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On hold? Waitlisted? How to play the law school waiting game

For those of you applying to law school this cycle, we are now in the later stage of the law school application period. I’m sure many of you have noticed there is one constant to this whole process — waiting. You have to wait for your LSAT score, you have to wait for your letters of recommendation, you have to wait for a school to make a decision on your application, etc. Unfortunately, even when a decision is made, your waiting isn’t necessarily over. This post is about two different ways that schools can make you wait longer: by putting you on hold or by putting you on a waitlist.

So, first, what’s the difference? At first blush, you might think the two terms are largely synonymous and any distinction between the two is without difference. Well, you’d be wrong. If you check your status and see that you’ve been waitlisted, that means the school has already determined you’re not worthy. This might be based on your LSAT/GPA or on the comparative strength of the applicant pool. If, however, you’re on hold, a school hasn’t yet reached a decision on you. They might be impressed by your application but curious to see whether more qualified applicants apply later in the cycle. Or they might be waiting for you to “wow” them with a letter of continued interest or an additional essay.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the “claw” scene from Toy Story (and, if you’re not, you should be). In short, a group of toy aliens lives in one of those arcade games where you try to pick up items with a claw. To analogize that scene to law school acceptances, the accepted students are picked up by the claw and deposited safely in the slot for collection to “go to a better place” (I had a hard time writing that phrase in regard to law school). The rejected applicants are discarded from the machine for one reason or another. The waitlisted students are passed over but remain with the three-eyed aliens in the pool. The “on hold” students are picked up by the claw but not yet deposited in the collection slot.

If you find yourself on hold, you should fulfill any requests for additional information and consider writing letters of continued interest. There is no guarantee you’ll make it into the accepted group, but your hopes are still very much alive. Other than that, try not to worry about it too much. Don’t get tunnel vision throughout this process — the best thing you can do is make the most of the acceptances and financial aid offers, if any, that you’re given. Building your hopes on the shifting sands of any one school’s admission office is a surefire way to either be disappointed or end up taking an offer that isn’t necessarily the best.

The waiting game is excruciating. But the end of the process is an extremely difficult year of stressful academic life. Try to take advantage of this time and avoid needless worry about a decision process that is almost entirely out of your hands. Hang out with friends, spend time with family, get your affairs in order, and enjoy your life as much as possible before 1L.