Applying to law school

Applying to law school is complicated, but we are here to help! Come meet with a prelaw advisor for feedback on your personal statement and help troubleshooting problems with your application.

Consult the information below for helpful advice.

When to apply #

Virtually every law school has a "rolling admissions" policy, which means they begin admitting applicants as soon as they start receiving applications in the fall. Applying by November (to enroll the following fall) is recommended to have the greatest opportunities.

Remember to consider the application process from the point of view of the law schools. Just as applicants are competing to be admitted, schools are competing with each other to attract the best students. Similarly ranked schools see themselves in competition for the same pool of applicants, much like athletic programs compete for athletes. Law schools know that if they accept an applicant sooner rather than later, the chances are higher that this person will actually enroll.

By the time the deadline arrives, a law school may have relatively few openings still available. Therefore, you will give yourself the best chance of admission if your completed application (which includes the Credential Assembly Service report and letters of recommendation) is one of the first reviewed rather than one of the last. Law schools do not wait for late applications to fill their classes. Organization and advance planning are key.

Unfortunately, and unnecessarily, every year many applicants with outstanding academic records and great LSAT scores are denied by schools that would have admitted them had they merely applied earlier in the application cycle.

To have the greatest opportunities, apply by Thanksgiving if you can do so while still submitting high-quality applications. If you need more time, try to submit by December or early January. In any case, do not wait for the school's application deadline. By the time the deadline arrives many schools may have very few open seats available. Admission at most schools becomes more competitive as time goes on. Check with individual schools for details on their timelines.

LSAC Credential Assembly Service #

When you apply to law school you will submit materials via the LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS). The Credential Assembly Service ("CAS") provides a way of standardizing undergraduate academic records and centralizing the gathering of letters of recommendation and transcripts, to simplify the admissions process. Most ABA-approved law schools require the use of LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service for JD applicants. Official information about it can be found at www.lsac.org.

To set up an account with the Credential Assembly Service go to the LSAC website. You’ll need this account before you can register for the LSAT, as well as to apply to the law schools. You will eventually send your letters of recommendation and transcripts to your Credential Assembly Service account. You’ll only submit one copy of each document. The CAS will send copies of each item to each of the law schools where you apply. Please note that the CAS will not accept these documents directly from applicants.

The law schools create a "Candidate Report" for each applicant that includes the LSAT score, writing portion of the LSAT, copies of your transcript, the LSAC's standardized transcript analysis, and your letters of recommendation.

You can set up a CAS account prior to paying any fees, and submit letters of recommendation and transcripts to your account. Later on you will need to pay fees before the LSAC will send your credentials to your schools.

To complete your file with the Credential Assembly Service:

  • Arrange for transcripts from every undergraduate institution you've attended to be sent to the CAS. You'll need to access your CAS account and print out a Transcript Request Form for each institution. You will need to order official transcripts from all colleges and universities you have attended to be sent to the application service. At IU Bloomington, you can order your transcript from Student Central.

  • Finish your personal statement according to the parameters given on the applications to your schools.

  • Write supplemental/optional essays if they apply to your situation. Always complete essays that are “optional” if you can reasonably do so.

  • Regarding brushes with the law or other discipline, if you are in doubt as to whether a given incident should be reported, either call the school's admissions office and ask, or disclose. Always err on the side of disclosure.

  • For questions about your disciplinary record at IUB, consult the Office of Student Conduct, 801 N. Jordan Street, phone: 812-855-5419.

  • Some schools will ask you to submit what is called a Dean's Certification form. Only a few schools require these.

    • For majors in the College of Arts & Sciences, submit the form to College of Arts & Sciences Academic Assistant Deans' Office, Kirkwood Hall 012, 130 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405, Phone: (812) 855-8245 Fax: (812) 855-2060.

    • For all other majors, submit the form to the Office of Student Conduct, 801 N. Jordan Street, phone: 812-855-5419, email ethics@indiana.edu. They will arrange for the form to be forwarded to your law school as well.

  • Arrange for your Letters of Recommendation to be sent to the CAS.

Supporting documentation for application to each law school (including, personal statement, resume, and addenda letters) should be sent by you to each individual law school. Most applicants use the electronic application feature of their LSAC account to send these materials electronically to each school.

Make sure to check the status of your account with the CAS to be sure everything arrives, including all letters of recommendation. Be sure the CAS has forwarded all letters of recommendation, and that all have actually been received by the schools. Note that it can take up to two weeks or more for them to process your material after they receive it. If any law school does not let you know independently that your file with them is complete, or notifies you of items that are missing, be sure to check with them.

Make copies of everything and keep track of dates. Allow sufficient time when requesting supportive materials for your applications. All offices experience delays, especially during peak request periods.

Note that the LSAC will recalculate your GPA. All credits and grades are included, so if you repeat a course the CAS will count the original grade along with the new grade. They also will count an "A+" as 4.33. For more information on how grades are converted, see the LSAC website.

When fall grades are released, send the CAS copies of your updated transcript.

Deciding where to apply #

You’ll also need to decide where to apply.  Early on, begin to research schools.  Attend IU’s Law Day each year and attend as many law school recruiter visits as you can. Come to HPPLC-sponsored events to become familiar with law schools across the country. You will learn something new at every meeting.  It is crucial that you are as well-informed as possible.

Identify factors important to you in your choice of schools (small/large, rural/urban, location, specialties, or joint degrees). Note that law schools do not necessarily expect you to know the area of law in which you would like to specialize.  If you have an idea, great — but if not, no problem.

Consider also the following:

Regarding GPA and LSAT #

To assess your competitiveness for law schools, there is a Choosing a Law School tool from the LSAC. This tool allows you to enter your Undergraduate GPA and LSAT score, and see how your metrics align with particular law schools that you select.

Create a list of 8-12 or more schools: at least two safety (where your GPA and LSAT are above the median numbers for a given school), two reach (where your numbers are around the 25%), and several where you would be solidly competitive (near the median).

For the most detailed admissions information — "check” the boxes next to the schools you are interested in, click the tab at the top of the page entitled “View School Description,” then click on the name of the school itself (which is now a link). At the bottom of the resulting page (for most schools) is a grid that cross-plots specific GPAs and LSAT scores for last year’s applicant pool. This is the most accurate and detailed admissions data available. A few schools do not release this data, but most do. At the top of this page is a link to the school’s website and to miscellaneous ABA data.

Note that the LSAC will recalculate your GPA. Consult the LSAC Grade Conversion Table, for more information. All credits and grades are included, so if you repeat a course the CAS will count the original grade along with the new grade. They also will count an "A+" as 4.33.

Characteristics of individual law schools #

The Choosing a Law School tool from the LSAC also allows you to search for “keywords;” for example, specific legal specialties in which you might be interested. On the resulting page, note the options to sort the results by “likelihood” and then “hi to low.”

From the same site you can link to information about individual schools and access their “ABA Data Report.” This report will provide disclosures of information required by the American Bar Association.

Do not obsess about the rankings #

Rankings are but one factor among many others. Unless you are admitted to a top 14 school, it is often said that debt load is a more important factor for most graduates than is rank. For employers, whether your school is ranked 43 or 68 simply does not matter all that much, if at all. For purposes of obtaining employment, outside of the top 14 it is not so much the rank of the school that counts, but your rank within the school. Find a school where you will thrive. Cast a wide net.

Branch out #

When in doubt about a school, why not apply? If your numbers are at or above the 25th percentile, you could be competitive. Keep in mind that much in the admissions process is quite subjective. By definition they will fill 49% of the class with applicants whose numbers are below the median—yes, half must be below the median.

Who knows what aspect of your file will resonate with the reader assigned to go over yours: some are strictly number crunchers; others are more holistic; one may have just admitted seventeen applicants with your major and is now subconsciously looking for something else—or the reverse; one may have belonged to your sorority, played your musical instrument, your sport, or is from your hometown; some are having a bad day; others a great day…..you get the idea.

In short, expand your horizons! Eight to twelve schools or more is not unusual. Be sure to include two to three safety schools, if you would be genuinely happy attending them.

Personal statement #

Your personal statement provides you a chance to show admission committees who you are and what you have done that distinguishes you. Most law schools do not use an interview process, so the personal statement is your way of introducing yourself to the admissions committee.

Remember the importance of showing your writing ability. Keep the statement short, concise, and clear. Avoid the temptation to use what might seem like "lawyerly" language as it can sound pretentious. Good lawyers don't use a lot of words like "whereas" and "hereby," anyway.

A single two-page essay is rarely strong enough to make up for an otherwise weak application, but if you're in the middle group of applicants — and most people are — a good essay can help tip the balance in your favor. Take full advantage of that opportunity!

For each law school you will need to compose a personal statement that responds to the school’s specific prompt. To help you get a head start, you can often find the prior year's applications in the CAS and locate the previous prompts for their personal statements, or the essay prompts can sometimes be found on the websites of the individual law schools. Essay prompts may ask about your reasons for seeking a legal education, about your strengths and experiences, how your presence would make the class more diverse, why attending law school is important to your life goals, or about a major life experience that has shaped your worldview.

Follow the guidelines for each school precisely. You can access and review application prompts from your CAS account (before you pay their fee) without fear of actually submitting the application.

HPPLC has a binder with good examples of personal statements written by IU undergraduates, but remember that your statement should represent your own voice.

Long before you are ready to apply, keep a journal of relevant experiences, especially those related to your decision to pursue a career in law. Jot down any ideas or interesting vignettes from real life for potential use later.

How the personal statement is used #

The personal statement provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate your writing skills and present information that the application itself did not highlight. Law schools use the personal statement in two important ways: first and foremost, the personal statement is a sample of your writing. One of the main skills that every successful law student — and lawyer — needs is excellent writing ability. Use the personal statement to impress the admissions committee with your clarity and your ability to organize your ideas well. However, avoid legalese and do not try to impress with overuse of a thesaurus. Keep it clear and concise. Second, the law schools use the statement to determine which students among all the well-qualified applicants are going to be more insightful, intelligent, committed, and involved in the law school. Therefore, use the statement as your chance to highlight interesting and unusual things about yourself, your activities, your background, or your motivations for pursuing law as a career. You must distinguish yourself from the mass of applicants who are in competition for your seat.

Choosing a topic #

First, your essay should be about you. While this may seem obvious, many students err by expounding on their theories of law and society. It's possible that candidates have something interesting to say about those topics, but unfortunately, admission committees often find those views irrelevant. Similarly, far too many candidates repeat similar simplistic remarks that can be meaningless to admissions officials ("I've wanted to be a lawyer since 8th grade”; “my parents say I love to argue”; “I find the law to be so fascinating.") Admission committees read literally thousands of essays like these each year, and are bored silly by them. What the committees really want is an essay that tells them something — anything — in a new light.

Remember that many officials will read 20-30 personal statements at one sitting. Begin with something that grabs the reader's attention; then hold it throughout the essay. Many officials suggest telling a story of some kind — meaning there is a beginning, middle, and end. If admissions personnel agree on one thing concerning the personal statement, it is: "don't bore me!"

Consider addressing the topic of “why law school.” Many admissions officials will be looking for evidence that you are making an informed decision to enroll in law school—or at least that a JD degree fits into well thought-out plans. While this topic does not have to be the bulk of your essay, you should consider discussing it.

Some additional potential ideas or themes include:

  • Unique perspectives you may have developed through unusual experiences such as travel, a personal hardship, internships, or involvement in athletics

  • Special talents, hobbies, or accomplishments unrelated to law that are distinctive

  • Describe a goal you worked toward or an obstacle overcome

  • Work experience while attending school, which made college a tougher road for you

  • Your strong commitment to humanitarian goals and improving the quality of life in some aspect of society, such as the environment or civil rights (don't hesitate to choose such a topic if you are sincere, but do this only if you can show how your past actions demonstrate your commitment and ideals)

Instead of rehashing information the admission committees have already read elsewhere in your application, discuss one subject in more detail. Tell them why you chose to be so active in a particular club, what you learned in your internship, or why a certain job, experience, or mentor was important to you. Narrow down your subject and use one or two examples to illustrate your special qualifications.

Use your creativity in coming up with a topic about yourself that is interesting, choosing descriptive words, and designing clear sentences. In general, it is a bad idea to devise an unusual format, such as a mini-play or dialogue or to pretend to argue your case for admission to a mythical court or jury. Remember that the statement provides everything the admission committee will know about you; your statement must stand alone. Too much "creativity" in format can leave a committee still wondering who you are. Do not be too original in your approach. The personal statement is not the time to be clever, poetic, or cute. It is not an exercise in creative writing. It is an exercise in communication. Most officials advise that you stick to the traditional essay format.

Do not regurgitate your resume, but feel free to write about experiences that also happen to be on your resume. Write about them in more depth, and evaluate and reflect upon the larger significance of these experiences — do not merely describe them. Combine similar achievements to showcase your abilities, talents, and avocations.

Addressing weakness #

You may wish to address things you see as weaknesses in your record. However, many such topics—such as difficulty in performing on standardized exams; a semester or year of lower grades due to illness or personal problems; or problems with the law—are usually better addressed in a separate letter of addendum rather than in the personal statement. Consult a prelaw advisor if you have questions or need advice.

Style and format #

Some law schools will set a page or word limit on the length of the personal statement. If they don't, a good guideline is two to three typewritten, double-spaced pages. A long dissertation will not impress an overworked admissions officer. Most schools expect up to three pages, unless they specify otherwise.

Make sure that the typeface, the margins, and the paragraphing of the statement make it attractive and inviting to read. Some will have explicit requirements as to topic(s), spacing, word count, font, and margin size. Check your schools’ prompts before you start.

Personal statement writing tips #

Content and Themes

  • If there is a required question about becoming a lawyer, be specific and substantive in your reasons. This is where being self-aware and self-directed is essential. Some of the reasons may seem obvious to you. Present those reasons positively and from your perspective. You may want to become a lawyer because you enjoy the power of words, advocacy, or the role of a constructively-engaged expert. You may want to become a lawyer because you have personally witnessed what lawyers can do — and you want to do that work. Express yourself clearly. Think about it carefully. Avoid generalities.

  • While others may have said that you would be a good lawyer, or you have relatives that are lawyers, or you have always wanted to be a lawyer, these facts are not significant by themselves. Unless they are essential to the main theme of the essay, many experts suggest that you do not include them.

  • Hesitate in mentioning TV shows, movies, or other "pop-cultural" reasons for choosing this career.

  • Avoid clichés: for example, that your parents said you "liked to argue.” Think about what is truly unique about your situation, and what specifically distinguishes you as an individual. Speak from actual experience, not merely desire.

  • Avoid telling the committee about "The Law," or what makes for a good attorney or law student. Most folks who will read your essay have gone to law school, and will have their own, often strong, opinions on these subjects.

  • Avoid legalese. This is a principle stressed in law school as well. Legalese is seen as a crutch and is not impressive — just the reverse.

  • Tell your story in your own voice. Speak naturally. Do not try to impress with your vocabulary. Avoid hitting the "synonym" tab and be yourself. As they say, big words do not denote big minds, just big egos. If the aforementioned testimonial appears incongruous, one is hereinafter counseled to reformulate one's contemporaneous estimation.

  • Most experts generally advise against the extensive use of quotations, especially well-known ones, and especially as the title, or first or last line. This is a common technique, and can be seen as a crutch or a lack of creativity. Use your own words instead of someone else’s.

  • When discussing special activities or employment, don't simply say, for example, "I was a two-year member of IUSA." Admissions committees may not be able to figure from that name what a group does or what the activity represents. Explain what the activity is, describe your role, and tell why it has been important to you. Don't merely list your activities again in the personal statement (a prose resume) — be exact and descriptive, telling about your unique contribution to the group.

  • "Show, don't tell." In other words, do not merely state: "I'm highly motivated" or "I will work hard to succeed in law school." Anyone can make such statements. Instead, include examples of actual incidents or vignettes from your life that support your assertions, and which, after being read, will cause readers to come to these conclusions on their own. Don't just say it — show that you have lived it.

  • Do not try to assert that practicing law is just like your hobby, sport, or other leisure activity. It isn’t. If, however, your activity has produced transferable skills that have actually proven beneficial to your academic success, make the connection directly (for example, athletes with crowded schedules often learn to be well-organized with highly developed time-management skills that have paid off academically).

  • Most important: be yourself. Do not try to be the perfect applicant, or to mold your particular background into what you think they'd like to hear (e.g., "rock climbing enhanced my critical thinking and analytical skills"). They easily sense such contortions.

  • If you have specific reasons for applying to a particular school, especially academic ones, tell them. No platitudes — just the facts. (If you can do this in your personal statement, great. But if not, this might be a more appropriate subject for a separate, short letter of addendum — at least for those schools for which you do have explicit reasons for applying.) Include what unique attributes you would bring to the school as well as why the school would be good for you.

  • Remember, this is a personal statement. Some experts value writers who reveal something personal about themselves.

  • Most admissions committees pay close attention to: your ability to self-assess — to reflect upon your own experiences and draw conclusions from them about your goals, skills, and attributes; your ability to learn from your experiences; your dedication to learning from your mistakes and your willingness to challenge your own preconceptions; your ability to effectively assess your goals and your reasons for pursuing them; and, equally important, your ability to convey this information in a coherent, professional manner.

 

The Writing Process, Structure, and Editing

  • While the final draft will be two to three pages, do not be concerned about the overall length in your first drafts. In fact, plan on writing too much at first. Get everything out. It will be much easier to edit and cut down on excess material later.

  • When writing, outline the statement, write it, then rewrite it — several times. Put it aside and look at it again with fresh eyes. Strive to develop a statement that is coherent and flows from one sentence to the next. This will involve more than one weekend of work.

  • Very important: be willing to start completely over from the beginning if the final product is not working. But do not delete old drafts. Save everything and label prior drafts carefully.

  • Proof read, proof read, proof read. Do not rely on spell-check. Lapses in grammar or syntax create doubt about your ability to write well, and errors in typing or spelling reflect poorly on your attention to detail. Your personal statement should be read by at least two others who know English grammar well. Writing Tutorial Services can give useful feedback, but take responsibility for making sure your work is of high quality. Your statement must be perfect. Any mistake or typo may result in an immediate denial (most officials are more forgiving, but beware). Be extra careful if you are writing at the last minute or desperately trying to meet a deadline.

  • If you mention the law school in your statement, be very careful to send it to the proper institution. A mistaken reference can result in a quick denial.

  • Ask several people to read your personal statement for opinions about style and message, and suggestions on editing. Make sure a trusted friend or teacher agrees that your statement says something interesting or revealing about you, and conveys the message you want to send. Additionally, try to show the statement to people who don't know you so well, as that will more closely follow what will happen in the admission process.

  • Good personal statements aren't written — they are re-written, and re-written. Expect yours to take four to eight weeks at least. Plan ahead. Give yourself more time than you think you will need. Start it early enough so that you can put aside the "final" draft for a few days and look at it again with fresh eyes.

For more insights, read the essay "THE PERSONAL STATEMENT: One Person’s View, of the View," by Collins Byrd, Assistant Dean of Admissions, University of Iowa College of Law.

Letters of addendum #

It is usually preferable to explain administrative issues or potentially negative factors in a separate, short, objective letter of addendum. This document is usually one or two paragraphs — but no more than one page if at all possible. Use one such letter for each subject. Law schools have no problem with multiple addenda. A HPPLC prelaw advisor can help you with any of these items. For example, it would probably be best to address lower grades or a lower LSAT score in a separate letter of addendum rather than in the personal statement. Note that, however, (depending on the totality of circumstances) while potentially beneficial, the impact of such addenda may be marginal at best.

Tips on creating a letter of addendum #

  1. If you had a semester of lower grades (or even a year), or if you simply did uncharacteristically poorly in a course or two, such that your cumulative GPA is not really an accurate representation of your current abilities or potential, tell them about it. They appreciate such information. Focus on the objective facts, and keep it very brief. Such facts could be: initial wrong major or wrong academic track (such as premed or pre-business); a difficult transition from high school or away from home; a lack of focus on academics for whatever reason, personal issues, health problems, working too many hours, over-involvement in extracurriculars; poor performance in a subject area that you will not be taking in law school (such as foreign languages or sciences); a break-up with a significant other; or family issues.

    You are free to express your hesitation in raising such issues (e.g., that you don't want to be seen as making excuses) however, such things are real: they do happen and do have their effects. Admission committees normally want to know if there is a "story" behind any distortion of your GPA, and indeed many applications ask about such situations directly. Be sure to recalculate your GPA omitting the "problem" semester(s) or courses, and provide an alternate concrete number for them to focus on (e.g., "if fall semester freshman year courses were omitted, my GPA would be 3.4"; "if my Spanish language courses were omitted, my GPA would be 3.6").

  2. If you have multiple LSAT scores where one score is four or more points higher than the others you should address it. If there is a specific explanation for the lower numbers, provide it (excess text anxiety, illness, lack of preparation, or personal issues). Again, keep it very brief and objective.

  3. Do not explain a single low LSAT score unless you can actually demonstrate that past standardized tests (e.g., the SAT or ACT) were low (percentile-wise) compared to your college GPA . Try to avoid saying: "I've always been a poor standardized test taker." Express it in a more positive manner, such as: "I consistently outperform what standardized tests have predicted...", or "standardized tests have never accurately predicted my future academic performance." Then give them the specifics (i.e., your lower SAT or ACT scores in comparison to your high college GPA. If applicable, consider a brief mention of your GPA in the major, GPA for your last two to three semesters, honors — or any of the above). You do not usually need to provide an official SAT report.

  4. If you have had any disciplinary problem or indiscretion with the law, put your best foot forward but be sure to fully and completely disclose if the application asks about such things. This is true even for incidents that have been expunged from your record or for which you went through pretrial diversion. If you need to include an explanation, some say it can be helpful to take responsibility for your actions, to express regret, to stress that you learned from the experience, and (if you can) to assure them that such things have not and will not happen again. Depending on the details, of course, most minor incidents (such as a single underage consumption that took place three years ago) will not have a negative impact on your chances for admission. Consult a HPPLC prelaw advisor if you have questions or concerns.

  5. If you have more than two "withdrawals" on your transcript, such that there may be a perceived pattern, an explanation may be in order.

  6. Always be brief and objective — let the facts speak for themselves.

  7. Consider concluding the addendum with some verson of: "I hope the committee will take this into consideration."

  8. A HPPLC prelaw advisor is available to help with any of the above material.

Letters of recommendation #

Most law schools require at least two letters of recommendation, ideally from persons who can evaluate your potential in law school. This normally means professors, although AI's or grad students are often fine if they know you better and can write about you in more detail. Law schools use letters as another tool in predicting whether you will be successful in law school classes. Strong recommendations are important, so do not remain anonymous in class.

Employers, volunteer or internship supervisors can also be helpful, especially for supplemental letters.

Admissions committees use letters as a tool for predicting your success in law school. Recommendations are most influential when the applicant's grades and LSAT score are borderline for the particular school, or the student is an average applicant (neither an automatic accept or deny). However, at certain schools, especially those that are extremely competitive, recommendations can play a major role. Having a detailed, personalized letter is always a plus.

Try to line up one or two recommendations before senior year if possible. Give your authors at least four to six weeks’ notice if possible.

How to ask for a letter #

We suggest you ask something on the order of: "I took XYZ class with you and received an A. I'll be applying to law school this fall. Based on my performance in class, would you feel comfortable writing me a letter of recommendation?" By far most will say yes, so do not hesitate. If they happen to say no, thank them and move on. You do not want an unenthusiastic letter.

Guidelines for the writers:

If your writers need suggestions as to what to include, here are some guidelines:

  1. A checklist of information for the writer to include: "Evaluator of professional or graduate school applicant."

  2. Guide for writing an effective letter to law schools: "A Dean's Suggestions to Faculty for Reference Letters."

  3. We also recommend that you give your writers a resume, a draft of your personal statement, a short autobiographical statement, a copy of any work you have done for them, a summary of highlights of your college career, and a statement of purpose in attending law school. The idea, in effect, is for you to provide them with information that would make sense for them to include in their letter. Your writers will appreciate your assistance. It will make it easy for them to write a strong letter for you.

Using the Credential Assembly Service to store and transmit letters to the law schools #

The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) will accept an unlimited number of letters of recommendation.   You will later assign specific letters from your CAS account to go to each of your schools, depending on the number they will take.  Most schools will ask for two or three letters, although many will read four or more. 

To manage your letters of recommendation in the CAS account, follow the instructions on the LSAC site

You may find that you have been placed on the waitlist for a school that you really want to attend. How does a law school waitlist work?

Students typically apply to and are accepted at more than one school. They must decline all acceptances but one. Normally, about 75% of admitted applicants will decline an offer of admission at any given school. Thus, law schools must admit a much higher number of students (typically two to three times as many) than they actually have spaces.

Based upon their past experience with such things, they have a pretty good idea as to what their actual “yield” of enrollees will be. To avoid getting too many students, however, they normally try to wind up short of their intended enrollment, with the idea of using the waitlist to fill up the few remaining open spots—to obtain precisely the number of new students they are equipped to handle. This is not necessarily an easy task, as many students put down seat deposit money at more than one school, and others do not bother to ask schools to remove their names from the waitlist after they have decided to enroll elsewhere. Law schools often do not know how many applicants they will admit from the waitlist until very late in the summer.

When law schools go to the waitlist seeking a student to admit, they are looking for students who they think will absolutely, positively enroll. Therefore, your job is to convey the sincere impression that there is no question that if they offered you admission, you would fill a seat for them. If the school is your first choice, express a continuing interest in the school in the strongest terms possible.

Following are some suggestions to try to get off of the waitlist and into the school:

  1. Write a “letter of continuing interest.” Start by thanking them for placing you on the waitlist (it is in fact a positive sign). Keep it brief and upbeat. If you have any compelling reasons why you’d like to attend or would be a good fit, tell them, emphasizing any academic reasons. See what they promote on their website and in their literature for ideas.

  2. Be thoroughly professional. Keep your file up-to-date. Send in your latest transcript and contact information. Show them you are organized, businesslike, and on the ball.

  3. Send in new supplemental information, transcripts, activities, letter(s) of recommendation, awards — any new information about which they wanted to know in the original application. Just make sure it is relevant.

  4. Ask to meet with someone in the admissions office (don’t ask for an “interview” per se as these are rarely granted). Note: some schools will not allow you to meet with people on the admissions committee, but most will. It is a potential risk if the meeting goes poorly, but a plus if it goes well.

  5. Visit the school, even if you have done so already. Ask for a tour and/or to sit in on classes. You will distinguish yourself from those on the list who do not visit. Write thank you notes to follow-up. Mention any visits and the individuals you met in your continuing interest letter.

  6. Call the admissions office occasionally to express your continued interest and inquire as to future decision timelines — but do not overdo it, and be very polite at all times. We are told that once every two weeks is acceptable, but be sensitive to how they respond. You don’t want to be a “pest.” It’s unlikely they would tell you where you are on the list, but you might want to ask. You could, in the alternative, ask how many are on the waitlist and if they have any idea how far down the list they might go—but it would be rare for them to actually answer such a question in any meaningful way. However, such information becomes clearer to them after deposit deadlines pass. Never be rude to anyone on the other end of the line, no matter how frustrating it may become.

  7. We hope it doesn't come to this, but if it is very late in the summer (two to three weeks before classes start, or later) they may be quite desperate for bodies.

    Most will not acknowledge this, but many law schools maintain a “super waitlist” comprised solely of applicants who are absolutely certain to enroll if admitted. If your application is still on hold at this point, and you’d be willing to drop everything and enroll at the very last minute, be sure to tell them this explicitly. This is especially important if you reside outside of the school’s city, because at this late date many schools assume that only local applicants would be available.

Financial aid for law school #

Financial planning is important for anyone attending law school. Many law schools will make offers of scholarship awards at the time of acceptance or soon after. In addition, you should begin the process early of filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is always required to apply for any federal financial aid. It is available online at the FAFSA website.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) provides a comprehensive section on financial aid.

Consult with the financial aid office of each individual law school. It is the job of this office to help students who are admitted obtain assistance. Some schools may require you to submit information in addition to the FAFSA. You may be asked to complete an institutional financial aid application.

Review the scholarships and grants offered by specific law schools. The level of aid a school will give you should be a factor in deciding not only where to attend, but where to apply. Scholarship eligibility criteria varies tremendously school-by-school. Consider applying to schools based on your potential to qualify for their scholarships. This will take a lot of leg-work, but it can pay off.

As a law student, you will automatically be considered independent of your parents for purposes of obtaining federal loans, and you only need to complete the student (and spouse, if applicable) sections of the form. However, individual law schools may consider parental information when administering their own, separate financial aid apart from federal programs. Therefore the FAFSA does include questions about your parents—but these have no effect on your eligibility for federal money.

Consult the resources below for more guidance on financial aid.

  • Law School Admission Council (LSAC) financial aid information.

  • Access Group (a nonprofit student loan provider that specializes in graduate and professional students. This website features many articles and tools for students, including loan and repayment calculators and a series of interactive web features to help you understand personal finance and debt management.)

  • Indiana CLEO Program (While I-CLEO's primary mission is to help students from populations traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession—financially or educationally disadvantaged, minority, and first-generation college—gain access to law school, all students are encouraged to apply. Note: this is only for those who will attend an Indiana law school.)