Being admitted off the waitlist is actually pretty simple—okay, not easy, but simple. There are really only three factors that law schools consider.
1. What their current incoming class looks like relative to their target/desired class, and how you fit into that equation
If a law school is looking to make admits from their waitlist, we can assume that there are at least some discrepancies between their currently deposited class and the ideal class they'd like to bring in—at minimum, they don't have enough deposits; they have empty seats to fill. Here are a few other things that law schools might be balancing and considering when they make waitlist admits:
- LSAT median
- GPA median
- Work experience
- Diversity (gender, socioeconomic, cultural perspective, justice-impacted, LGBTQ+, etc.)
- First-generation college/law students
- Military veterans
- Geographic and undergraduate college representation (not hugely important to many schools… although if you are from North Dakota, you may get lucky!)
Depending on what need(s) a given law school might have, that's going to dictate how they evaluate who to admit from their waitlist. If their LSAT median is lower than they're currently targeting, they're going to look for waitlisted applicants at or above that target median. If their current class is leaning younger/less professionally experienced than they'd ideally like, they're going to pay special attention to which waitlisted applicants have work experience. Etc.
Law schools get a real idea of where they sit with these metrics after their first seat deposit deadline (though they can be projected beforehand as well, to some extent, based on historical data). That's why, typically, the first significant waves of waitlist admits tend to start happening a few weeks after schools' deposit deadlines. (Keep in mind, though, that waitlist activity can last all summer long, if you're willing and able to wait.)
2. Your likelihood of accepting their offer if admitted, or "yield"
This is an incredibly important factor when law schools are considering who to admit from their waitlist, and it only gets more and more important as the cycle progresses. No law school wants to admit someone from the WL and then have that person decline to attend (especially at the last minute).
The great news is you have a good deal of control over this (unlike #1). There are many ways that you can demonstrate your genuine interest in a law school. A visit would be ideal at most schools, but of course, not everyone can do this, and schools understand that. Check out their website; they may have a way to schedule a meeting with an admissions officer remotely. Or, you can just give them a call and introduce yourself to an admissions officer. Or email to schedule a Zoom. Just be ready to drive the conversation and prepare a few questions to ask (if you initiate a meeting with admissions, never consider it an interview or expect the admissions officer to lead the conversation).
Horrible question example: “What are my chances of being admitted off of the waitlist?” Good question example: “Your school is my top choice; is there anything I should be doing to better my chances?” That can get you genuinely valuable information for increasing your chances, and it allows you to start a relationship with a decision-maker. If the conversation goes well, ask if you can have their email to send them updates, shoot them a thank you for their time, and then stay in touch—just not too often, and mix up your reasons for reaching out (e.g. setting up a visit, sending a substantive update to your application, submitting a new LOR, etc.).
3. How much they like you
A current admissions officer would probably call this “fit,” but it really is more along the lines of, “Do I like the applicant?”—not as in, "Would I have a beer with them?” but more like, "Are they going to be likable to employers, faculty, their fellow students, etc.?" People like likable people, and indeed many admissions officers themselves are hired in large part for their likability (we know they aren’t all, and there are nightmare stories out there, but this tends to be at least a big chunk of the hiring equation for most admissions officers).
So if you fulfill #1—or if the law school is at a point in the cycle where their class is looking good, they don't have any particular needs to fill, and they just have a few extra spots—and you fulfill #2—they're pretty darn sure you're going to attend if they admit you—if they're considering between multiple applicants, it's likely going to come down to this #3.
So, can you influence this factor? Of course. Polish your LOCI to the Nth degree—you generally only get one (you may send a "mini-LOCI" later in the cycle, but typically you only want to submit one full essay-like letter). Send another LOR from someone you know likes you a great deal. Visit or meet with an admissions officer; get them talking about themselves and establish a rapport. Go read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People and put it into action (don't let the title throw you off—it's a far better and more genuine book than many in this genre). Send a thank you note after your meeting that mentions a specific part of your conversation that stood out. Send another update later to that same admissions officer and remind them of your previous conversation. Perhaps most importantly, stay UPBEAT and POSITIVE throughout all of your interactions. (And remember, don't reach out too often or pester them—we recommend every 6-8 weeks or so.)
One more tip on what not to do: Do not send 5 large pizzas to an office of 8 people. That actually happened to one of our consultants when they were an admissions officer at a T14 law school, and it didn't go over well. (Seriously, no gifts of any kind.)
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