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Law School Admissions: the Waiting is the Hardest Part


I’m not a patient man. I’m tyrannically intolerant of lateness, to the point of leaving a friend of mine momentarily stranded on her way to the airport because she was ten minutes late in being ready (eventually, I had an attack of conscience and turned back). When I’m on two-lane highways, and an 18 wheeler pulls out into the left lane to pass another 18 wheeler, I inevitably follow close behind and attempt to pass it on the right as soon as we clear the other truck. I once contemplated running down a sweet, old woman in a crosswalk simply because she wasn’t moving fast enough.

Let’s just say my personality dictates that I would never successfully make it through the law school application process.

By now, you’ve ideally got the majority of your applications submitted. You’ve dotted your t’s, crossed your i’s, realized your errors, said “screw it”, cracked open 8 to 12 beers and begun the waiting game.

And boy is it a fun game! Acceptances, unless you’re some insufferable savant with a 178, a 4.0, a letter of recommendation from Gandhi, and some well-placed friends, don’t always roll in that quickly (for some, that tide never turns. Next year in Jerusalem). If you’re like the great boatload of would-be advocates, you’re going to have to deal with waitlists.

Personally, I find the idea of a waitlist offensive. Let’s say you asked a girl to a dance in high school, or some such, and she said to you, “You know, you sound ok. I’d really like to go with you. But there are about 300 people ahead of you on my list who are probably more attractive. Will you stick around just in case I don’t find someone better?” How do you react to that? I mean, unless she’s just smoking hot?

Of course, it’s not a perfect analogy. Law school admissions are a bit more mercenary of a game than asking Betty Loo to the high school prom. You make no secret that you’re applying to thirty schools and will go to the one that is a) ranked the highest and b) providing you with the most cold, hard cash. They make no secret of the fact that they will gladly walk over your whimpering shell of a body to admit a better candidate.

The waitlist itself is an interesting thing. Some schools will send you a card or some piece of mail on which you respond if you’d like to be placed on their waitlist (with the other option, I guess, being summary rejection). Others will just place you on the list in some order. Still others will find new and fun ways of sticking you in purgatory. When you’re on the waitlist, they’ll typically ask you repeatedly if you’d like to remain on the list. As people at the top of the list move onto better schools, schools keep moving down until they hit your sorry self, way down at the bottom of the hill.

That process of waiting can take right up through the beginning of school. This past year, one of my friends was accepted to USC Law, after months on the waitlist, the Friday before classes began. Two people he has met at law school were accepted the day before classes began. We know of other students who were offered positions off the wait list after school began. That’s right. You literally are all set to go to UC Davis, say, and have your seat deposit thrown down and your shiny new apartment locked up. Everything is in line for you to spend the next three years smelling cow crap. Then UCLA says, “after careful review, and being rejected by 350 other, better candidates, we’d like to offer you admission. And we’d like you to make your decision immediately.” It’s for just such situations that they ask you if you’d like to stay on the waitlist repeatedly over the course of the months you’re on the waitlist. Some kids just can’t deal with the stress.

If you can deal with the stress, it behooves you to stay on the waitlist. In life, unless you have crippling anxiety or a complete lack of decision-making skills, more choices are always a good thing.

Next week: what else can you do other than say “yes” to the wait-list to better your chances of getting in.