Podcast: Diary of a Law School Applicant's Cycle Episode 2 (The Waiting)

In this episode, we continue our interview series with "Barb," a current applicant. Barb is a splitter with a 176 LSAT and a 3.1 GPA, and she's also a non-traditional applicant with 10+ years of full-time work experience after college. In this interview, she and Mike discuss the many emotions and anxieties that come up after you hit that "submit" button, what to expect as far as a timeline for hearing back from schools, and the potential implications of the Omicron variant for admitted students' days.

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Full Transcript:

Mike: Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, law school admissions, a little bit of everything. Today is law school admissions focused. We're rejoining “Barb,” an applicant we've been discussing the cycle with as she progresses through the cycle. She's a super splitter, so a score the high 170 range, but a GPA from years ago that's below all the medians of all the schools she'll be applying to.

This one's interesting because Barb has submitted 13 of 15 of her applications. Understandably, hasn't heard anything. It's only been a couple weeks, but we spend a great deal of time talking about how much that silence can get to you. How much anxiety is produced when the future is uncertain, which is a position so many people right now are in. If you're in the cycle, even if you've heard from some schools, great obviously, but your future is still uncertain.

And there's a lot of people that haven't heard from a lot of schools. I talked with Barb after the podcast, which incidentally, that's not her name, we're just trying to keep things confidential. And my best guess is maybe 15%, 17% of admits have gone out yet. I mean if you think about it, some schools haven't even admitted yet. So we have 80% of admits coming.

So a lot of people are in this waiting period, and we talk a good deal about that and how to make the waiting sort of more pleasant, and maybe what you can proactively do during the waiting aside from hammering schools, asking them for results. So without further delay, here's Barb.

I am joined once again with Barb, who is in the throes of this cycle, and I'm going to let Barb sort of catch us up on where she's at. You certainly don't have to say the schools you've applied to, maybe you can give us a range or whatever, Barb, and what's going on since we last talked.

Barb: Yeah. So it's finally the middle of December. December's finally here. I have submitted applications to 13 schools. I have two more that I've decided to submit that required a little extra writing, but I plan to finish in the next three to four days. So yeah, I'm mostly done. I started submitting the week before Thanksgiving. It took me about four or five days to get everything in since every school has slightly different requirements to meet. So yeah, and then after Thanksgiving it took, you know, probably a week to 10 days for all of the confirmation emails, application complete emails, status check logins, all of those things to roll in. And then since then it's been radio silence.

Mike: Radio silence after just a week, right, Barb?

Barb: Yeah, yeah. But boy, it feels real quiet after all that work you put in and you submit everything and then you just sit there and wonder.

Mike: So for doing this for 22 years, what you just told me, I mean, I get people who reach out after six hours of submitting in panic that they haven't heard. I don't have great news for you, but I think it's good for not just you but for everyone to hear this. It can take a week, it can take a month, it can take literally six months. And I don't have a psychological intervention. Dr. Guy Winch was on our podcast, and he did talk about how to wait. My only intervention would be, pretend it's going to take six months, and your expectations are going to be pleasantly exceeded.

Barb: It's been a challenge because you're right. Logically, I know there is no reason for me to have heard anything at this point. And I know that. Logically, I know that. But it is so different when, you know, when you're working on applications, you have these tasks that keep you busy. There's always something to be working on. There's a thing to edit, to write, to procure, someone to reach out to. And then you submit them. And that part of your brain doesn't have those same tasks to distract anymore. So, definitely that portion of the process, and based on the way the law admissions subreddit has changed over the last four to six weeks, I would guess a lot of other people are also in that same place with a lot of nervous, anxious energy, and not as many outlets for it to go into.

Mike: Yeah. And we could talk about it either one of those two things, healthy outlets. For example, I play this game called Bloons TD5 on my iPhone. Actually, I'm not sure that's healthy, but I do get a five-minute escape from the stresses of being misquoted in the media. If I didn't have a stress fractured foot, I'd be trail running every day. So there's lots of healthy things you can do obviously to free your mind. Meditation. But I'm actually curious on the unhealthy one, which is how often are you on Reddit? How many threads are you reading?

Barb: I'm going to be really honest with you. I did not take my own advice that I gave in the last podcast where I was like, “Oh yeah, I only check it once or twice a week. I filter by the, you know, the top post. So I only read the ones that are the most popular.” I have noticed over the last week, week and a half, the amount of time I spend on that subreddit, I am afraid to know the count of the hours. In the last few days, I've tried to be a lot more conscious of it and not just mindlessly go there. But it's interesting you bring up one of the interviews you did because I just started reading a book called Unwinding Anxiety. Are you familiar with this book?

Mike: No, but we should have the author on our podcast.

Barb: Yeah, yeah. So it just came out this year. So it's really great because it includes the COVID world, which I think makes the book super interesting and important. The author is Judson Brewer, he's an M.D.

Mike: Oh, yeah, yeah. He's at Brown.

Barb: Yeah. He's an MD/PhD, and his book is phenomenal. Unwinding Anxiety is his newest book, and I think it's great because it's written from the perspective that everyone has anxiety and he is explaining why. And I found it so illuminating. It's so helpful for this process. And one of the things he says is that anxiety comes from a place where your prefrontal cortex wants to predict the future. It wants to know what's going to happen. And reading that, it just dawned on me for so many reasons, those of us that are applying to law school right now, we have no idea what's going to happen truly.

With LSAT scores being so unpredictable, applicant volumes, number of applications per applicant, like you being misquoted. You know, you're using your own knowledge and making your best educated guesses, but even you don't know what's going to happen. And his book has really shown me that this part of the cycle especially, is just the perfect storm for anxiety and worry and just turning your brain into a mess.

Mike: We had Dr. Gabor Maté on, he spoke on the podcast on anxiety, and he talked a good deal about how you're comparing your insides with other people's outsides, but you don't know their insides. So this is one of the problems with Reddit. What you're seeing is what they're saying, vis-à-vis thought-out messages. But you don't necessarily know what other people are thinking.

Now, sometimes Reddit can be helpful because there's some people in there that are going to say, “Hey, isn't anyone else in the same, but I am, I've applied to schools and I haven’t heard.” And that's probably soothing. But I would say that for every one of those posts, there's five to 10, “Hey, I'm so excited that I just got into Princeton Law School.” And while you're happy for that person, subconsciously, that's got to be a little bit like, “When am I going to hear from Princeton Law School?”

Barb: Yeah. And I've started to wonder too, you know, the way my mind works. You know, when I want to predict the future, I’ll go looking for more information and some of the websites — there's multiple, so I won't name them — but places where you can go and see the data points, and it's self-reported, right. But it's a GPA, it's an LSAT score. It's where they applied. It's the date they got in. It’s how much scholarship money they got.

And I believe that all these resources are valuable, but I think maybe we haven't thought about their impact on us as people or the extra stress, worry, comparison. I think that there's got to be some kind of balance there. I don't feel like I've figured it out, certainly. So I don't know what the answer is. Because I do believe all these things are resources. You know, the subreddit is how I learned that I could ask or fee waivers. I got so many additional fee waivers, application fee waivers from schools simply because I asked. I wouldn't have known to do that without the subreddit. So I'm certainly not someone that has the answers.

Mike: I can talk about both those, if you want.

Barb: Yeah.

Mike: Those make people money. We are not completely disillusioned by the fact that if we created one of those, we would double our website traffic and be in the top 50,000 in the United States websites. But we've resisted on principle. So let me tell you what I — and I'm not judging other people's principles. Let me tell you what my principles are. The predicting ones that are out there, even if LSAC who has all the data and is not self-reported, so they wouldn't be lying and people do lie on those websites —

Barb: Oh yeah.

Mike: — So even if LSAC were to do it, it would be horrible because it would only give you the previous cycle’s chances, not the current cycle’s. Last year was like the case study on the predictive modeling in being wrong. So law schools can't stand the predictive ones, because it has nothing to do with the current cycle, and on principle, we're not going to do it. Also, we work close to a lot of law schools, we work with a lot of law schools. So we're not going to do something that no one in the legal admissions industry thinks is a good idea.

Now, the sites that show what's going on during the cycle may be a little bit better, but I will say this: every year, there are people with the exact same numbers who get admitted to the same school, waitlisted to the same school, and denied from the same school. Also, every year the cycles occur at completely different paces, sometimes unintentionally so. Sometimes you're filtered into the wrong pile. I've seen many schools admit lots of people and then have to say, “Sorry, we didn't mean to admit you.” That's a very public facing thing that happens. At a private level sometimes, schools mean to read people's files a lot sooner and they get filtered into the wrong bucket.

So my point is, even with these data points that you're seeing real time, okay, “I was just admitted to Brown Law School.” I'm going to just make up names so no one gets upset. Okay, great. But that's a micro, micro, micro level data point that has little to do with the macro level cycle. So I wouldn't put too much emphasis on it. Let me give you a real-life example. There was a top 14 law school that got rid of it, but used to have a preferred track program. So they would invite you preferred track. They used to waitlist a ton of the people they invited to apply preferred track. And I would get an incredible amount of emails and phone calls, “Oh my gosh, my cycle is doomed because this school waitlisted me.” And I would say, “Just wait a month.” Because I could see these people's — they were telling me their data, their LSAT and GPA. A month later, they're admitted to Harvard, Penn, Columbia, and then two months later, maybe Stanford, maybe Yale. And they had long forgotten about the school that had panicked them a month ago because the school was prob— I don't want to put words into the school's mouth, but they might have been yield protecting.

So to the extent that, you know, we can all give the cycle time, maybe not get obsessed with what individuals got admitted today. You don't know if they're connected to that law school, you don't know if they started an elephant refugee camp in Afghanistan — and that was like the best, true story, best essay the school had ever seen, et cetera, et cetera — all you know is here's these little scatter plot data points and it's going to churn me up for days by looking at it.

Barb: Yeah. And it speaks really well to kind of where I started to spiral earlier in the week, like you're saying it's data points. One, you don't know if they're telling the truth, and then two, there's so much information that's missing. So I've been trying to find other things to fill my time. Another thing that surprised me when I finally finished my applications, you know, I spent frankly months working on my written components, brainstorming ideas, you know, I talked about a few of my personal statement ideas with you last time. I had multiple friends and colleagues editing, reviewing multiple drafts. So much time is spent on these written components, and then you go into the LSAC website, you fill everything out, you attach certain documents, you review the PDF — which, there was one where I attached the wrong documents — review every PDF, thankfully. And I'm looking at these applications and I'm thinking, “How on earth do they decide with these materials?” You know, I got to the end of the process and I was so tired of reading and writing about myself. I got to the end and I just thought, “Man, I'm over myself.” How are these schools supposed to decide based on what feels like such a limited selection, such a specific selection of materials in an application? I was sort of baffled at the end of it, with how I felt.

Mike: It’s so much about differentiation, because when you read 12 personal statements in a row, all about, “This summer, I interned at X,” you do like even start tuning out that limited information even more so. And then when the 13th personal statement is, “My grandfather told me to get on a train and go to this cemetery and find his grandfather's tomb and this is what I reflected on the train trip back,” that personal statement is going to so pop. It's not so much that they know that person any better, but that person stands out so much more. That's why differentiation helps, because even the limited information, the spectacular is still limited. But if it's differentiating, that admissions person's going to remember you better and think about you more throughout the cycle. Particularly if you're waitlisted, that admissions officer is always like, “In the back of my mind, if I have room, I want to take this person.”

Barb: That's interesting. I was surprised when I got to the point of actually submitting applications. You're kind of looking at this 15-page PDF. I'm thinking, this is how they do it, really?

Mike: Is that why you applied to two more schools? Because you're like, well, all right, I need to hedge my bets because all these schools have limited information on me?

Barb: Not necessarily. Actually, the two additional ones have public service fellowship programs, and to apply for them, you apply as part of the application process, which I didn't realize. So there were some additional written pieces and an additional letter of recommendation that I needed to get, and it just took me a little longer to get those done, since I also want to submit for the public service public interest fellowship funding at the same time.

Mike: I could probably guess what those two schools are. You have —

Barb: You want to try?

Mike: No, I don't want to name schools.

Barb: Okay.

Mike: I'm saying Princeton and Brown.

Barb: Sorry, yeah!

Mike: I think that at least one of them is very highly ranked. Is that right?

Barb: I mean they're both top 50.

Mike: Yeah, yeah, okay. So you said you had questions for me.

Barb: That was what was front of mind, you know, the getting to the end of the process. And I guess for lack of a more nuanced term, not feeling very impressed with myself when I submitted applications and wondering if other people feel that way. If you kind of have all this buildup and then get to the submission point and kind of, you wonder what you're supposed to be doing.

Mike: Yeah. It's actually one of the leading theories on why people have midlife crises, no different. You go through life saying, “I'm going to get to this gilded part of my life and have checked off all these boxes,” and one of two things happens. You've either checked off all the boxes and, “Oh, this isn't so spectacular, right?” Or you get to that point in life and you haven't checked off all the boxes. In your case, you haven't heard from law schools yet and you're like, “I didn't check off all the boxes and it sucks.” You're going through the same thing that psychologist after psychologist says causes people to go through midlife crises. You have completed what they told you to do, and you still have completely imperfect feedback. Human beings crave feedback.

One thing I've learned in managing employees is obviously you want to give positive feedback, but it's better to give negative feedback than never any feedback at all. Humans crave feedback. So Anna Hicks, our COO, is you know recording this and on it, and she would probably say, “Yeah, Mike gives positive, but sometimes he lectures me on things he would do differently.” Because it's much more important to share with people than for people to sit out there in the ether not knowing anything. You're in the ether right now. And it's not just you Barb, it's so many applicants. You're going to get feedback though I promise you, it's coming.

Barb: I know. I know. It's just an interesting place to be. I'd be curious to see if you all, and I know it's not just you, but other folks in your company that also pop up on the subreddit from time to time. The tension has just ratcheted up on the subreddit. Yeah, this is something else I wanted to mention. Furball Friday has reemerged where people post photos of their pets on Friday. I posted a photo of my dog. It was getting downvoted. I had looked at it and I was like, “Oh wow. A lot of people like, like this.” And then later in the day I was like, I went to my spouse and I was like, “Oh, look at this like funny post I made of dog.” It had fewer votes —

Mike: Yeah, that's terrible.

Barb: — than when I had seen them before.

Mike: Some people are exercising their own anxiety and doubt  —

Barb: I know. I know. And that's the thing, because it's a golden retriever, right? Who in their right mind is going to downvote a golden retriever? And it just was this moment where like, thankfully I was able to laugh about it. I thought it was pretty funny. I still do. And it just was a real moment of empathy for what folks are going through. If the anxiety, the stress about this process that they're holding onto is so strong like the way they're taking it out is downvoting people's pet photos on the sub… it's just, I thought it really was an illuminating moment for how people handle or frankly don't handle the process.

Mike: Yeah. It's what you would call a maladaptive reaction. There's few nice things about getting older, but one of them is these things really just start bouncing off of you. You know, people will lie on Reddit about what — just wait until you're Supreme Court Justice. You have admits coming, just wait, just wait. And for some of the people out there on Reddit, here's where like I would say like, just, even if you don't believe in karma — which I guess I probably don't think there's really such thing as karma — some of the people that are downvoting your golden retriever are going to go on to be successful, and they are going to have unhinged people attack them falsely online. And they're going to have to learn coping mechanisms for that too, because the worst coping mechanism is to punch back online. That never goes well. Trust me, the five times I've responded to lies about me online, I'm zero for five in being glad that I responded to the lie. They're downvoting your dog on Reddit. They don't know you. It's a complete stranger.

Barb: I know, that's what's so funny. I'm like, you don't have any idea what's going on here. So it was illuminating. I will say about the sub recently, the day of “Michigangate” as people are calling it, the holiday email… boy that was a really delightful day to be on the subreddit. I will say that, because I applied there, I'll be very open about that. So I got the original email, which I'll be honest, annoyed me, so I didn't even read it. I didn't even scroll down to click the link that caused all the problems. So I got the response from Dean Z and some of the memes on the sub. That was pretty enjoyable.

Mike: It happens every year. I remember many years ago, Berkeley did the same thing. But unlike Michigan, who I think recovered very well — I was young, I was in my 20s, and it was a lesson for me — Berkeley sent out three successive emails. You could hardly read them there were so many typos. And what my brain as a young, 20-year-old registered was, “Okay, I'm probably going to have some life gaffes” — slow down when you do, and correct yourself slowly.

Barb: Yeah. And Dean Z’s email was great. I mean, like I said, I applied there. I respect them immensely. You know, this is not an irredeemable mistake. People are human, but it was a fun day. Some of the meme templates on the sub were making me laugh. I felt like for one day we were all on the same page.

Mike: So having been on Reddit for how many years I have, before then being on other message boards, what I would say is things get a lot more tense. People start fighting, people start making up stories, and it's going to happen. It's going to happen every cycle. But also, people start venting in hilarious ways. I have experience with both sides. You're going to see some hilarious memes and posts. There's hilarious memes and posts from previous cycles. If you want to kill some time in a positive way, go back and read some previous cycle memes. I mean, they did one and it was so spot on. It was a Family Guy episode where that someone dubbed in words about how subjective the admissions process is, and it is very subjective. And that's good to know when you're looking at those data websites. Anna Hicks, our COO, and I were two of the family, I think I was like Peter Griffin or someone. People made incredible movies, incredible movies of law school admissions terminology that were hilarious. Maybe that's a good, healthy way to kill time.

Barb: That's a good point.

I do have one more question, and this is thinking forward. Frankly, the law schools may not know this yet, so you may not know either, but obviously as Omicron is taking over everything right now and our lives and our planning and our health and all of this, I had had hope that whatever ends up happening there, we may be… we're hitting a point where in the spring, admitted student days, for in-person type events would be happening. Are you hearing anything from schools, any chatter about Omicron and increasing case rates and things maybe are shifting the way law schools are thinking about handling the spring admissions events?

Mike: Yeah, so right before this interview I got off the phone with an Associate Dean of a law school, and it was never brought up yet. We did a blog on it, incidentally. Over the last two years, I've gotten to know not only epidemiologists and virologists, but a viral evolutionary specialist, which I didn't even know was a field. So it hasn't come up yet. But let me give you a data point. Cornell University already has 900 COVID cases. I think a third are — I pronounce it Omicron, maybe I'm pronouncing it wrong.

Barb: I don't know.

Mike: It doesn't matter. And obviously we know it's going to be the dominant strain probably in early 2022. What I would say is, I don't think it's going to change the learning modality. So I think learning is going to be in-person with the opportunity to be remote if you're sick or immuno-compromised. I don't think you're going to see these fully remote schools because the history of viruses is almost always that they become more transmissible, but less lethal. The common cold was probably much less transmissible — I think the common cold is 113,000 years old, and I think from some of the coronavirus specialists we've talked to, it was probably a lot like COVID 100,000 years ago. The virus doesn't want to kill the host. So they tend to mutate less severe, more transmissible over time. And this is just me sort of speaking sideways, but speaking sideways having talked to experts. My best guess is, for financial reasons and the fact that these things will likely mutate to be less severe, we're not going to see remote learning required anymore, but you bring up a really good point.

If I had to guess, and if Omicron really is much more contagious like we're seeing in South Africa and Europe, then I think you very well might see Zoom admitted student programs, and here's going to be the lever. Once one major school does it, it makes it a lot easier for other schools to say, “Thank goodness, now we can do it.” So look for that first domino to fall.

Barb: Okay. I’ll keep my eyes open.

Mike: Yeah. If I had to guess, I would say there's at least a 50/50 chance that admitted students’ programs will be remote, but that's me. I have no insider information on that to be clear.

Barb: Yeah. Okay. I was just wondering. I know everything's so volatile. Things change so fast and with the holidays approaching, it's a tricky time, but I just wondered if you had any insight into that. So I guess we'll all see what happens together.

Mike: I mean, it's really going to be, are we in an outbreak? And if so, do you want to fly in people from all over the country to stay at the law school for three days? The answer's probably going to be no. So I'm actually now even leaning — and some law schools are going to get really mad at me for saying this, but I mean probably more than 50/50, I'm like 60/40. Yeah. You'll see a lot of remote.

Barb: We're gradually speaking this into reality over the podcast.

Mike: Well, I mean, they talk about influencing the market, so maybe we should just end the podcast right now. So what we'll do is, let me tell you about your future a little bit.

You're going to get some waitlists and some denies, and I know they're coming. I can't tell you when they're coming. So I think for you, you're probably going to hear some yeses from the lower end schools you applied to in the pretty near future, late December, much more likely the first two weeks of January, you'll start hearing things.

Barb: That's what I'm expecting too. Yeah. I mean you think about people as humans, people take time off for the holidays. Universities are closed. I just sort of figure at this point, I'm just going to unplug best I can, read some more books, do some puzzles, spend time with folks and try to ignore the process until I hear something

Mike: To the extent possible… you can't control once you submit, and no one else who’s saying anything online can have a clue as to your results, including me. I just have a notion of the pace. So, I would keep that in mind. I'm going to down — I get a free Audible credit January 1 — I'm going to download the book you recommended, what's the name one more time for the listeners?

Barb: Unwinding Anxiety.

Mike: Okay. By Judson Brewer. Dr. Judson Brewer.

Barb: Yeah, I got it from my local library. So, big plug for libraries.

Mike: I suspect we'll be talking mid-January, because I suspect you'll have a few yeses then.

Barb: Yeah. And I'll keep you posted too, because a few of the schools I applied to have interview processes. So I'm hoping maybe to get some bites on that with the virtual interviews. I did one of the Kira interview processes. So if anything changes with interviews too, I’ll keep you updated.

Mike: But don't over fine-point that either, like some people are going to be getting interviews and some people not yet.

Barb: Oh yeah.

Mike: Yeah. It's not like a one-to-one correlation of it.

Barb: Yeah.

Mike: Keep reading. Good to connect. We'll see you in 2022.

Barb: Sounds good. Happy New Year.

Mike: Stay safe.