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The AdComm, thoughts from one Dean of Admissions

Posted: Mon Mar 02, 2009 3:14 pm
by Pless
My name is Paul Pless and I am the Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid at the University Of Illinois College Of Law. ( After lurking for a few years on pre-law forums/boards I decided to post a thread offering to answer questions about the process. The response has been overwhelming.
Ken was kind enough to ask me to start a blog on his site as a place to keep a more permanent record of my answers to your questions and for my thoughts about the law school application process. I plan on using the blog for stock answers to common questions (the original thread is quite long and it is hard to find exactly what you are looking for) and my thoughts (rants) on the process. I still plan on posting in threads, I enjoy the back and forth there, the blog will be for topics that are of more general interest.
I welcome your input on questions you think I should address. Please feel free to email me (Or, to make JWatson happy, or

Re: The AdComm, thoughts from one Dean of Admissions

Posted: Mon Mar 02, 2009 3:15 pm
by Pless
Waitlists – Part one

I thought my first real post should be about something that I have gotten a lot of questions about. Waitlists. First I will talk about why we have waitlists and then (in another post) I will have my thoughts on how to best get off of one and into the school you really want to attend.

Waitlists suck, I get that. The job of any admissions officer is to seat the very best class possible for their school and the waitlist is one tool that we use. There are a lot of conflicting needs and desires with the law school admissions process. Applicants want (demand) a quick turnaround on their file. You expect an answer as soon as your file completes. Schools want the best class possible. At Illinois, our application is open for 7 ½ months. When I read a file in November, I am not only comparing it against the applications currently in the pool, but also against the applications that I think will be coming in over the next several months. Often this means I am not ready to make a decision right then.

Last year, applicants to Illinois applied to, on average, 11 other law schools. Typically if one is admitted to Illinois, they have the credentials to be admitted to 90-95% of the law schools in the country. This makes it extremely difficult to predict who will accept my offer of admission. At Illinois we have a very tight enrollment goal of between 185 and 195 students in the class. Less than 185 and we will have budget concerns, over 195 and we will have space concerns. A waitlist helps me fill in spots as they become available.

Every school does the waitlist a little bit differently. At Illinois I have some rules I have set for myself. I always ask applicants before placing them on the waitlist. I only ask people that I feel would be a good fit for Illinois and capable of being a successful student here. I try to keep the waitlist as small as possible for me to still do my job, my unofficial goal is less than 10% of my total applicant pool. I review the waitlist from time to time and will deny people off of the waitlist when it becomes clear that there will not be a seat for them this year. (Technically I withdraw the application, I really don’t like “Denying” someone that is not getting in due only to space constraints. I know that really doesn’t make it better, it just helps me sleep at night.)

Given the purpose of the waitlist, filling seats in the class, the majority of decisions will come after the first deposit deadline. Offers will continue to occur as the class takes shape over the summer, some coming as late as August.

My next post will be about getting off the waitlist and things you can do to prepare.


Re: The AdComm, thoughts from one Dean of Admissions

Posted: Tue Mar 03, 2009 2:51 pm
by Pless
Waitlist – Part Two

First the hard truth. Getting off a waitlist has a lot more to do with what the people who have already been admitted do. As I said earlier, schools use the waitlist to fill seats in the class after the deposit deadline. I don’t mean to encourage you to discourage people from going to the school of your dreams, just so you understand there is a limit to the effect some of the suggestions I will give can have.

Waitlist typically aren’t ranked, schools have a variety of students with different strengths and profiles so they can fill any gaps in their class. Getting of a waitlist can be as simple as having the profile that they need.

Schools have different policies when offering seats from the waitlist. Often they are only willing to give you a few days to decide if you will accept and often they will only make the offer after feeling you out to see how interested you really are. By submitting a Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI) you can signal to the school that you are interested and if it if you dream school, you should let them know that if offered a spot you would accept. Obviously you should only say this if it is true.

You should also update your file when appropriate. If you have new grades, send your transcript to LSAC and send a brief note to the school letting them know they should expect an update. If you won an award, got promoted or something else that is relevant to your qualifications for law school, send a brief note explaining it and ask that it be placed in your file. Think about what you are sending and don’t send something that is irrelevant.

Given the short time to decide and late notice that you will receive on a waitlist offer, you should be putting serious thought into your willingness to enroll. You may not have time to visit after the offer but before your deadline to decide is. You should consider visiting the school prior to the offer to get as much information as you can.

Visiting doesn’t mean that you will get an interview. Visiting does not mean that you can talk your way into an offer on the spot. Visiting is a way to signal your strong interest in the school but it really is about you deciding if you would accept a seat if one is offered.
At Illinois I meet with students on the waitlist every week and the impression they leave with me is a factor in the decision, but it is just one of the many variables that come into play. Waitlist applicants have talked themselves right out of an offer by being arrogant, unprofessional (no, you don’t have to wear a suit) or just plain rude to me or my staff. Just something to keep in mind.

I think you should also keep in mind how the school treats the people on its waitlist. Do they send you updates, are they willing to answer your relevant questions, etc. This can be an important signal on how they will treat you as a student and something you should use in your calculation in deciding which school to attend.

So, in short. Be patient. Signal your interest. Update your file when appropriate. Don’t annoy the admissions office.

Good luck,

Re: The AdComm, thoughts from one Dean of Admissions

Posted: Wed Apr 08, 2009 9:40 am
by Pless
Deposit Season
Deposit season is upon us and I have noticed quite a bit of confusion on the topic, not only on this site but also from admitted students at Illinois. I will try to hit all of the questions that I have seen so far, but I am certainly willing to answer any specific questions you might have on my thread.

The Law School Admissions Council has a set of standards it calls “LSAC Statement of Good Admission and Financial Aid Practices” ( ... oodAdm.pdf) and these are meant as guidelines for how law schools conduct their operations. Statement #5 of Application Procedures states:

Except under binding early decision plans or for academic terms beginning in the spring or summer, no law school should require an enrollment commitment of any kind, binding or non-binding, to an offer of admission or scholarship prior to April 1. Admitted applicants who have submitted a timely financial aid application should not be required to commit to enroll by having to make a nonrefundable financial commitment until notified of financial aid awards that are within control of the law school.

The only time that a school should ask you for a commitment prior to April 1 is if you applied some binding early decision process. The rationale behind this exception is that by applying through a binding program you do so knowing that an earlier commitment on your part is required. You are also typically giving yourself a slight advantage in the application process to that school, so the earlier commitment is justified.

The most common question I have seen is “Is my deposit binding?” If you pay a deposit at one school, does that commit you to attending even if you are pulled from a waitlist at a later point? The simple answer is no, you are not bound by your deposit. Statement #6 states:

Except under binding early decision plans, every accepted applicant should be free to accept a new offer from a law school even though a deposit has been paid to another school. To provide applicants with an uncoerced choice among various law schools, no excessive nonrefundable deposit should be required solely to maintain a place in the class. Beginning on June 15 of each year, law schools that participate in the Commitment Overlap Service will be provided with information concerning all enrollment commitments to any law school made by those applicants who have indicated an intention to enroll in that school’s entering class. A law school should clearly communicate its policies on multiple enrollment commitments upon admission.

I have seen some schools that say that by paying the deposit you are committing to that school, withdrawing all other applications and that your decision is final and binding. It is within that schools right to make such a requirement. However, since a rule like that goes against the Standard, it would not be considered misconduct in the admissions process by LSAC.

Schools ask for deposits and seek other commitments from you for obvious reasons. We need to have some certainty in who will be our classrooms on day one. A large portion of any school’s budget comes from the tuition that our students pay. Every seat in the class is valuable not only for that reason, but for the opportunity that it provides someone to better their life and their career. If you aren’t going to fill it, we want to know so we can offer it to someone else.

At Illinois we seek certainty by asking people to pay two deposits equaling $1,000 in total. As the saying goes, “money talks.” Our deposits are non-refundable. If you decide to take another offer after the end of May, you have the absolute right to do so. Your money will stay here.

As I write this I realize that there may be a lot of questions about specific situations, and I would be happy to answer them on my thread at: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=57169

Good luck with your decision.


Re: The AdComm, thoughts from one Dean of Admissions

Posted: Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:13 am
by Pless
Now that the new admissions cycle has begun, I thought I would come back to TLS and continue to answer any questions that you might have about the University of Illinois College of Law or about the admissions process in general. The format will be a little different this year. I will use this blog to answer questions that are sent to me via PM. I am hoping that this will make the questions & answers a little easier to find and sort through. I may occasionally start a thread about a particular topic if I know that I will be able to respond quickly and the topic warrants.

I will try very hard to answer every question that I get, as long as it is relevant and I haven't answered it before. Ken was nice enough to compile my answers from the thread for last cycle here: --LinkRemoved-- You may find the answer to your question there, but I am happy to try and answer any questions you may have.

Same ground rules:
1) If you have a specific question about your application just email me directly and I will be happy to respond.
2) I won't discuss other schools.

Thanks, I look forward to your questions.

Re: The AdComm, thoughts from one Dean of Admissions

Posted: Tue Sep 22, 2009 5:45 pm
by Pless
Asking for a Fee Waiver

Dean Pless,
I read on your TLS blog that you were accepting questions regarding the application process, so here is one that has been on my mind lately. I am an independent 25 year old man who currently attends school full-time while also working full-time. Because I have a high income for a full-time student (I made $20,400 last year), I did not qualify for the LSAC fee waiver. Even though LSAC doesn't think I am poor, I live pretty much paycheck to paycheck, like most people. How should I go about requesting fee waivers from law schools like your own? I know that applicants can email the admissions office and ask, but what information should be included in your email? Do I need to give an in depth explanation or just simply state that I can't afford to send $50 to ten different schools? I've already trimmed my list of schools I'm applying to from around 20 to less than 10, but I don't even know if I can afford that, so I'm just wondering what is the best way to ask for a fee waiver.
Thanks in advance,
Ohio State Undergrad (Go Big Ten!)

Big game this weekend. Different law schools have different approaches to this, although most of us realize that the LSAC standard is a difficult one to meet. At Illinois, in celebration of the Morrill Act visiting the University, we have waived our application fee for every applicant in this cycle.

Most schools issue fee waivers by using the LSAC Credential Referral Service (CRS). This allows the school to use the data in your LSAC account and select people they want to encourage to apply. Schools use different standards, but the most common are LSAT and GPA. If you are taking the September LSAT you may want to wait until your score reports and give the schools a chance to get that information and send you a fee waiver.

If you are seeking a waiver based on financial circumstances, I would suggest that you look carefully at the schools website and see if they have a process in place for requesting one. Follow their instructions, remember that the application process starts the first time you contact a school. If they don't have a policy on their website, send an email to the school explaining your interest in applying and giving a brief (BRIEF) reason as to why you need one. You can offer to provide more information if they request it, but don't overwhelm the schools with tax returns or financial aid documentation unless they specifically request it.


Re: The AdComm, thoughts from one Dean of Admissions

Posted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 10:49 am
by Pless
The Transfer Admissions Process
Dean Pless,

I was hoping you would make a bog post giving an overview of the transfer process and advice. Some things I am interested in:
Personal statement advice and how it compares to the one for 0L applications.
The relative importance of 1L grades, activities, recommendations, essays, etc.
Advice on targeting a transfer school based upon your class rank and law school ranking.
Anything else you think might be beneficial.


The transfer application process varies greatly from school to school. I will try to give a general answer but I can really only speak to how we do things here at Illinois. In the personal statement we are looking for the reason that you want to transfer to Illinois --LinkRemoved--. A fairly straightforward question, but it does trip some people up. You will want to focus on your strengths and how Illinois is the right fit for you. You should avoid discussing any perceived weaknesses in your current school. Your 1L grades are the main factor in the decision. The LSAT and undergraduate GPA are used to predict first-year performance so when we actually have your first year performance that is what we will use. While grades are paramount we will also look at recommendations from faculty at your current school very closely. Often these will come from Legal Writing Instructors and their thoughts on your performance in class, your level of commitment and your writing ability are very useful. The last big component is a pretty simple one, an absolutely clear record while in law school. Any disciplinary issues during your first year will be very difficult to overcome.

Grades vary from school to school. We focus more on class rank then your raw GPA. Obviously we are looking for students who have performed at a very high level. Typically that means top-third from a “peer” school and better from a more regional law school. We don’t have any strict cut-offs and review each file carefully and in its entirety. Once we have selected the people that we feel can perform at a high level here at Illinois we conduct interviews. The interviews are designed to test your maturity, motivation and your demeanor. We want people that will fit in well to our community.

Transferring can be tough. You make a lot of close friends in your first year of law school and it can be harder than you might think to leave that behind. You also need to learn a whole new school and figure out how things works. We try to give our students a lot of support with multiple orientations to various aspects of our program as well as Peer Advisors who were transfer students themselves. Our transfer students tend to do very well here at Illinois and I really enjoy the admissions process for them. Hope that answers your questions.