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by Anna Ivey | March 10, 2009


Anna Ivey is a private admissions counselor who works with people applying to the top business schools and law schools. If you have a question for Anna Ivey, send her an e-mail.

Question: Yesterday I found out that I was put on a waiting list at Brigham Young Law School. This is my No. 1 choice, and I would love to go there. What are the odds of them accepting me? Is there anything I can do to help myself out? Is setting up a time to talk to the dean of admissions a good idea? Thanks for answering these questions for me.

Anna's Answer: I'm sure you've been whiling away the months hoping and worrying and praying for a final decision by now, so a waitlist letter is very frustrating. But think of it this way: the people who read your file saw something there that made them want to hang onto you and stopped them from placing your file in the 'deny' pile.

Calculating your odds of making it off a waitlist is next to impossible, because law schools typically don't disclose how many people they have on their waitlists at any given time, or how many they anticipate having overall. In years like this when application numbers are through the roof, law schools usually place ungodly numbers of people on their waitlists, because it's much harder for them to gauge how many applicants are likely to accept their outstanding offers. They might find, when they look at their lists of applicants who have accepted, that they haven't filled enough seats, or that their medians are off, or that they need to rebalance the demographic make-up. And every law school has to deal with what admissions officers call the 'summer melt' -- when people who had already accepted change their minds and call them up to free up a seat.

Although the uncertainty is tough, there are things you can do to maximize your chances of receiving an offer. If they find that they do need to turn to the waitlist to meet any one of those needs, they don't want to have to call 600) or even 50) people to fill that slot. If they have a slot to fill, they are going to see who within the group of people they need (maybe women, maybe people from the Southeast, maybe Latinos, maybe people with LSATs above 160, maybe warm bodies) is most likely to accept. The people from those groups who will rise to the top of the waitlist are:

  • applicants who have stayed in touch with admissions officers to keep them updated and to reconfirm their continued interest in the law school
  • applicants who have made clear that the school in question is their No. 1 choice and that they would definitely accept an offer if they received one, and
  • applicants who have accepted invitations to submit more materials or come in for interviews.

Certainly if you live near BYU (or any other school you may be waitlisted at), you should offer to stop by for a meeting with an admissions officer if the admissions committee would find that helpful. Chances are, they won't take you up on your kind offer (they typically don't have the resources to meet with every interested applicant), but the offer won't go unnoticed. And if a school invites you to come in for a chat or invites you to submit updated transcripts, extra recommendations, or additional essays, realistically you need to do so to stay in the running.

There is a fine line, though, between helpfully demonstrating your enthusiasm and making a pest of yourself. Don't call the admissions office every day. Don't even contact them every week. Checking in with them once a month, or once every two months, is fine. And certainly check in with them if you have some kind of update to your file to share, like a new set of grades or a new job.

One other tactic that is absolutely verboten: camping out at the admissions office during the first week of classes in the hopes that they'll open the door and tap you on the shoulder when a space opens up. Every year there are people who really do this, and I have yet to hear of an instance when it doesn't just creep admissions officers out. Forcing them to call security on you is not the best way to schmooze them.

And finally, you should be prepared for the possibility that you may get the happy news while you're sitting in your Contracts class at your next-best choice. Every year, at every law school, there are people who accepted offers and put down deposits but just don't show up for the first week of classes, and spots can and do open up that late in the game. And every year there are waitlisted people who pick up and move across the country -- after signing leases and finding roommates and buying books and playing cheesy getting-to-know-you games during orientation -- to accept those spots. Maybe that will be you, and if BYU really is your first choice, you'll be one happy camper.

If you have your own question for Anna Ivey, send her an e-mail.

Anna Ivey is a private admissions counselor who works with people applying to the top business schools and law schools, as well as the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions: Straight Advice on Essays, Resumes, Interviews and More. Formerly the Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School, she has also practiced corporate and entertainment law in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from Columbia and her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, where she served as an editor of The University of Chicago Law Review. To learn more about her admissions counseling, visit


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