How To Wait (And Be Waitlisted) Without Losing It

by Todd Rothman, Senior Associate Director

This is the time of year where, if you’ve submitted and completed your law school applications in a timely fashion, you have likely heard something from most, if not all, of the schools to which you have applied.  Good news (admitted!) is obviously easy to handle and, though it might sting a bit at first, the disappointment of bad news (rejected) can also be managed after a while.  However, I’ve noticed over the years that what seems to stress applicants out the most is the non-news — being on Hold, being placed on the waitlist, and worst of all, not hearing anything from schools at all.  And where there’s stress, there are often ill-conceived, fear-based, and desperate attempts made by unsettled applicants that, in more cases than not, do more harm than good.

With that in mind, I thought this might be a good time of year to provide a bit of information (and perhaps relief) about these various forms of non-news.  And perhaps more importantly, I thought I would pass along some seasoned advice about how to wait (and be waitlisted) without losing it.

1. You have received notification that your application is on Hold.
With the exception of being admitted, this is by far the best non-news that you can receive.  Being on Hold ultimately bodes much better for your chances of admission than being placed on a waitlist because, essentially, this is truly a non-decision.  Your candidacy was so borderline for this particular school that the Committee could not make a definitive decision when your application was reviewed and are taking a wait-and-see approach.  This usually has to do with a Committee wanting to see the full pool of applications they receive before acting on your application and, as a result, you are on Hold until further review.  When you are placed on Hold, you should absolutely communicate directly with the law school upon receiving this news. If this is still a law school that interests you, you must confirm for the law school that you are still enthusiastic about them, as well as thank them for their continued consideration of your application.  You must also do this in writing — either a hard-copy letter or an email — and should not call the Admissions Office to communicate this news.

2. You have received notification that you have been placed on the waitlist.
Although this news can be initially deflating, most if not all law schools will consider — and ultimately pull from — their waitlist at some point in the late spring and summer.  With that in mind, this is also (relatively) good news since, if there was no chance of you being admitted, law schools will not string you along or try to soften the blow with a waitlist decision.  Rejections are a given part of the admissions process and law schools have no reservations about rejecting unqualified applicants.  So if you are placed on a waitlist, you should understand that you are certainly still in contention for admission.  However, time-wise, most law schools will not truly consider the applications placed on their respective waitlists until after their deposit deadlines are closely approaching and/or have passed.  So, even if you are placed on the waitlist in December, you will likely not hear any decision from a law school until April at the earliest.

When you are placed on the waitlist, you should absolutely communicate directly with the law school upon receiving this news.  Again, you should thank them for their continued consideration and reiterate your interest in their law school (and why).  However, do not inundate the law school with correspondence and/or additional materials.  In fact, most law schools will let you know in the waitlist correspondence what, if anything, they would find helpful from you as a waitlisted candidate in the coming months.  Read that material carefully and, if a law school communicates that it doesn’t want any additional information from you (and some won’t), please take the Committee at its word and follow its instructions.  It is important to keep your file active with any updates in the subsequent weeks and months, but if you are contacting an Admissions Office more frequently than once a month, please stop – enthusiasm, not desperation, is valued by law schools.

3. You have not heard anything from a law school since your application was completed.
Unfortunately, this can be a fairly common occurrence and, as I mentioned, it’s often the most frustrating of the waiting scenarios.  If you have submitted and completed your applications on time, you can assume that law schools have already read and evaluated your application and, for some reason, have not yet acted on a decision.  More than likely, you are on some form of an internal Hold and, unlike being placed formally on Hold, that particular law school does not maintain an official, public Hold category.  With that in mind, you can certainly reach out to a law school with any substantive updates to your application (e.g., Fall grades, new job, awards earned, new community service project) in the interim.  But again, keep any communication with Admissions Committees positive, meaningful, and no more frequently than once a month.  I mean it.

So, if you do find yourself in any one of these three situations – take a deep breath, continue to keep your file active, and stay positive.  Especially as the application volume at many law schools continues to shrink, not receiving an immediate acceptance does not at all mean an eventual rejection.  However, it’s important that enthusiastic, proactive heads prevail while you’re waiting and that you resist your frustrated, impatient, stalker-like urges.  Remember, you’re still making an impression on law school admissions committees.  And besides, we both know you’re better than that. 🙂

Author: Todd

Todd Rothman is the Senior Associate Director of Graduate and Professional School Advising in Career Services, working with pre-law, pre-health, and pre-grad (psychology) students and alumni.