Was your law school application waitlisted? With the right plan, you can be cautiously optimistic

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It’s tough to remain optimistic right now. It’s the doldrums of winter, everyone is sick, the Midwest is still mostly a solid block of ice, and we all just watched a successful band of cheaters (who somehow convinced everyone they were the underdogs, despite that designation being definitionally untrue) win a joyless slog of a professional sports game for what felt like twenty interminable hours.

If you’re dealing with all that on top of getting placed on hold or waitlisted from the law school you dreamt of attending — well, in the words of characters in hacky TV shows, “That’s gotta hurt.” But more than flu season, polar vortexes, or [insert the fumingly angry face emoji here] the New England Patriots being fêted yet again, being placed on the waitlist or on hold can be reason for hope. It’ll be hope of the cautious and provisional sort, and you should probably do some things to help your chances of being moved from the hold or waitlist piles to the accepted piles (more on that in a minute), but it’s hope nonetheless.

So let’s start with the positives. For one, you weren’t rejected! Your chances of getting accepted after being rejected are very low. In fact, they are among the lowest chances there are. Your chances of getting accepted after being placed on hold or on the waitlist are definitely higher than that.

Second, a decision has been rendered, and now you can develop a plan. Gone are the days of endless waiting for the law school’s admissions office to give you any kind of response or acknowledgement or proof of life. The admissions office has finally responded, and now you can formulate a plan. And you — a motivated, type-A sort impelled to a life of the law by your hard word and attention to detail — are surely great at planning.

Finally, given the current data on the 2018-19 application cycle, it’s entirely likely that law schools will start plucking many applicants from the on hold and waitlist piles. As of now, there are fewer overall applicants this cycle than there were at this point in the last cycle. And there has been a sharp decline in the number of applicants with LSAT scores above 165. Law schools likely operated under the assumption that last cycle’s uptick in applicants with high LSAT scores would continue this cycle. They probably placed many applications on hold or on the waitlist pile under the belief that there would be an influx of applicants with super-high LSAT scores. Since that influx apparently hasn’t happened, these law schools might start making offers to applicants on hold or on the waitlist pile. Which is more reason for cautious optimism.

But, even with a favorable application cycle, there are things you can do to improve the likelihood that your application will be moved from the on hold or waitlist piles to the acceptance piles. We’ll go through each potential course of action in this blog post. But first, a quick aside on the difference between being placed on hold or being placed on the waitlist.

In brief: it’s (slightly) better to be placed on hold.

In less-brief: Being put on the waitlist is the admission’s office’s way of saying that your application didn’t quite impress them enough to admit you, and that they’ll only revisit your application if they need to fill up spots later in the cycle. On hold just means they haven’t made a decision one way or another — they want to see how the rest of the application cycle shakes out.

Think about your Saturday plans. You know the kind of weird guy — the one with an affinity for cargo shorts and a propensity towards loud chewing, who was a little bit too evasive when you asked him what did for work? When he asked you what you were up to this weekend, and you curtly told him, “sorry, I have plans” — you just rejected him. And then you had your kind-of-cool co-worker tell you should totally stop by this one random bar he’s DJing at Saturday night, and you said that you think you have plans Saturday night, but that you might drop by if they fell through? You placed him on the waitlist. And then there’s your good friend who is throwing a dinner party that sounds like it could be fun, provided she doesn’t try making that vegan lasagna again, and you told her you’d get back to her, because you’re still waiting to see if your other friend is able to secure you a ticket for that exclusive event that you really want to go to, but that, if you’re unable to secure that ticket you’ll totally come by? You just placed your plant-based baked pasta-loving friend on hold.

Got it? Good. Now the twist: late in the application cycle, the distinction between being placed on hold and the waitlist sort of disappears. Most law schools will only start admitting applicants from the hold or waitlist piles after the school receives the initial deposits from those who have already been admitted. The deadline for accepted students to submit their initial deposit varies based on the school, but most deadlines are in April and May. So, whichever pile you’re placed in, you have a few tough months of waiting ahead of you. If the school receives all those deposits, and still hasn’t filled its class, they’ll start looking at all the applications they haven’t outright rejected, regardless of whether that application was technically placed “on hold” or technically “waitlisted.”

So, given this uncertainty, you’ll want to do whatever you can to get moved from the not-accepted piles to the accepted pile. Here is what you can do, ranked from least helpful to most helpful.

1. Follow the Law School’s Official Instagram Feed, and Like and Comment on Every Post — Even the Really Old Ones

This technique has the same success rate in impressing law schools as it does impressing actual human beings. Which is to say, none.

2. To Show Your Enthusiasm, Launch a Hundred Sky Lanterns Brandished with the Law School’s Name into the Night Sky

We at Blueprint have no official position on whether this symbolic gesture would help you get moved from the waitlist. But we do know that unleashing hundreds of airborne flames surrounded by flammable material creates a potential fire hazard, poses a risk to wild animals, and could even interfere with aircraft navigation. So don’t do this.

3. Write a Letter of Continued Interest, But Only After the Initial Deposits Deadline

We do recommend writing a letter of continued interest. It lets the admissions officers know you haven’t accepted some other school’s offer, and that you’ll probably accept their offer if tendered (which makes their job easier). We have some recommendations on how to write a letter of continued interest (or LOCI, for short) here.

But it’s important to remember that admissions officers are about as enthused by the prospect of reading a formal letter as you or I would be. If you were placed on the waitlist, and you accepted their invitation to remain on the waitlist, then that acceptance will suffice to show your continued interest in attending that school. Anything on top of that is just a little — in the parlance of the youths — thirsty and extra.

It’s a much better idea to wait until the initial deposits deadline for that school has passed. Remember, that’s the point at which the school will start to look at students on the waitlist. If you send your LOCI at that point, you’ll remind those admissions officers of your application, giving you a slight leg up on the competition. But make sure to only send one letter, and keep it brief. Anything else will — again in the parlance of the youths — LOCI annoy the admissions officer.

4. Schedule a Campus Visit

Finding a time to visit a campus can be a more fun and informative way to express your interest in the school, if it’s practicable for you to do so. Bonus points if you can somehow finesse your way into speaking with a dean, admissions officer, or some other administrative official. Ask them about the waitlist and what you can do to stay in touch with them, and then follow their advice.

5. Update the Admissions Office with All Your Amazing Accomplishments

Since you applied, did you get a new job? Or a promotion at your current job? Log some volunteer hours? Receive a sterling report card? Win some sort of award? Email the admissions office with the good news. But only once (maybe twice if the process is dragging into June), and be brief.

6. Consider Improving Your Application

If your LSAT score is just a bit below the school’s median, and you feel like that’s the reason you’ve been placed on hold or on the waitlist, you can always consider taking the LSAT again. You have more opportunities to take the LSAT in 2019 than in any previous year, so the new LSAT schedule is a boon to current applicants. Law schools really care about maintaining or improving the median LSAT score of incoming classes (mostly because law school ranking services really care about this, too). So if can change your LSAT score from a 165 to a 168, admissions offices will look at your application much more favorably.

7. Follow Directions

Finally, the most important course of action: just do what the school tells you to do. When you got your notification that your application was placed on hold or on the waitlist, the school probably gave you some direction on how to stay in touch. Follow those. To the T. If they said they didn’t want any more documents, they meant that they didn’t want more documents. This isn’t like when your boo said, “I don’t really want to do anything this Valentine’s Day,” when your boo really meant, “I expect you to plan something elaborate this Valentine’s Day.” This is the law school being forthright and direct.

So if they invite you to remain on the waitlist, immediately respond that you accept their invitation to remain on the waitlist. If tell you they do not want any more documents or updates, don’t send them a LOCI or updates on the last semester or anything like that. If they ask for more information or documents, provide them said information and/or documents.

Even if they do mention that they are open to receiving such vaguely defined articles as “supplemental materials” that “may be helpful to the admissions office” — don’t send them a million things. Again, wait until the initial deposits deadline has passed, and send them an update. Be brief, be enthusiastic, and be positive.

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So take some of the above actions, if any of them are relevant to your situation. Even taking some affirmative steps can help you maintain some optimism during a stressful and uncertain time.

Because, the one thing that everyone who has been placed on hold or on the waitlist must do is wait. You will have to wait, and wait, and then finally wait some more. But if you could make it through this flu season, or the polar vortex, or another godforsaken Patriots Super Bowl victory, you’ll be able to make it through these next few months, too.

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