Admissions Waitlist Strategies

Yesterday we described the waitlist and how it works. Today, we’re focusing on specific waitlist strategies.

Being placed on the waitlist of a top graduate program is a frustrating experience. It feels anticlimactic after such a long process and it can also lead to a period of ambiguity as you wait to see where you will ultimately enroll in the fall. The key to surviving a waitlist process is to create and follow a plan of action, just as you would for your initial application. Putting together a checklist can help you gain valuable insight and perspective into your situation and will allow you to maximize your chances of gaining admission off of the waitlist.

Here is our recommended course of action:

1. Understand the waitlist. For information on understanding how the waitlist works, click here. Being able to determine which schools will use the waitlist heavily allows you to prioritize your approach and lock in on a true top choice.

2. Follow instructions. Often, in their anxiety-fueled attempt to act quickly, waitlisted candidates will rush to respond to a waitlist letter without actually following the school’s instructions. Typically, the admissions office will ask for a response showing continued interest and will provide several optional ways to submit materials. However, you should never simply assume that each school’s process is exactly the same. Take a deep breath, re-read the letter, go to the website to see what you can find out about the waitlist, and then set everything aside for 24 hours. You will be able to return to the task at hand with some clarity and ensure that you follow all instructions.

3. Reach out. So long as you are following the admission office’s instructions, you are always better off being more proactive in this situation. Don’t simply check a box and send it in — get in front of people. Be top of mind. As we explained yesterday, this is the stage where programs want to know your level of interest, first and foremost. So aggressively tell them. You have little to lose at this point, as your waitlist status suggests that you are a qualified candidate still in the running for an unknown number of spots. If you have a contact in the admissions office, email that person right away to let them know you have responded formally and that you will be sending in additional materials. Ask if you can check back in for a status report. You can even be so bold as to ask whether that person thinks the school will be aggressive with the waitlist or not.

4. Review. Once you have followed instructions and put yourself on the school’s radar, the next step is to retreat back into your own application. You are going to want to take advantage of optional submission opportunities to both express your interest and also bolster your candidacy. In order to make effective use of this opportunity and keep it from being an “information dump,” you should review your application carefully to see what needs to be augmented. This is where a company like Veritas Prep or a trusted advisor can really help — understanding what you might have left out or what the committee’s key question was is an important step in a waitlist game plan. There are two important things to look for when reviewing your application materials:

– That you have achieved balance as a candidate and addressed each of the critical application themes.

– That you have expressed the proper level of fit with the program in question.

5. Augment. Once you have taken inventory of your application and any weaknesses that remain, the next step is to augment that information through any available submission options. The most common is a waitlist response letter or an update letter, which allows you to express your interest and fit, as well as provide any updates that help address weaknesses. You want to avoid simply restating your application materials or delving back into your personal statement. This will be a strong temptation, but must be avoided, simply because you need to be as efficient as possible in a limited amount of space. A good way to ensure that you are using available options effectively is to follow the following “messaging hierarchy”:

– Showcase your desire to attend their law school
– Express fit with their law school
– Mitigate the weaknesses that may have kept you from being admitted and that were not properly balanced in your initial application
– Provide updates (especially if they help to mitigate a weakness or offer balance)
– Address general law school-related themes

You will note that tackling law school themes — normally the first priority in an application — is the least of your worries when drafting a waitlist letter. You simply don’t have space to present a full (and new) picture of your entire candidacy, nor is the school looking for that. They want to know if you will enroll and why. If you can get out in front of your biggest weakness and provide some updates in the process, then that is ideal. Just don’t lose sight of the highest-priority messages.

Finally, keep in mind that law schools use a waitlist for a reason: they might need to bring qualified students off of that list and add them to the incoming class. Taking advantage of any opportunity to solidify your story and advertise your qualifications is a way to turn waitlist limbo into a great opportunity. It simply requires stamina to finish the race and total attention to detail.


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