Acceptance to Alternate Programs
Sometimes the letter you've excitedly opened offers you acceptance to the law school, but not to the program you wanted, or with certain conditions attached. These offers generally fall into one of three different categories: part-time or midterm programs, conditional or trial acceptance, and summer head start programs. Read the letter carefully to see exactly what it is offering you.
Part-time or Midterm Programs
In a school with several programs -- day and evening divisions, fall and spring acceptances, or dual degree programs -- an applicant will occasionally be offered the chance to attend a program other than the one requested. American, for instance, has been known to offer a seat in the evening division to applicants on the waitlist for the day division; other schools may offer the student the opportunity to matriculate in January instead of August. Applicants to special or dual degree programs may be told that they will be accepted only to the regular law school program.
Read the letter carefully to determine your options. Schools with low application numbers for their alternative programs may solicit people whom they have accepted to switch programs. Are you being given a choice of day or evening division, or are you being offered a seat only in the evening division? Also read carefully to determine whether the letter offers you a seat in the alternate program or a chance to apply for a seat.
Should I accept the alternative offer?
You may be unsure of whether to accept these offers to alternative programs. My advice generally varies depending on what you've heard from other schools. If you have not yet been accepted at another school, accept the offer. Any offer, after all, is better than no offer. After due reflection, write the school a letter clearly answering each component of the offer made, thus:
"Thank you for your offer to consider me for the evening division. I would like to accept this offer. I would also like to remain on the waitlist for the day division."
Conditional or Trial Acceptance
In "conditional" acceptance programs, you are offered the opportunity to take two courses as a non-matriculated student; if your grades are good enough, you will be offered a seat in the incoming class. These programs are usually offered to students regardless of ethnic or economic status whose academic records make them marginal for that school.
Admission to these programs mean you have not been accepted to law school. You will be accepted only if your grades are satisfactory. In most cases you will not receive credit for the courses, and will not carry a reduced load or tuition in the fall. You thus get no grade buffer, and incur an added expense. You may quit a job, relocate to a new city, and miss admission by a few hundredths of a point. In fact, the only advantage to these programs is that they offer to a few students a chance of attending law school which they would not otherwise have.
Should I attend a conditional program?
I always advise my clients to take an acceptance at any school over a trial admissions program. The only exception is for the student who has an outright acceptance at one school, but an offer of trial admission at a school more suited to the applicant's needs. In that rare instance, I advise the client to accept both offers. If you are not accepted through the trial admissions program, you can still attend law school; you are simply trading time and money for the chance of attending a school you prefer.
The only other time I advise a client to attend a trial admission program is if the client has not been accepted at any other law school. Even then, I suggest that you first consider delaying law school a year and applying to schools more likely to accept you, if at all possible.
Who Has a Conditional Acceptance Program?
Law Services has released a list of conditional programs for 2005. Click here to see who might give you a chance to prove yourself.
Some law schools offer you a seat in the incoming class so long as you attend a summer orientation of some sort; the program may vary from a few days to eight weeks. The law school has decided to offer you the chance to matriculate only if you get a "head start" by attending this orientation. Generally, you will take one or more courses in this orientation, receive credit for them, and carry a proportionally reduced load during the fall. The tuition charged is often offset by lower tuition in the fall. These programs are usually offered to minority or disadvantaged applicants.
This acceptance is "conditional" upon your attending the summer course, but it is not conditioned upon your grades. You have been admitted, but you must start in the summer. These programs are actually an advantage, allowing you to adjust to law school gradually. The disadvantage is that your summer, for which you may have had other plans, will be spent attending law school. However, I believe the advantages of these programs far outweigh the disadvantages.
I generally encourage my clients to attend these programs. However, if you really need the income which you would earn over the summer, write to the law school explaining this and inquiring about financial aid for matriculants in this program.