A student, whose name I'm witholding, writes:
With the new U.S. News rankings and most law school decisions for this cycle out, I would like to let you know about my experience with the application process and the way even elite law schools are manipulating the admissions process in order to increase their ratings.
I am a top candidate. I attended [a top liberal arts college in the Northeast], where my GPA was 3.82, and scored 178 on the LSAT. I have been accepted at NYU, Stanford, and Harvard; did not apply to Columbia; and am still waiting on a decision from Yale. Outside the U.S. News top 5, the situation changes dramatically. I have been accepted by Duke, Virginia, and Boalt, but been placed on glorified waitlists at Georgetown, Penn, Michigan, and Chicago. While the waitlists have different names, they all have one thing in common: I am expected to take positive action in order to remain in consideration. If I do not, my application will be rejected. ( Chicago claims that their form of positive action - writing extra essays - is "optional", but given the circumstances I do not find their claims credible.)
At just one or two schools, I would chalk it up to chance, but at this point it is clearly a pattern. The only explanation is that Georgetown, Penn, Michigan, and Chicago are trying to artificially inflate their U.S. News rankings by rejecting top candidates who are likely to turn them down for a more prestigious school. I feel as though my application fees have been stolen.
'Tis suspicious--also ridiculous, since the acceptance rate is a mere 2.5% of the overall score in U.S. News.
UPDATE: More stories coming in. A professor of political science in the Northeast writes:
I don't know much about law school admission practices, but I know quite a lot about undergraduate practices, and there's a lot of "gaming" going on. It's not so much a matter of trying to lower the acceptance rate as it is to increase the yield rates [which are a factor in the US News undergraduate rankings]. My son was considering applying to Tufts (from which he will be graduating) but we were worried because the valedictorian of his school was wait-listed the previous year and she was much stronger than my son. My wife, who works in admissions, made an inquiry of a former colleague who then worked at Tufts, and he told us that this was a U.S News decision, that they were quite sure that the young woman wouldn't accept their offer (they were right). So they encouraged my son to apply, which he did. There are numerous institutions that play this game, and so it's entirely possible that law schools play it as well.
Aaron Dossett, a JD/MBA candidate at Indiana University, Bloomington, writes:
I applied to law schools two years ago, and had an interesting experience with a wait list. All of the schools that wait listed me required me to take some form of positive action, usually just faxing a form, to get on the wait list. I was happy with the offer I got from IU, so I decided not to go on any waitlists. One school, top 30 US News, contacted me several weeks after the deadline to accept a spot on the waiting list. The school informed me that even though the deadline had passed, I should contact them if I was still interested (I was not). I joked with my friends that I got a "constructive acceptance," but I'm sure it was a rejection for US News reporting purposes.
Another current law applicant writes:
I may be able to add a similar puzzle to that students' story. I applied to too many schools. Because I have a high LSAT combined with a mediocre GPA but good work experience, I didn't know where I'd fall. I've been accepted at Northwestern, Fordham, et al. I've still got some answers pending that may factor into the decision. I've been rejected by your 'horns and Stanford. The puzzle is that I've been waitlisted by UVA, Georgetown, Washington & Lee and George Mason. I can see the first two, but as a group I would assume, while they are all fine schools, that they do not compete for students with the same credentials. Maybe I just have weird numbers, and of course this admissions game is a strange cat. (Maybe it's a residency thing.) However, I would assume that a maybe from W&L would be a no at UVA, and a maybe from UVA would be a yes from W&L.
And so it goes in the wonderful world of US News-driven law school admissions practices.