The waaaaiiiiting is the hardest part

Until there’s a better waiting song, I’m sticking with Tom Petty to make my point.  Except we should change up the lyrics a bit: the wait list is the hardest part.

You can find my basic advice for what to do when you find yourself on a wait list here on the main website.  But the harder part for most applicants is dealing with the uncertainty.  You probably assumed that by this time, or at least by early April, you’d know what your range of options was and be able to make an informed and mostly rational choice about which school to attend.  Instead, you’re facing some definite yeses (I hope!), some definite nos (because that’s life) and then one or more maybes. Worse still, one of those maybes is perhaps from your first choice school, or a total reach school that now is, amazingly, keeping you hanging on the line.  How do you make a decision with so much uncertainty?  Is there anything you can do to decrease the uncertainty—to gain some clarity of your chances at those schools that have wait listed?

The answer to the last question is, sadly, probably not.  Most schools won’t know whether they’re going to hit their own wait lists until a week or so after their seat deposit deadline.  From the admissions offices’ perspectives, this is called “enrollment management”—the attempt to hit just the right number of accepted offers of admission that will produce a favorable yield and an appropriate class size.  Due to all the factors that go into admission—size and quality of the pool at their school and at other competing schools, the size and quality of their hoped for entering class, the broader economy, etc.—enrollment management is often more art than science.  This means that seemingly basic questions—Will the school go to its wait list this year? How deep?—are nearly impossible for the law schools to answer at this point in the process.

Bottom line for applicants: wait lists are their own special brand of hell.  Rejection would at least give you some closure.  Wait lists keep you hoping. (Or maybe Crying, Waiting, Hoping, as the Beatles would have it.)

So, in addition to following up with the school(s) that waitlisted you, you also need to start making some hard decisions about your more definite options.  In all likelihood, the seat deposit deadline(s) for the school(s) that accepted you will arrive before you hear about the wait list(s). Unless you’re thinking about not attending law school at all in the Fall, you will need to place a seat deposit at one of the schools that accepted you.

So make good use of this time period.  Visit all of the schools. Ask the questions that will help you decide which school is right for you.  Research each option carefully.  And invest a few hundred dollars in a seat deposit, even though there’s a chance you might forfeit it because your dream school just might pick you off the wait list.

But as the months progress through late spring and into summer, it’s important to acknowledge that your chances of getting in off of a wait list will diminish, and to start planning to attend that school you placed your deposit at.  Law schools have been known to let applicants know about wait lists as late as the first week of classes.  (This past year, an alum told me he got his official rejection from a school he was waitlisted at in early September—a week after classes began.)

Meanwhile, feel free to distract yourself by posting your favorite waiting song in the comments.