Daniel J. Sullivan, Esq.
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Sullivan Law School Consulting Services Blog

Still Waiting?

If you’re not one of the lucky few who got admitted directly to a top school, or who got in off a wait list right after deposit deadline season (whom I don’t consider true waitlisted applicants but rather admitted students whose admittance was decided but held in abeyance as a sort of insurance policy against a wildly high yield), AND you were properly advised on where to apply, then you are probably on a wait list at a school one gradation better than the school or schools to which you were admitted outright.  This post is for you.


To begin with, don’t despair. Unlike college wait lists, law school wait lists are very real, and hundreds of applicants each season get into a better law school than they initially did. Remember who you are: you’re not among millions of high school students looking at thousands of colleges with dozens of different reasons for wanting a particular school. You are among a relatively small number of people looking at seven or eight schools with one reason for wanting a particular school:  it’s higher up the rankings than the one you’re going to go to now.  And most of you got into more schools than you can go to.  Everyone who got into Yale got into Harvard, and lots who got into Harvard got into Yale, yet all of them can go only to one.  Come July and August, applicants are going to really finalize their plans and things will start to get very fluid.  An opening will be created at, say, Harvard, and someone will get in off its wait list.  Then someone will get offered that person’s newly created opening at, say, Stanford, and on and on, cascading down the rankings.  In short, a law school wait list is not death row.


Let me tell you how to make it more like … well … purgatory.  Begin by understanding how wait lists like this – the drip-drip-drip wait lists that move slowly through the late spring and summer – work, from a very, very practical viewpoint.  It’s July 17.  9:12 a.m. It’s hot out; really hot out.  The Dean of Admissions lumbers in with a coffee in one hand and a New York Times in the other.  He is greeted by a colleague who informs him that Accepted Applicant A has just withdrawn from the incoming class because she got in off the wait list at another school.  He is not going to sit down and start sifting through the files of waitlisted applicants.  Instead, he immediately thinks of Waitlisted Applicant B.  You want to BE Waitlisted Applicant B.  The only way to BECOME Waitlisted Applicant B is to spend your spring and summer keeping your waitlisted file out of the cobwebs.



What you need to do is send in, throughout the period, a series of Letters of Continuing Interest (“LOCIs”).  First, send a letter simply expressing, well, CI. I advise clients to include in this first letter an expression of thanks for having honored you by placing you on the wait list. The Dean will not get those from many people, and it’s nice for him to see that you will not be a bruised ego who goes around for three years with a chip on her shoulders—or a bitter alumnus (they’ll wind up with enough of those; there’s no reason to start creating them at this point). Believe me, these people think that they’ve honored you, and they’re right. Don’t grovel, but do thank.  Then, in a second LOCI, include any information you were asked in your wait list letter to add to your file.  And go ahead, have another recommendation letter sent; you probably can’t cover it with an LOCI, but it will get your name seen and your file opened.   Then send in additional LOCIs to inform the Dean of your final semester grades, any significant awards you get, and of the great things that happen to you during the summer, etc.  Each time, at least tell him of your CI in his school, and, if you mean it, go so far as to tell him (and only ONE him, by the way) that you will accept if he offers you admission. He will not want to wade through ten waitlisted people in late August before he finally finds someone to accept the offer.


A few warnings about LOCIs.  First, don’t overdo it.  We’re talking about keeping your file out of the cobwebs, not carpet bombing the admissions office. You want to be Waitlisted Applicant B, not Pain-in-the-Ass Applicant B.  Second, one way to limit yourself is to avoid subsequent LOCIs with nothing in them but more CI. Subsequent LOCIs with nothing in them but more CI look more like LOWTFs!  So after your first LOCI, which can contain little more than CI, subsequent LOCIs must traffic in goods, and good goods, not just that you got a new car. Finally, do not revisit—and, God forbid, do not relitigate—your application. The only things you should raise at this point are things not already in there, like your final semester’s grades.


At this point send everything to the Dean of Admissions directly and by name.  Don’t send it to the admissions committee, or to some professor who is on the committee, or to “some guy” you met in the admissions office.  At most schools, at this point in the process, you will be passed those people; they are no longer deciders.  You’ve broken through the defensemen and it’s just you against the goalie.


In addition to the LOCI campaign, if you are good in person and have the resources, you should arrange a visit to the school.  Naturally your visit should include a “tour” of the admissions office.  Meet the Dean of Admissions and be prepared for having an informal chat transform into an interview, which will include an exchange about whether you will accept if admitted.  Be nice to everyone in the office, and I mean everyone.  Even non-deciders can have feelings, egos and big mouths.


Keep your cellphone charged all summer long. You don’t want to miss the call and have an impatient Dean of Admissions call someone else. And check your e-mail often.  I’ve never heard of a written offer getting retracted, but why poke your new best friend in the eye by making him wait?


Finally, never give up. Even after you’ve enrolled at a school it’s not over until the school at which you were waitlisted begins.  I had a classmate who had put in a week’s work at a school when he found out he got in off the wait list at Chicago, which didn’t begin until October. I’m not sure which would excite greater euphoria: getting admitted to the University of Chicago Law School or finding out after the toughest week of your life that you have the next 3 weeks completely off!


Good luck everyone. July 17 and heaven aren’t that far off.


Dan Sullivan

Sullivan Law School Admissions Consulting LLC