The Waiting Game
Published October 2006, last updated June 2010
The University of Florida Pre-Law handbook discusses the anticipation all students feel while waiting to hear back on decisions from the admissions committees. "Once your applications are in and your file is completed, they can go to committee and you can be considered for admission. All of your hard work is done and now comes the easy part - the waiting and waiting and waiting. For some students the wait may not be that long. If your application is very strong, you may find out you have been accepted to a law school before the Thanksgiving break depending upon how early your application was sent in. On the other hand, if you are not competitive for certain schools, you may find out you have not been accepted fairly quickly. The positive spin to this is that you may still have time to apply to another school you were holding back on. Most students, however, will be placed in that middle category where the law schools want to get a look at every eligible application before they make their final determination about the make-up of the class."
The Difficulties of Deciding
Johns Hopkins University states that "Choosing where to go to law school can be even more difficult than deciding where to apply. Many students feel that the hardest part of the admissions process is selecting a school to attend once acceptances have been received."I recommend that you personally visit every law school that you are seriously considering. For example, I was thinking of attending the University of Chicago Law School due to its excellent focus upon law and economics, but my visit there showed me that it was not a good fit for me. The gray, dreary weather of Chicago coupled with the atmosphere of the school made me realize that I wanted to stay in sunny California and focus on U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall and Stanford Law School. One should make their decision based on a multitude of factors and visiting the law schools you are applying to, allows you to make those decisions based on first-hand experience as opposed to something you have only read about.
Law School Admission Deadlines
Each acceptance letter from a law school has an expiration date (deadline), by which you must notify the law school whether you accept or reject its offer of admission. Under early decision plans, this deadline cannot be before April 1. The deadline dates force you, ready or not, to make a decision.
Some Rules of the Law School Admission Game
Once you are quite certain that you will not be attending one or more law schools to which you applied and to which your application was not rejected, send a letter to these law schools informing them that you will be attending law school elsewhere.
Do not feel that accepting admission to a law school is an irrevocable decision. Law schools expect that some applicants who accept admission will later decline admission; in fact, law schools even encourage this practice by accepting wait-listed applicants up until early August. Note that your accepting and then rejecting a law school will probably make two people happy: you and the person who takes your seat at the law school you accepted, but later rejected. The ideal law school admission procedure would have each applicant going to the law school that he/she finds most appealing and each law school enrolling the applicants who are most appealing to it. The present practice of allowing applicants to change their mind after April 1 and allowing law schools to send letters of acceptance after April 1 brings the law school application procedure closer to this ideal.
Every time you have to make a decision about accepting a law school admission offer, have a strict ranking (no ties) of the law schools to which you have applied and to which you have not been rejected. To get this ranking, look over the reasons why you applied to this law school and then reassess these reasons again to help you rank them again. Note that this ranking should be based upon your personal criteria, not just off of law school rankings, which are often flawed in methodology. You should personally visit every law school that you are seriously considering.
We recommend that you pay a seat deposit to reserve your spot while waiting to hear back from your top choice. This seat deposit is credited to the first-year tuition and will likely be lost if you do not attend. Our feeling is that this is a small price to pay for getting into the most desirable school that accepts you.
What To Do With Law Schools that Wait-List You
The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools states, "If you have strong qualifications, but you do not quite meet the competition of those currently being admitted at a particular law school, you may be placed on a waiting list for possible admission at a later date. The law school will send you a letter notifying you of its final decision as early as April or as late as July or even August. Many schools rank students who are on the waiting list. Some law schools will tell you your rank. If a law school doesn't tell you, you might ask the admission office how many students have been placed on the waiting list."
New College of South Florida suggests that candidates wait-listed at a law school that interests them should "contact the admissions office [at each of these law schools] and speak with a member of the professional staff to find out exactly what this means. Ask the following questions if they are not answered in the letter [that notified you that you were being wait-listed]":
How long is the wait-list?
What percentage of students on the wait-list are ultimately admitted?
Are wait-list students ranked? If so, ask where you are ranked?
When are final decisions regarding the wait-list made?
Then, partition the law schools that wait-listed you into two categories:
The ones that are less appealing than one or more law schools that accepted you. Write these less appealing law schools a letter indicating that you will be attending another law school.
The ones that are more appealing than all of the law schools that accepted you. Notify these more appealing law schools that you are still interested in attending. Also keep in touch with these law schools, making sure to continue to express your interest in attending. Make sure to send good news (such as excellent first-semester senior year grades or a new award) when received and with verification (e.g. a transcript). Make sure to send bad news only on demand. If you lose interest in one or more of these law schools, write these law schools a letter indicating that you will be attending another law school.
Wait listed applicants may be notified as late as early August, so be prepared to act on short notice.