Wait, Wait, Please DO Tell Me: Your Waitlist Survival Guide

Branden:

This week we're tackling a topic that's relevant to many of our listeners at this time of year.

Jelena:

Wait.

Branden:

Oh, okay. What for?

Jelena:

I'm putting you on my waitlist, get it?

Branden:

I know we do corny jokes in these intros, but this one is really bad.

Jelena:

I said, wait.

Branden:

Fine. I'm waiting.

Jelena:

Good. Okay, go.

Branden:

This week, we're tackling a topic that's relevant to many of our listeners at this time of year, what to do if you're on a waitlist.

Jelena:

And we won't make you wait any longer for us to answer all your burning questions on this subject, let's jump in. Welcome to The Legal Level, a podcast from TestMax. I'm Jelena.

Branden:

And I'm Branden, we're your companions on the road to the legal field. Whether you've just started thinking about law school or you've already passed the bar.

Max Fischer (Rushmore):

What are you, a lawyer?

Jelena:

The Legal Level is available from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and wherever you're listening to it right now.

Branden:

If you like today's episode, don't forget to subscribe and tell a friend.

Jelena:

After you're done listening, if you still have questions about today's topic, you can talk about it with a 99th percentile LSAT instructor by texting L-S-A-T, to (310) 818-7743. Or if you'd like your question to be on the show, just email podcast@testmaxprep.com and we might answer you on the air.

Branden:

So as we've been covering all season, law school applications were up this year. As of April 1st, we've got roughly final numbers, 21% more people applied to law school this season than the previous season, and about 17% more people applied this season than two seasons ago.

Jelena:

Now this isn't the 40% spike some people were predicting last fall. Remember we've always said you needed to wait until the end of the season to see how much applications really increased, because a lot of people could just be applying earlier. And that looks like it was true, but a 21% increase is still pretty big, especially considering a lot of law schools may not be able to go back to campus this fall, or may need to take extra social distancing measures when they do. Which hall adds up to it's unlikely that there'll be admitting more students than usual. And if anything, incoming class sizes could get smaller.

Branden:

Which means more people on waitlists. So this week we're answering frequently asked questions about what to do when you're wait-listed.

Jelena:

Our intern, Maddie, who happens to be on some law school waitlists herself collected these questions through the Legal Level's new Instagram page, and make sure to follow us for future opportunities to submit your questions. We'll put a link in the show notes.

Branden:

Now let's get into these questions. So the first one is to just define terms. So Jelena, why was I wait-listed and what does wait-listed mean?

Jelena:

So when you apply to a law school, you can either be accepted, in which case you get historically a thick envelope, although often it's actually a phone call or an email now. Or you can be rejected, but sometimes you are neither of those things. Sometimes you get told that you were placed on a waitlist. Basically that means that they have offers out to enough people to fill up their entire incoming class of available seats. But it is typical because most people are not applying to only one law school. It is typical that some of those offers will not be accepted even for elite law schools. Some people decide to defer for a year, even if they got into their dream law school, some people were accepted to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, champagne problems if I ever heard them and will be going to the one of the three that gave them some financial aid.

Jelena:

So no matter how great the law school is, they want to hedge their bets because they certainly don't want to have say received 2000 applications for an incoming class of 200 and then bungled the admission process so extensively that they don't end up filling their 200 seats because they rejected too many people. And then too many of their admitted students declined the admission and went somewhere else. And now they don't have enough students. So if you essentially . . . If they think that you are maybe qualified to go to that school, they would be happy to have you as a student, but it's just that there were more students that were maybe a little bit more qualified or who maybe had similar qualifications and similar appeal, but just submitted their application earlier and were given offers of admission before your application got in. Then they will notify you that you are on a waitlist, which means that you will be considered for any spots that open up by someone either declining their offer of admission or deferring.

Branden:

So I made it onto multiple waitlists when I was applying to law school. And I should probably just explain my experience with waitlists since I do have that experience, although it was a long time ago, waitlists I'm sure operated the same way that they do now. So I applied to three schools. They were all in the Los Angeles area. I applied to Loyola Marymount. I applied to UCLA, and I applied to USC University of Southern California. So Loyola Marymount accepted me, USC and UCLA, both wait-listed me. They both wait-listed me because at both of those schools, I was a splitter. If you don't know what a splitter is, a splitter is where when it comes to LSAT and GPA, you are well above the median on one of those numbers. And you're well below the median on the other. And when you're a splitter, it's always up in the air if they're going to want to accept you.

Branden:

So we talked in last week's episode about rankings. One of the things that factors into rankings for better or for worse is incoming class GPA, incoming class, LSAT. And so law schools are definitely spending a lot of time making their decisions on those things. So I got wait-listed at two schools. I didn't really want to go to Loyola. So I was actually kind of thinking if I didn't get into USC and UCLA, I was just going to hold off from law school for another year. I actually got . . . This was maybe three weeks before the start of the school year. So I had applied in probably, maybe November, I want to say. I had got my applications in pretty much on time. And UCLA called me in for an interview with one of the admissions officers about three weeks before the school year started.

Branden:

I went in for the interview and I think about a week later, I finally got accepted. And so it was kind of a scramble to go from my plans, which were not going to law school next year, or to starting law school in two weeks, but it worked out. So UCLA ended up letting me off the waitlist. It was kind of a nail biter, but I was happy about that. USC, and this is not to say anything bad about USC. It's a very good school. The alumni network is excellent, but USC, here is what I heard from them, and it was never actually about the waitlist. So I was on the waitlist. I got accepted at UCLA. I went there, I started, I never heard anything from USC. And then I think about November of that school year when I was almost three months into my classes at UCLA, all I got from USC was a letter saying that my personal information had been compromised and they were very sorry that that had happened. Never ever did they tell me if I got in, I'm still on their waitlist, I think technically.

Jelena:

Well, it sounds like you'll be waiting for a while.

Branden:

Yes.

Jelena:

Maybe next year will be your year.

Branden:

Fingers crossed, knock on wood, all that good stuff.

Jelena:

All right. So the number one thing that people tend to think about if they've done the basic research via Dr. Google about what to do, if I'm on a waitlist is the LOCE, or letter of continued interest. So the letter of continued interest is essentially a response to the law school that has placed you on a waitlist that confirms that you have not accepted another offer of admission somewhere that you intend to continue with, regardless of where else you would get into. And that you are still interested in attending their school if you are taken off the waitlist. So should you do letters of continued interest? What makes a good letter of continued interest? Do they actually matter or do they just go into some anonymous email inbox somewhere where nobody reads them?

Branden:

I actually happen to think they don't make a whole lot of difference. We should definitely explain them. And a lot of people do them, but usually if you are offered a place on the waitlist, they'll ask you, do you want to be on the waitlist? And so you tell them, yes, I'm continuing to wait for your decision. Or no, I'm going with another school already. So once that has happened, as happened in my case, you might wait months on the waitlist. It might be a long time. I got wait-listed, I think in, I don't know, March, and then it wasn't until August that I got off the waitlist. So what people do is because they are fidgety and because this is about their future, and it's very important to them is that they want to give the law school a little nudge so they can hear something back, or try to get some kind of response, or move the needle or something.

Branden:

So what a letter of continued interest is, is that you send a letter to a law school. You tell them that you continue to be interested. I tell people that it's important to make it have some kind of informational value to it, if you at all possibly can. And here's what I mean by that. What you want to do is in your letter of continued interest, offer them some kind of tidbit, hopefully over and above what was in your application that gives you a reason to be checking in with them. Because if you're just asking, where is my admission? They're working on it, they know you're on the waitlist, except for USC. They don't know you're on the waitlist, they don't care.

Jelena:

I thought we weren't roasting USC.

Branden:

I come from a Bruin family. It's just, I can't help it. It's a tick. It's a nervous tick.

Speaker 6:

U-C-L-A. UCLA, fight, fight, fight.

Branden:

Anyway, what I was saying about letters of continued interest is that if you can, if you have a new internship or a new job that you've taken, or some undergraduate paper that you wrote was published in a journal, or something like that, any bit of extra information that you can present as giving another independent reason why your application shines, whereas the application they're comparing it against maybe doesn't, then go ahead and send one of those letters of continued interest. I think it's fine. I would be surprised if in the history of letters of continued interest, there was ever one that got somebody into a school that they would not have gotten into otherwise. I think mostly the purpose of the letter of continued interest is to alleviate the anxiety of the person who is just sitting there on the waitlist and getting radio silence from the law school.

Branden:

I think it's important not to be annoying. And so sending one letter of continued interest is fine. If you're sending multiple letters of continued interest, I think, and this is just speculation because I'm not an admissions officer, but I think that's annoying. And I would think that that would make you probably less likely to get in. So one letter of continued interest, especially if it's newsy, if there's some bit of information that's useful, sure send it. But don't expect it to get you in off the waitlist immediately. And you may not even get a response about it.

Jelena:

Yeah, I would tend to agree with that. It's probably not a good idea to send your letter of continued interest five minutes after you've confirmed that you want to be on the waitlist, maybe wait a couple of months and let them know what you've been doing since then. So far, I've spent my summer volunteering at a great legal nonprofit, and I've learned that I really haven't addressed in immigration law. And since I know your immigration law program is one of the top ones in the country and especially this particular professor is great, that makes me even more interested in your school. That kind of letter of continued interest after something has actually changed in your life is not going to hurt you. And hey, maybe you'll catch somebody on a day where that doesn't necessarily nudge you from, they're just going to reject you to ah, accept them immediately. But maybe that makes them a little more interested in you.

Lloyd Christmas (Dumb & Dumber):

So you're telling me there's a chance?

Jelena:

But yeah, it's not going to make the difference because honestly the biggest factor controlling if you get in off the waitlist is how many other people accept their offers of admission. And there's nothing you can do about that unless you want to go vigilante and start picking off the people who've received, acceptance offers. Which I suppose is a fantasy everyone on the waitlist has had, but not actually good idea in our reality.

Branden:

So now you've discovered my horrible secret of how I got into UCLA.

Jelena:

Oh is that how that strange murder spree about 10 years ago happened?

Branden:

That's so nice that you say it's about 10 years ago because I started law school a lot more than 10 years ago. I finished law school 10 years ago.

Speaker 5:

Whatever you say, Boomer.

Jelena:

Everything is 10 years ago. 1990 is 10 years ago, 2000 is 10 years ago, 2010 is 10 years ago. The era that we live in has warped everybody's sense of time.

Branden:

Well, UCLA will be happy to know that 1990 was 10 years ago, because as we were discussing before this podcast, UCLA's library looks like it is the year 1990 come to life. So instead of it being . . . My God, is that 30 years ago? Instead of being 30 years ago, it's only 10 years ago.

Jelena:

Well, that is the lesson that my mom taught me about fashion as a child, which is, if you keep something long enough, it will go back into style. So UCLA has kept their decor in the library long enough, and it is now a charmingly retro. Okay. But back to the waitlist, back to the waitlist. So some schools, notoriously including Georgetown have a preferred waitlist, and some schools are said to have ranked waitlists. So are most law schools ranking the people on their waitlist, which kind of implies that there are some people at the bottom of the rankings who really have no chance at getting in whether or not there are a bunch of people who don't accept their offers of admission?

Branden:

Well, I mean, I would imagine, and I don't know the internal workings of these law schools, but I would imagine that they have some kind of way of prioritizing the people who are on the waitlist. If that is a, this person is number one, if somebody else declines or this person is . . . I think that's possible. What I would think, and again, this is kind of rank speculation, and I know I'm probably not supposed to do rank speculation, but law schools are looking to put together, and we've talked about this on other episodes before, law schools are looking to put together diverse classes. So that's diversity in terms of the normal categories that we think about race, gender, ethnicity, religion, things like that. But really a lot of what they're looking for is just diversity in experience. So they want to put together a well-rounded class of people who will bring different perspectives on the law, especially like different personal experiences to bear.

Branden:

So what I would think, and again, I'm not sure that this is how it works is that they have an idea of where somebody on the waitlist or where somebody fits in to that particular scheme that they're trying to affect. So what I would think is that if you are the next in line for a particular slot, that may not be the same as there just being one master list where one person is at the top and the other person is at the bottom. So what I would think they would do is see who are the people who they gave offers to who end up rejecting them, and then what kind of person can fill in that gap. So I would think that it's a little bit more nuanced than just a top ranked and a bottom ranked, but I don't know, I have not yet been an admissions officer. That's coming, probably never.

Jelena:

And people who are admissions officers necessarily kind of keep some of their cards close to the chest, because if they release their whole methodology, then students would inevitably try to game it, which is not actually the way to get into law school because they are looking for you. The place where that's going to be a good law school for you is going to accept you as your actual self. Obviously you want to present your actual self in the best way possible, but they've been in these jobs for a while, most of the time. They work their way up to head of admissions from lower positions in admissions. And by the time they're really making decisions to admit or not admit, these people are pretty good at spotting applications from people who are trying to game the system in some way. So it's probably good that they don't release their whole methodologies.

Jelena:

Many schools do, however, actually have some kind of a page or a blog post on their website about their waitlist process. Georgetown has some information that they email out to people who are placed on their preferred waitlist and they have some information on their website about their waitlists. So you can trust that if they put certain information about the waitlist out there, it is probably fairly accurate to their actual policy. So yes, if you are on the preferred waitlist, then you do have a little better chance at admission than people who are on the non preferred waitlist. But that doesn't mean that everybody who's non-preferred will not get in because if they truly felt they had no chance of admitting you, then they would have just rejected you. It costs them nothing to reject you.

Branden:

Yes, it does. And speaking of cost, I think we should talk about something that concerns people when they end up on the waitlist. And I do think this is a valid concern. So does being, wait-listed mean I'm not going to get any scholarship money, what do you think?

Jelena:

Yeah, probably, I mean, a lot of law schools have kind of an automatic scholarship that they give out just like $5,000 a year off your tuition. That is just kind of a discount so that they have a higher ranking in terms of like, there's the US News and World Report reports things like most generous law schools. And they do percentage of students who get a scholarship and they like to have, if you're above a certain LSAT score, you might kind of get an automatic scholarship of some sort of a small amount. But in terms of larger full and half tuition kind of scholarships. Yeah. I think they're going to offer those to the first sort of people that they tend to admit who are the students that they are really shooting to get into their class.

Jelena:

Now, of course there are some law schools who give out all of their financial aid on a need basis. And that includes many of the top law schools, like for instance, Columbia. So if you're going to one of those schools that all financial aid is need-based than whether you're wait-listed or not, should not affect your financial aid. But in terms of merit scholarships, which I prefer to call tuition discounts. Yeah. If you were wait-listed you're not getting a big one.

Branden:

My experience is yes, if you are wait-listed you're not getting a big tuition discount, unfortunately. But yeah, I think that's right. A lot of those tuition discounts as you call them, comes specifically because a law school is trying to entice somebody who may or may not want to go there in order to go there. If you're on the waitlist, they kind of feel like they don't need to entice you. And especially if you're sending them letters of continued interest, they probably realize they don't need to entice you. That doesn't mean a letter of continued interest is going to make them close their wallets and not give you a tuition discount when they would otherwise. But I just think that tuition discounts are for a purpose that if you're on the waitlist, that is not your purpose, unfortunately.

Jelena:

Yeah, yeah. Unfortunately, so, yes. So that might kind of lead us to another question that we got, which is how do you move on emotionally from being wait-listed and not obsess? Which might be especially important for students who realistically can't afford to go to a school that they're not getting some financial aid from. How do you deal with it mentally, if you've been wait-listed somewhere that probably you feel like you're not going to get into, but now it feels like if you accept an offer of admission from a quote, lesser school, then you're selling yourself short because maybe you'll get in off the waitlist at Columbia or Harvard.

Branden:

Yeah. I mean, my response to this is kind of something that I say just in general to people, which is, it's awesome to say, "I went to Yale Law School. It is always ranked number one in the US News and World Report. And here's my sheep skin. And this makes me just an excellent human being." But really the purpose of law school. And this is going to sound incredibly stupid and obvious. But the purpose of law school is to train you to be a lawyer. It's not about law school. It's about you having a career that you're going to be successful and happy with. And the prestige of the school that you go to is usually not very closely correlated with what kind of career you're going to have. Instead, the things that are correlated with happiness in your career are, are you practicing in an area of law that you like? Are you practicing in a market that you want to practice in?

Branden:

Are you living where you want to live? Are you coming out of law school with a mountain of debt, or are you coming out of law school with not much debt? So I think the way to look at it is like, yeah, it's nice to get into that school of your dreams, but it's also totally irrelevant after your first job. So once you get your . . . So law firms like the big law firms, the Jones Day's, the Morrison & Foerster's, the Irell & Manella's, things like that. They hire out of top law schools. So if that's where you are intending to go right after law school, then yes, the prestige of your law school matters. And if you're on the waitlist at a prestigious law school and the other law schools are less prestigious, then that might be a problem.

Branden:

But once you have your first job law firms hire, when they're hiring lawyers who already have experience, they hire just like every other industry, which is they hire based on your performance. And you know what? A bunch of people go to Yale and ended up not being very good lawyers. And a bunch of people go to law schools that nobody who lives more than two miles from the law school has ever heard of. And they end up being very successful lawyers, because being a lawyer is a job. It's about providing services to your client. And so at the end of the day, the prestige of the law school you go to, I think is really not that important. I know that if you have your heart set on a particular law school, if you really like the school's colors and you're hoping to I don't know, wear them or something like that, I guess that can be disappointing. But I think if you're focused on the long-term, what you will find out is that it really doesn't matter that much if you don't get into that particular law school.

Jelena:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean that's kind of like lawyers will tell you that your LSAT score stops mattering after you've gotten your first year's law school grades, and the law school stops mattering after you have performed well in your first legal job. So while there's alumni communities and cool sweatshirts for going to top law schools, it's still the same job. You're still a lawyer. Okay. Maybe we can make this our last question. What is the timeline like? Is there a point at which it's kind of, if you haven't heard from them, you're not getting in off the waitlist?

Branden:

Well, my experience is no, there is not any point where you are prevented because I got in off the waitlist very, very late. Like I said, once they accepted me, I think it was two weeks before school started. School started in mid August. And so I got accepted in early August. I had applied, like I said in November. So I waited eight to nine months. Something like that, possibly even a little bit more. So my experience is that the waitlist goes until they tell you, no, the waitlist is done, or until the school year starts, which is obviously when the waitlist is done. I would hope that schools would be kind of more aggressive about telling people whether or not they get off of the waitlist. But that's more about the, the applicant's mental state and the anxiety that it causes to be on the waitlist, than the timeline. So for me, for my personal experience, the fact that you have not gotten in off the waitlist in spring does not mean that you will not get in off the waitlist, but I'm sure every school is different.

Jelena:

Yeah. That's been the experience my students have had, too. We had Olivia on the podcast last fall, who was actually in orientation at another law school when she got in off the preferred Georgetown waitlist. We've heard from a lot of people that they got in off the waitlist pretty late, because it's not just about people turning down their offers of admission because they got a better offer in March or April. It is also about people having a family emergency and needing to defer at the last minute, or changing their mind about going to law school at all at the last minute.

Jelena:

Yes, there are fewer slots opening up as the year drags on because people will have paid deposits for their seats that are non-refundable if they don't end up attending that school at all. So people are then less likely to turn it down for frivolous reasons like, oh, I want to go spend a year traveling the world first. Not to say that world travel is frivolous, but it is less of a emergency than like, I need to caregive for a dying family member for a year and cannot move across the country to go to law school.

Jelena:

But those things do unfortunately happen. Or people get off of other waitlists and the change their mind about the school. To again, use Olivia as an example, she was in orientation at another school and she got into Georgetown. So then her spot became available. So somebody else probably heard from that other school off their waitlist, even later than she heard from Georgetown. They might've decided they weren't going to law school that year, and then all of a sudden they get a call. Well, we've had a seat open up, would you like to come?

Jelena:

So it kind of is this like waitlist dominoes at a certain point where higher ranking law schools start letting in waitlist students who are possibly have decided to accept an offer of admission from a lower ranking law school, then those seats open up, those waitlists people get in, maybe they've accepted an offer of admission from an even lower ranking school. So I would say not only is there no deadline for when to get off the waitlist, it doesn't even mean you're not off the waitlist if the school year has started. Every once in a while, people get off the waitlist after the school year has started.

Branden:

So there is hope.

Lloyd Christmas (Dumb & Dumber):

Yeah!

Branden:

And there continues to be hope, I think until they say no. So I think that's a good lesson to end on. And I think we've done all we can for today to help our listeners survive the dreaded waitlist limbo. So why don't we close with one final piece of advice? There's no law that says you have to attend a law school you don't really want to go to, and there's no maximum age to start law school. If you don't get off the waitlist and into your dream school, that doesn't necessarily mean the best move is to settle. You can always wait a year, bolster your resume, try to raise your LSAT score, and try again.

Jelena:

And I'll give the equal but opposing piece of advice. Look, nearly all accredited and ranked law schools have highly qualified professors. Law professor is an awesome job and the people who want it and are able to get it, tend to be pretty good at it. So as long as you're not getting pushed down to an unranked or unaccredited law school by not getting off your waitlists, there's also nothing wrong with just going to one of the schools you did get into. Don't let waitlist placements make you feel like you're letting yourself down by attending a school that is actually eager to have you as a student.

Branden:

Yeah. So I guess the big takeaway is what's right for you is up to you. It's not up to us, or blogs, or your friends or your family. It's a big decision, but it is yours to make.

Jelena:

And that sounds like a perfect note to end on. Thanks again to Maddie for collecting these questions for us. And don't forget to go to the show notes for a link to our new Instagram page, where you can find future opportunities to submit questions that we might answer on the show.

Branden:

Thanks for listening.

Jelena:

You can find all of our episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you get your podcasts. If you're enjoying the show, we would love a five star rating and a review on Apple Podcasts.

Branden:

You can also check out the show notes for links to further reading and resources from today's episode.

Jelena:

Until next time stay hydrated, study hard, and remember, plenty of heroes carry a briefcase.

Branden & Jelena:

Plenty of heroes carry a briefcase!

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