Waiting to Hear

How Soon Will My File Be Reviewed ?

Usually an applicant starts worrying about that answer fifteen or twenty minutes after the application is submitted.

Even with every paper being submitted electronically, the staff cannot read more files in a week just because more files came in. Later apps can wait up to a month for a first review.

apps over time

If your file is mailed by November 1, it will probably be complete by Thanksgiving. Even with exams and winter break, you may hear before the year is out. This can be very encouraging, relieving the stress of the long winter while you are still waiting to hear from a number of schools. If you mail your file over Thanksgiving, it may not be complete before winter break, and you will probably not hear until early February.  From that point on, the time delay is increased by the backlog at Law Services and in the admissions office.  

For schools that have February 1deadlines, a student who begins the process after December 1 is at a disadvantage. You'll be trying to get professors to write recommendations during finals or over winter break, when faculty are hard to reach.

The length of time you may have to wait to hear from a particular school will depend on the strength of your file. Presumptive admits and denies will hear relatively quickly. Discretionary applicants (including virtually all minority or disadvantaged applicants) often will wait until May, no matter when they apply.  

In general, then, an applicant who is a presumptive admit or deny who applies before December 1 may hear in as little as four weeks. An applicant who is in the discretionary pool and who applies within a month of the school's deadline may not hear for twelve weeks. And what you are told after this wait may not be a final disposition of your file. You may be placed in a hold category, or wait listed.

Notes on Polite Waiting

Waiting sucks.

Sorry, there's just no other apt way to put it. It's a terrible strain on the entire societal structure. You become rude to housemates, surly to strangers who get in your way, and the mail carriers peek in your driveway to see if your car is gone before they deliver the mail.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time reminding you that you might need those housemates to commiserate when a rejection arrives, and that those poor strangers didn't do anything to you -- but they might if you don't learn to chill. I'm not going to go on at any great length to tell you that you created this problem by applying to 20 schools, 10 of which you have no real interest in attending and 5 of which you have no real chance of getting in to, thus contributing to the monumental workload facing admissions officers. Instead, I'm going to address the particular waiting behavior that can be most harmful -- the kind you dump on the admissions staff.

  • DO NOT call to see whether your file is complete unless you haven't been notified six weeks after mailing the app. Allow one week for the file to get to them, another for the notice to get to you, and four weeks' processing time for clerical functions at the law school and at Law Services.

  • If you are told that your file is incomplete or that you failed to include some important thing you're positive you sent, do not -- I repeat, DO NOT -- tell them it's their fault and how could they have lost it, they must just look harder. Thank them for allowing you to correct the problem, then do it ASAP. Remember that they are doing you a favor, and act accordingly.

  • If a clerk is rude to you, don't be rude back. Instead, apologize to them. Say something soothing, like, "I'm sorry, I guess we're kind of stressed these days; I guess we're making life pretty rough for you right now."

  • Remember that every time you call to check on your file, you delay its completion. The staff is interrupting their filing to answer the phone and check on the app. They spend time shuffling through papers to see whether the Dean's letter has been filed yet. And while they're looking, something isn't getting filed. Or even worse, it's getting misfiled because you interrupted them.
  • If you call too often, someone may put the purple sticker on your file -- the one that means "pain in the a**." Purple stickers are the kiss of death if you're discretionary. No one's ever mentioned the purple stickers before? See, I told you no one knows as much about this process as I do. :-)

Okay, so I made up the purple sticker. But not the idea behind it. In admissions, the squeaky wheel rarely gets the grease -- not when there are 500 more wheels in the trunk.  It more often gets dropped by the side of the road and abandoned. (There is a time when sincere and enthusiastic inquiries can help, but it's not now; it's after you've been waitlisted.)

More than once, a person who's been rejected has contacted me to see if I can get them in for the next year.  The first thing I do is call the law school in question to find out if the app is salvageable.  And more than once I've said the name to the admissions officer, or even a clerk, and heard "Not him! You're taking him for a client?!"  I usually reply, "No, I'm not," and thank them.

Distract Yourself

So what can you do to help distract yourself, so that you don't become the dreaded "Waiting to Hear" person?  You can prepare for law school by educating yourself.  One of my students found a list of 5,000 words and phrases entitled "What Literate Americans Know."  Much of it functions as a vocabulary list -- amnesty, amnesia, amino acids.  Since I'm more interested in the gaps in your historical knowledge, I've chosen 250 names of people, and 150 names of places and events, as well as a few stray phrases.  Click here for a totally arbitrary list that you can play with, to help pass those lonely hours while you're waiting to hear.  

Okay, you've got a long wait, and you need more than a list of weird old people and places to keep you busy? Well here are two different "Top Ten" lists to help you fill the next few months.


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