessitated by government-mandated social distancing rules. Each of those deferrals claimed an early seat in the Class of 2024. 

The result is a perfect storm for those applying to law school this cycle: law school admissions offices have a larger, more qualified applicant pool with which to fill fewer seats.   

If you find yourself on your dream school’s waitlist, don’t despair. Understand that a school’s inability to offer you a spot right now isn’t a commentary on your ability – it’s just an incredibly competitive year.   

To ensure that your waitlisted application doesn’t sit in limbo, we asked some law school admissions deans how best to navigate the dreaded waitlist. Here are our questions and their very candid responses. 

How (and when) to contact the admissions office once you’ve been waitlisted 

For waitlisted candidates who would immediately accept an offer of admission, how would you recommend that they convey that enthusiasm with your admissions team (and how often)? 

  • “We certainly don’t frown upon a waitlisted applicant sending a letter of continued interest. One should be adequate. If the student wants to follow up later in the summer, it’s reasonable to send an email expressing that they would accept an offer if extended and perhaps inquiring about whether the admissions office has any sense of the general likelihood that they will use the waitlist this cycle. Do not ask whether we think a specific candidate will be taken from the waitlist – we won’t be able to tell you, and it can come across as somewhat off-putting.” – Kristin Theis-Alvarez, Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law 
  • “My recommendation for waitlisted candidates is to stay in contact with our admissions team enough that we know your name and your interest but not enough that we want to file a restraining order. In all seriousness, an email or phone call every few weeks is completely fine and acceptable. Our waitlists can be very large, and when deciding who to select from our waitlist, we are determining who best meets our needs, which can change year to year and week to week. While a candidate’s interest in our law school is important and helpful in our planning, we are selecting candidates based on our perception of their potential for success in the classroom and our community, not their willingness to immediately accept an offer. – Matthew Saleh, Assistant Dean for Admissions, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law 

What criteria matters most to admissions deans 

When you do go to your waitlist, what piece of information most significantly impacts your decision to extend an offer of admission? 

What not to do if you’ve been put on the law school waitlist 

Aside from an outright denial of your offer, what is the most frustrating thing a student can do after being offered a spot from the waitlist? 

  • “I think the most frustrating thing a student could do is to not communicate with us or ‘ghost’ us after being offered a spot or even after accepting a spot. We understand an applicant’s ultimate choice in a law school is complicated, and their situation is dynamic as new information or offers arise. But when a student doesn’t communicate with us or keep us in the loop, it is truly difficult to make other decisions without knowing where they stand. It surprises me every year how many students do not have the courtesy to let us know one way or the other and just stop communicating altogether despite our efforts to get a response. It’s okay to let us know that you’re no longer interested!” – Mathiew Le, Assistant Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, University of Texas Law School 
  • “Unresponsiveness or communication silence. After weeks and months of back-and-forth emails and phone calls, declarations of interest, and admissions officers advocating for a candidate’s acceptance, it can be disappointing when an applicant ceases all communication with our office. There are so many hours of work and deliberation that go into these decisions that it can be disheartening when a candidate who is offered a spot after communicating their interest in attending fails to respond to our outreach. – Matthew Saleh, Assistant Dean for Admissions, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law 

Can’t get off the waitlist? Transfer after your 1L year 

Being placed on a law school waitlist can be frustrating — we know. But remember this, if you’ve been waitlisted and end up at your second- or third-choice law school, you still have one more chance to get into your dream school.  

It all comes down to your 1L grades. 

There are many reasons why getting to the top of your 1L class is important, including the chance to earn academic honors and score your dream job. However, if you’ve been waitlisted by your preferred law school, the biggest incentive to earning top first-year grades is the ability to transfer after your 1L year.  

At Law Preview, our goal is to teach incoming 1L students how to conquer law school. Taught by the nation’s top law students, Law Preview covers everything from core 1L material to proven exam-taking strategies. Many of our students have successfully transferred to other law schools after earning top 1L grades with the help of Law Preview.  

Take the first step toward the top of the class, sign up for Law Preview today.  

Additional waitlist resources 

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