Around this time of year, many applicants are hearing back from law schools. While a final decision is usually welcome (even a rejection eliminates the frustration of waiting...), there are some situations where a school's response does nothing but add to your uncertainty.
Typically, these "limbo" responses from schools fall into two categories: waitlists and holds. A waitlist letter means that a school will likely not revisit your application (or give you a final decision) at least until after the first deposit deadlines have come and gone, typically in April, and you will be admitted, if at all, only on a space-available basis. That means you'll receive an offer only if the school needs to fill a particular slot as they manage their deposits and their yield over the course of the summer. They don't want to be oversubscribed or undersubscribed when orientation rolls around, and they use waitlists to fill any gaps that emerge over the course of the summer.
In contrast, a hold this time of year doesn't mean anything one way or another. It's a non-event and a non-decision, not even a decision to put you on the waitlist. It's just the polite alternative to telling you nothing. It means they want more time to review your file, and to compare it to more of the applicant pool before they make a decision on you. For example, Harvard Law School just sent out a batch of hold letters. If you receive a hold letter from a school, you may hear from them next month or not until August. At this time of year, anything is still possible when you are on hold.
Once deposit deadlines have passed, however, it doesn't really matter what schools call your limbo status, whether they've put you on a waitlist, put you on hold, or told you nothing at all. If you haven't received a final decision by the first deposit deadline, you are at that point effectively on a waitlist.
Anna has written extensively about the frustration of being waitlisted (or put on hold). These letters usually include some or all of the following:
1. An explanation of that school's waitlist or hold process
2. An invitation to remain on the waitlist (by either doing nothing or specifically replying to the school)
3. An invitation to withdraw from the waitlist if you're no longer interested
4. Some indication (though it's often vague) of what applicants can expect from the school in terms of definitive response later in the application season
5. An explanation of what additional documents, if any, the school is interested in receiving from people on the waitlist or on hold
Whether you have been waitlisted or put on hold, here are some tips to guide you:
1. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS
Each school handles the hold / waitlist process differently. Above all, you should follow the directions included in the school's hold / waitlist letter. If they specifically invite additional documents, feel free to submit them. Pay close attention to how the invitation to submit is phrased. Saying that you may submit one additional letter of recommendation OR an additional essay OR a letter explaining your interest in the school does not mean that you should submit all three. If a school wants more information, they know how to contact you.
If a school is more vague about what it is looking for, think carefully about what communications or documents (if any) would benefit you the most. A letter saying you may "supplement your file" with any information you think "may be helpful to the admissions committee" is not an invitation to submit everything under the sun. One high quality letter explaining your particular interest in and fit with the school is going to be more effective than five additional recommendation letters, an "updated" resume showing one new volunteer activity, and a mini-thesis on the state of the legal profession.
2. NO MORE DOCUMENTS MEANS NO MORE DOCUMENTS
If a school's waitlist or hold letter specifically says that you should not submit additional information, that is the end of the story. At this time of year, admissions officers are buried in application materials. If they take the time to include a "no new material" section in their waitlist or hold letter, you should take them seriously. What about that one extra recommendation letter that you received after submitting your original application? Or a really short "essay" explaining all of the things you love about the school? Don't bother. Even if those materials speak glowingly about your candidacy, submitting them identifies a more obvious (and damaging) aspect of your candidacy: you do not know how to follow directions.
3. UPDATES AND LETTERS OF CONTINUED INTEREST (LOCI)
It's fine to update your application (provided the school allows it) only if there is a legitimate update to provide the school since you submitted your original application (a new set of grades, a new job, etc.). If your original application essays did not discuss your specific interest in the school, your "update" letter can also include a substantive discussion that explains why you're such a good fit for the school, but only if you're expressly invited to submit more materials. If there is no legitimate update during the hold period, however, or you have already discussed your fit with the school in your original application, do not force feed them a letter just because you think they want to hear from you.
If you're on hold, and it's before April, it's not appropriate just to express your continued interest (a LOCI, which is shorthand for "letter of continued interest") separate from a legitimate update. It's assumed you're interested simply by virtue of the fact that you applied, and admissions officers might conclude you're wasting their time if you expect them to drop everything so you can tell them, only months after applying, that you're still interested. Stand-alone LOCIs don't become appropriate until after April, when many other applicants have made other plans or have lost interest in that school for one reason or another, and you want to be explicit about saying, "Yes, I'm still here and I'm still interested!"
Questions? Concerns? Conundrums? Ask away below.
Gregory Henning is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge R. Lanier Anderson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then became an Assistant District Attorney in Boston and a charter school teacher. As part of the Ivey Consulting team, Greg works with law school applicants. Learn more about him here, and read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions.