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March 10, 2009

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By now, the worst of applying to law school is over. The LSATs are behind you, your essays polished, and transcripts sent. You've applied. It's done. All you have to do is wait for those envelopes to start appearing in the mailbox. But what if, after all the worrying and hoping for a final decision, your envelope contains not a yes or no, but the dreaded waitlist letter?

Well, first of all, buck up. A waitlist letter may seems like a particularly nasty form of torture--stuck in limbo for an unspecified time after waiting so long already--but it is a sign that the admissions committee thinks you’re qualified. They've decided to keep you in the running. The number of waitlisted applicants any program eventually admits depends on many factors, including demographic make-up and the waitlist admissions of other schools. Though there's not a lot you can do to change those things, but there are a couple tricks to keeping your application on the top of the pile.

Keep in touch

Continuing to market yourself to the admissions committee is the key to shifting your name off the waitlist and onto the class rosters for the next semester. Respond to the waitlist letter with a reiteration of your interest in law school as well as an update on any relevant developments since you submitted your application, like a new job or improved GPA. The letter should be prompt, polite and to the point. Don't write a 10-page saga about everything that's happened to you since you submitted your application. That said, some directed exposition in your letter is good. Be sure to give detailed, program-specific reasons why you want to be in that program. (For more tips on writing a waitlist response letter, click here.) If there are any weaknesses in your application that you've worked to ameliorate, make sure to highlight them. If a school asks for any additional materials, like updated transcripts or additional essays, make sure to send them right away if you want to stay in the running.

Show your spirit

If you're waitlisted at your number one choice of law school, make sure to let them know they're your number one. The likelier you are to attend if admitted, the better your chances are. Go visit the program again, if possible, and make sure to check in with the admissions office. Sit in on a class and speak with students; the more you know what the school is looking for in an applicant, the better you'll be able to respond to any questions the school may have about your application. Sincere expressions of interest go a long way.

At the same time, make sure not to harass the admissions office. Checking in every month or so is appropriate, while constant phone calls or e-mails may tip your application further towards the reject pile. Don't flood the admissions office with reminders of your love--they won't love you back.

Ask around

Though you may not be able to get much specific information about your chances, you can always get a better idea of where you stand by gathering a few facts. Look up how long the waitlist was last year and where the cutoff was. Ask an admissions officer how you can improve your chances--even if they can't tell you anything you don’t know, it’s another one of those valuable expressions of interest.

The final word

And finally, be prepared to hear from waitlists late in the game. Staying on a waitlist into the summer is only a good idea if you would drop everything to go to the school should you be admitted. Many waitlists operate in a trickle down way, meaning that if Yale lets in people off their waitlist, some seats at Georgetown will free up, followed by some seats at Fordham, and so forth. By the time this whole shuffle finishes, it may already be September. If you're waitlisted at your dream law school but are accepted into your Plan B school, you may have to move forward with orientation at Plan B still not knowing if you'll be there when classes start. When you hear from your dream school, make sure you're prepared for the news--good or bad.

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Filed Under: Education

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