What's the difference between a law school "waitlist" vs. "hold" vs. "hold tight email"?

Most applicants understand the basics of what it means to be waitlisted, but in this blog, we wanted to give a quick look at why and how law schools use their waitlists from an insider perspective, then outline the differences between a waitlist and a "hold" or a "hold tight email."

Why a waitlist?

Smart admissions deans have a good relationship with data. Past data tells them what to expect, and they try to make admissions decisions according to current cycle predictions. But data is not perfect. Imagine that Spivey Law School & Culinary Institute has a target 1L class size of 300. They also know that an average of 30% of admitted students actually matriculate on the first day of classes. So algebra tells the Spivey Law admissions office to admit 1,000 students. (1,000 admits x 30% yield = 300 students. Perfect!) But what if this cycle’s yield is not precisely 30%? What if it is 28%? Spivey Law will end up 20 students short, and losing 20 students worth of tuition will not make the financial people happy.

Likewise, what if the class size is correct, but the LSAT or GPA median is too low? Or the higher-ranked Buttenbaum School of Law and Dog Training swoops in to woo away 20 students?

Solution: aim for a class size on the low end of your target range as far as admits, but waitlist a certain number of applicants as well, and then use that flexibility to dial in on the medians and get precisely the right number in the class.

Is a “hold” the same thing as a waitlist?

Most schools use a waitlist, but not all schools formally use a hold status. Even if they do, it might not be a thing that they tell candidates about, so what hold means can vary from law school to law school. Usually, it is something like, “I like this candidate, so I don’t want to deny them, but I’m not sure if I want to admit them either. Maybe something will change in a few weeks that will help me to make up my mind.” Perhaps it is just as simple as rereading the application with fresh eyes and a better picture of the applicant pool. Or it might mean waiting for a new LSAT score or fall term grades.

Probably, the admissions officer plans to review a hold file again in a few weeks or months, and probably before the deposit deadline. In contrast, admissions officers could admit from the waitlist before the deposit deadline, but it is more common for waitlist decisions to come after the deposit deadline.

Does a hold tight email mean that my application is on hold or that I’m getting added to the waitlist?

First, a hold tight email is terminology made up by applicants. The admissions office probably has some other internal name for the email that says, “We know we have had your application for a while and that you are waiting for a decision, but we have not forgotten about you.” Law schools send hold tight emails in a sincere attempt to alleviate candidates’ stress about waiting, although our clients sometimes report that it has the opposite effect.

For schools that send these emails, likely everyone who applied before a specific date gets the hold tight email. It literally may mean that the admissions office has a backlog of files to review and the recipient’s file is just stuck somewhere in the queue.

While receiving a waitlist or a hold means that the admissions office has read your file and come to a determination that they can't yet make a decision, your application may not yet have been read at all when you receive a hold tight email. So take the email at face value, and don't assume that any outcomes are foreclosed.

This is a guest post from our consultant Joe Pollak, a former admissions officer at the University of Michigan Law School.