Podcast: What Are Your Chances Off the Waitlist?

In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Mike discusses the various factors that play into any given applicant's chances of admission coming off the waitlist. He also gives a quick preview of our (very early) predictions for next cycle.

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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. It's 5 a.m. on a Sunday, so there's going to be two early parts to this podcast that will, if not already relatable to your life, very much soon will be to your legal life. One is, get ready for these 5 a.m. wake-up times. I want to, actually as a former Dean of Career Services, I want to stop on that. I think it's almost glamorous to say, “Oh, I can't wait for biglaw and the grind,” and some people do thrive in those environments. What I would say is, on a personal note, please give yourself downtime. All of us, no matter what we say to ourselves, need some balance in our lives, okay? So I do find that balance not every day, but on some days, and it's a message I've been wanting to say for years and I haven't really had the opportunity. So it just strikes me.

Number two is this podcast is not on that. This is purely an admissions podcast. “What are my chances of getting off the waitlist?” is going to be the title. And the answer is, it depends. Get used to that answer, but I want to address this because it's come up online. Obviously, it comes up every year. Obviously, it is a very important topic to people waitlisted. “What are my chances of getting off the waitlist?”

The technical answer would be you don't know. I’m going to give you some help but let me tell you why you don't know. Every cycle is different. So you're looking at past data or very limited data from this cycle, that is like building a plane while you're flying it. The data this cycle is just ever-changing and it's very limited. Then the data for the past cycles is irrelevant because the applicant pool was different.

Speaking of applicant pools, the applicant pool to each law school is different. So your chances at Vanderbilt might be entirely different than your chances at UVA or Emory or Georgia. Three kind of similar schools, two private, one public, regionally similar, rankings in maybe the same hemisphere. But their applicant pools can vary wildly. Vanderbilt may have crushed it early on their target LSAT – and again, this is hypothetical – but they may have shored up their LSAT by May.

So your chances are really low if you have a high LSAT and a low GPA, and your chances are a lot higher if you have a high GPA and a low LSAT. They're not telling the world that. You have no way of knowing. They're not telling the world the work experience additions or the essays, schools have more extensive essay notes than ever before. “Oh, we need someone with this background from a different part of the country who has worked for four years,” you have no idea what their current class composition is. And what law schools do is they try to build classes that balance each other out. Learning occurs when you're hearing from other people's diverse perspectives, not when you're just being told what you believe.

Just about all law schools are looking for a complexity, a diversity of perspectives. East Coast, West Coast, liberal, conservative, work experience, KJD. There's a lot of discussion about work experience helping. Well, if the law school had all people with work experience, they would probably, believe it or not, be looking for KJDs off the waitlist. You see where I'm going with this.

Of course, every law school has a portfolio of people they've admitted, and around now, or soon to be, people that have seat-deposited. As the cycle progresses, they have more and more data on who has seat-deposited. Keeping in mind, they can lose many of those seat deposits all the way up till the end of August, beginning of September, and trust me, it happens. I'll give you an example from a client. I had a client whose dream school was Stanford who was in his first week of orientation at Michigan Law, and we said, “hey, it's Stanford's first day of orientation. Why don't you send an email to them just in case someone didn't show up?”

If someone didn't show up and you're pleasant and they liked you, there is a possibility they could just admit you. And sure enough, he said something like, I love this wording. If everyone uses it, it's not going to work, right, but, “I would walk from Michigan to Stanford if I had to. That's how much I want to go.” And they admitted him, the first day of orientation. He just packed up the stuff and left. So where am I going with this? There's going to be more of that, I'm not saying the day of orientation, but there's going to be more rolls and rolls and rolls of waves of waitlist movement.

So I can't tell you, you have a 5% chance probability, I saw that on Reddit, it's just, having done this for 26 years, this is not an attack on the person that said it, but anyone saying to a stranger, “your chance at this school, even though I don't know you or the school's applicant pool, their admit pool, their seat deposits, is 5%. With all the data I have, all the resources I have, all the connections I have, all the experience I have, I could never come close to saying that.

What I would say is, your chances might be 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%. If you're admitted off the waitlist, by definition, your chances were 100% and a lot of waitlist admits are coming.

So let me end on that note. I've said this before and I'll say it again. This has been an incredibly slow cycle. I was with two deans of admissions this past week. They are readily admitting to the fact that they are teeing up their waitlist. No, I can't say who. Sorry.

So waitlist admits are coming. They might not feel like they're coming for you if waves come out and you're not in that wave. But that wave, followed by another wave, followed by another wave, is a trigger that that probability of getting off the waitlist is real. We have no idea what that number is. I can't give you a number, obviously.

I said earlier in this cycle, and this is true. There are many schools where 50% of their entering class are going to be from the waitlist. Now this has been misinterpreted a number of times. The person who took the direct quote from our podcast and put it, thank you. That doesn't mean that 50% of all law school students will have come from the waitlist. Not every school, right? Yale might take 1% of their waitlist. That also doesn't mean that your chances are 50%. Because some schools, like Columbia for example, waitlist a huge proportion. And other schools waitlist a much smaller proportion. So the raw number is going to be a part of the equation of what percentage of the entire applicant pool was waitlisted.

So let me just pause for a second. It dawns on me I've been doing this for 26 years, and sometimes I throw out data just assuming everyone listening is so deeply entrenched in admissions, they get every little nuance, and this is on me. I'm going to make up school names. If Princeton Law School waitlists 2,000 people, and by the way, there are law schools that waitlist huge numbers of people, that doesn't mean they're admitting 1,000 people off the waitlist. But if they're matriculating a class of 300, it plausibly could mean that of that class of 300, 150 matriculants are from the waitlist. So again, we don't know the probabilities, but we do know at the macro level, some schools waitlist extraordinary numbers of people. We've blogged about this. That is good news and bad news.

The good news is those schools that waitlist extraordinary numbers of people, they're going to take a large number off that waitlist. If they waitlist 1,000 people, they might admit 300 off the waitlist. Because only 50 percent of that 300 is going to yield, others are going to other schools, and then they're going to get 150 to matriculate to their schools. The math is interesting because it's both advantageous as far as large numbers but proportionally, they're still being selective. It varies from school to school. So, without the school giving you the probability, quite frankly, no one can, particularly someone just sort of guessing, or looking at Law School Data, which is a tiny sample size.

So again, this doesn't give you an exact probability view, but what is happening is, you can go back to our podcast on this, we said it before the cycle started. Because of all these dynamics that went into this cycle, this cycle was incredibly slow and very waitlist heavy, which means that more people are going to be admitted off the waitlist than we've seen before.

Let me end on a final note about next cycle. Don't think about it yet. You also get a lot of these messages on Reddit, and we get emails, “hey, my cycle is over, I'm doomed,” and then you ask someone for their profile and they still have like 12 pending. Or two rejections, eight waitlists, and two pending. Your cycle isn't over. Things are still to be determined. You can only go to one law school. You can't go to multiple law schools. You still might get a great admit.

But, if you're thinking about next cycle, I do want to say that we'll know a ton more in July and then a ton more in August, and we'll do blogs or podcasts each time. There's limited data based on LSAT registrants, based on macro demographic data. A presidential election year, getting further and further removed from the bad press during the Great Recession about law schools not leading to legal careers. So the legal job market has been, I mean we'll see what happens with AI, but has been stronger. So we're getting away from that apprehension of being a lawyer.

So if we had to guess right now, we're going to guess that applications will be up next year. And we've been pretty, I don't know if luck's the right word, amazingly lucky every year with these projections. I wouldn't really rest too much on my projection right now, but wait until July and we'll have a lot more data from LSAT registrants.

So there's no one on the planet other than the admissions dean if they're going to be so generous. And it would be kind of a weird question to ask. “Hey, what are my percent chances?” Though sometimes admissions offices, obviously they put people in tiers. So obviously your percent chances, your probability is higher if you're in the first tier of the waitlist. And sometimes admissions officers are very candid and straightforward. “We really think we're going to get to you,” or “we really think that this class is looking strong and it's unlikely.” I think that's a fair question a little bit later. “I need to make my life decisions where I'm going to live, where I secure housing.” And they may say something along those lines. But unless an admissions officer for their school says, “you're 80% likely,” no other person on the planet can say it. All we know is that a lot of waitlist movement is coming. This was Mike Spivey, the Spivey Consulting Group.