Each year, scores of prospective LL.M. students are “waitlisted” — a vexing limbo space between admission and rejection for candidates with good but not great applications, who may be admitted at a later date.
Law schools use waitlists to ensure that they have a full LL.M. class, hedging against dropouts among applicants who apply to several schools at once, which is commonplace.
And “waitlisting” candidates is a growing trend. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, the number of students placed on a waitlist increased by 11 percent between 2015 and 2016. But just 23 percent of waitlisted students were eventually admitted to their school.
Jennie Goldsmith Rothman, director of law admissions at admissions consultancy Admit Advantage, says being waitlisted means your “application and qualifications are not quite as good as other applicants, while still falling within the general ballpark for acceptance”.
For example, your personal statement and letters of recommendations may be outstanding, but your grade point average just shy of the LL.M. cohort’s.
Being waitlisted can feel like a setback, but it’s actually a positive reflection of the quality of your application, says Anthony Coloca, Kaplan Test Prep's director of pre-law programs.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that you made a mistake on your application, but perhaps a quantitative factor like your grades or your rank in law school and other university studies isn’t in line with what they usually accept,” he says.
“Or maybe it’s a qualitative admissions factor like your personal statement that wasn’t compelling enough for them.”
There are many concrete steps that an applicant can take to improve their chances of admission, but the odds are not in their favor. US News surveyed 91 top US colleges and found that, on average, one in five waitlisted candidates were admitted overall (all programs). Some elite schools such as Harvard admitted zero students off their waitlist.
How to go from being waitlisted to being accepted
Nonetheless, some candidates pull through. How do they do it?
Submitting an extra letter of recommendation may boost your chances of making it off the waitlist, says Claudia Blount, LL.M. program coordinator at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC. A letter of recommendation is a ringing endorsement of your application, written usually by a boss. Most law schools require one or two to be submitted with an LL.M. application.
Some LL.M. programs also let waitlisted candidates submit a “letter of continued interest,” which is a chance to affirm interest in the course and submit new information, like a recent promotion at work. “It does not hurt mentioning what you can add to their institution,” says Kaplan’s Coloca, adding that the letter should be brief.
Rothman, at Admit Advantage, adds that prospective students should be specific about why the school is their first choice, and how it best fits their needs.
However, some law schools do not accept additional materials after an application has been submitted. At Berkeley Law for example, other than confirming interest in the LL.M., “there is nothing more a waitlisted applicant can do to increase their chances of being admitted”, says director of admissions Erin Weldon.
Applicants to Berkeley Law in California are reviewed and ranked based on the strength of their application, she says. Those who do not make the initial cut are placed on the waitlist, so the law school can fill seats in the class if admitted applicants turn down their offer. “We may admit some applicants from the waitlist if there is still space available,” says Weldon.
Try to apply for LL.M programs as early as possible
For this reason, it’s important to apply as early in the admissions cycle as possible, says Admit Advantage’s Rothman. Many law schools open their LL.M. applications in August or September, and she says candidates should apply no later than January 1, to increase the likelihood of acceptance.
Once waitlisted, it’s important to maintain communication with the school, so the admissions team knows you haven’t accepted an offer elsewhere, says Kaplan’s Coloca. “At many law schools, applicants will need to formally accept their waitlisted status,” he says. “Make this known, as soon as possible.”
Blount agrees, saying visiting the law school may increase the odds of acceptance. “Following up with the admissions team or the directors of the program is helpful, as it shows interest,” she says.
It’s important to get to the bottom of why you were waitlisted, says Coloca at Kaplan.
“The only thing you should absolutely not do if you’ve been waitlisted is wait.”