When Should You Apply To Law School?- Rolling Admissions Explained

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Law school admissions work differently from admission at many undergrad schools. Instead, law schools have a long window where you can apply, typically beginning around October and lasting until February or later.

Rather than making decisions all at once, law schools continuously “roll” out decisions in batches over the entire application period. Hence the name “rolling admissions” However, the typical practice is to have accepted enough student to fill their class long before the application deadline approaches, at which point there is often already a substantial waiting list. Because of this, it is best to apply early when there is fewer applicants competing for more spots, rather than later when spots are running out.

In this post we explain why it works this way and how you can make sure you are in okay shape to get a seat at the law school of your choice. We also discuss how falling applications in recent years are changing the game for the 2013-2014 cycle.

Why do Law Schools Do Rolling Admissions?

Rolling admissions has obvious practical appeal because law schools don’t have to consider everyone all at once and they can tweak things as they learn who wishes to attend and who doesn’t.

The other big reason for rolling admissions is that it helps law schools get the most applications possible. This allows them to increase their selectivity and maintain a lower acceptance rate (the ratio of students offered acceptance to those applying). This acceptance rate is important to law schools, which are ranked in the all-important US News and World Report rankings partly on the basis of this acceptance rate.

Also, law schools want plain and simple to get the best student’s possible. By keeping the window open, they have a last chance to snap up any very strong applicants who apply late because of taking the December LSAT or other reasons. Lower ranked schools may be able to get these students because there are no longer spots available at higher ranked schools that typically would have accepted such an applicant earlier in the cycle.

The Ever Narrowing Door of Rolling Admissions

This is a big thing to understand about rolling admissions is that just because the door is still open, it’s getting smaller all the time. Though they keep admissions open for the reasons discussed above, their biggest incentive is accept a lot of students early so they know as soon as possible how many are coming and can fill the classrooms.

Rarely do law school look at an applicant that is good enough for them and think “hey, what if someone better comes along?” Law schools don’t have FOMO. If someone is good enough, they generally offer them a spot.

Yield Protection- The one exception to this is something called yield protection. Often an applicant with really good numbers for a school (~75th percentile or better) might get waitlisted at first rather than accepted outright. This is because the school thinks it’s likely that this applicant is going to go to a higher ranked school. They will wait to hear some sort of expression from the applicant of genuine interest in attending before making a final decision. If you have really great numbers for a school and this happens to you, don’t fret. You are actually probably in a good position to get a scholarship if you get in touch with the school and express heavy interest in going there. We will be posting about negotiating scholarships as the 2013-2014 admission cycle approaches.

In fact it is usually the case that by the time the admissions deadline approaches a law school has already accepted nearly everyone they need to fill that year’s class. That means there are almost no spots or none at all left, and you are competing over any spots with everyone who has applied late and also to some extent with everyone who has been waitlisted (some of whom are often well-qualified yield protect applicants). As such, applying very late will often keep you out of a school that you could have gotten into.

So when is too late? Let’s discuss the specifics of timing your applications to law school:

When Should You Submit Your Law School Applications?

First off, I don’t want you thinking you have to be camping out at the post office to get your app in first. This is not going to give you any advantage. As stated before admissions go out in batches. Generally schools don’t send any acceptances in the first couple of month, and often not until December.

Generally the best thing to do is get the application out in the first two months that it is available. This is typically September and October for most schools. This will almost always mean you are being considered for the first batch of admissions that a school sends out.

If you are taking the October LSAT don’t worry that you are seriously handicapping yourself by getting your application in come November. This is still plenty early and the majority of spots are still unspoken for.

Now things get a little more complicated: common wisdom used to be that you wanted to get your applications in before Thanksgiving, after which your chances of success started decreasing steadily. December was viewed as pretty okay but any later and you were seriously handicapping yourself. However, things are a little different now.

acceptedBecause applications are so far down in the past couple of years, it is likely that applying later will not hurt you as much.

Applications are way way down in the past few years (Check out a NY Times article here discussing this and how it might be to your advantage). The same number of law schools are competing over a significantly smaller applicant pool and will be struggling to get enough applicants with the numbers they want. If you are a strong applicant for a school, I would expect that you could still have a lot of success far into the cycle, meaning December, January, or possibly even later.

That said, applying early is still the safe way to make sure that you have the best possible chances. Please don’t read this and decide to just put off apps until late December for no discernible reason other than laziness. This information should really only be a difference maker for  people who may wish to retake the LSAT in December or have reasons why they cannot take it a first time until then. Whereas in the past you have to factor the significant timing disadvantage into your decision, there is good reason to believe this is a much, much smaller issue in this cycle.

Still try to avoid applying very near to a school’s deadlines if it is at all possible. When this is exactly varies quite a bit from school to school so do your research.

Gathering More Information

Remember that to get the details on a specific school’s admissions process the best thing to do is first check the school’s website. Also, forums such as TLS are a great place to get information as well. Search the forums for a thread on last year’s admission cycle at that school and you can see the timing of when they sent out admissions.

Another great resource is a book from someone who actually knows the admissions process from the inside. I recommend the new edition of the well known guide The Law School Admission Game. The author Anne Levine is herself a former dean of two law schools. She gives you a good peek inside her process when she was in charge of admissions decisions, including her take on the applications timeline.

Also check out this post which gives more recommendations for law school admissions resources.

As always let us know on twitter @onlawschool if you have any more questions about admissions timing or have specific questions about your situation. Good luck!

 

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13 Comments

  1. Hello,

    I know this thread is rather old, but I’m going to post anyway in the vague hopes of getting a reply 🙂

    I just received my score for the Sept ’16 LSAT (I scored a 164), and I’ve decided that I want to re-take the test in December. I really think that I can score at least a 168. My question is this:

    What happens if I send out applications before I receive my December test score? Will the applications be “updated,” so to speak, with my new score? In other words, will the schools I’ve already applied to see the new score when it comes out in January?

    Or will the score of my December test only affect the applications that I send out after the score release date for that test?

    I feel that I’m in a bit of a tough spot–I was planning on applying to several schools for which I feel this score is inadequate. Oh, and my GPA won’t be of much help (3.07).

    Thanks!

  2. My GPA is not what it should be. I am trying to repair this,taking courses this summer. I’m a rising senior, and question if I should delay applying until my GPA IS >3.0.

  3. Hey ! Ive been reading this page and found many helpful tips and i read an article about an Increase in the February 2014 LSAT test takers …..in your opinion do you think I would be risking things to pursue a Double Major and delaying law school from Fall 2015 to Fall 2016?…..while not the only factor I wonder if I would be better for pass on the double major and take advantage less people are applying but if I waited to begin law school in 2016 there could be an increase

    While I understand it is ultimately a personal decision, I want some solid advice on if 2015 or 2016 would be better so I can make an informed decision.

    Thanks and have a great day!

    • Hi Matt,

      That increase in Feb was tiny. Here’s my take on it, which might put your fears in perspective: https://lawschooli.com/will-people-attend-law-school-next-year/

      I don’t doubt more people will be headed to law school in fall 2016 than are now, but I wouldn’t expect it to be a huge increase. The job market is still weak, which is holding numbers down.

      Basically, if you have good reasons to do the double major I would just go for it and not worry about whether you’ll have more competition in 2016.

  4. Dina Bakhit on

    Games are fun but logical reasoning is very very nice…anyone taking lsat needs to take a course for sure to prep..

  5. Hi Joshua and Evan,

    Just wanted to first say that this is a wonderful site, and I appreciate that you are putting this information out for free.

    My question is about the early decision “bump.” Is there a formula for predicting how much of a boost early decision will give your chances of admission? For example, Cornell’s admission rate is 20%. By how much will this percentage increase if I apply ED? My GPA is 3.7 and I expect to get between 160-165 on the LSAT. Cornell just added the binding ED option this year, by the way.

    Secondly, do you expect another significant decrease in applications for the upcoming cycle?

    Thank you!
    Bob

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Evan here. Well, I want to say right off that I am not so sure what is happening with the ED bump now that applications are way down in the last few years. My guess would be that it’s an even bigger bump than it was back when I was applying, as any seat filled is one thing less for them to worry about. Unfortunately, each school varies and there would be no way to determine exactly how much ED helps. The process is always one-way blind.

      I predicted a while back that this years drop won’t be as big as we say last cycle, but it will still be sizable. As such, you can expect better odds than ever in the admissions game. Still to be safe, really try for closer to 165.

      Best of luck Bob!

  6. Hello,

    I’m confused as to how “early decision” works. Would the rolling system still be applied to the “early decision”? I will be taking LSAT in October, and since the applications are still due by november 15th, I thought it’d be okay. However, I’ve heard that it’s better for you to apply with your June score..

    Also, would december scores be considered for my early? I know that the decisions will be out (if i apply early decision) around the end of december.. wouldn’t my december scores also be considered then?

    Thank you.

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      ‘Better’ isn’t the right word. June is only better in that you have more time to study before a retake if you need it. October/November is still very early in the application cycle and you will have no disadvantage applying then over people who applied in September (usually the earliest you can apply).

      Generally ED decisions are issued around the same time, so no, it’s not a rolling process. I haven’t heard of a school that considers December scores for Early Decision, as the ED application deadline will have long passed (and most often a decision will be issued) by the time you get your December scores. Many schools will likely reconsider a ED applicant if they retake the LSAT in December or Feb and improve their score, even if they were rejected early decision. Likely you’ll be reconsidered as a regular decision applicant.

      Your best bet with matters like this is always to call the school and ask about their policy. Trust me they won’t mind. It’s possible that they will allow you to apply ED with your October score and wait to issue the decision until you get a December score if you tell them you are retaking. I’ve not heard of a school doing this, but they make little exceptions to the usual rules all the time.

      Best

  7. Hello,

    I have read many blogs, articles, etc encouraging law school applicants to apply early- before Thanksgiving. Does this hold true for URM applicants? I am planning to sit for the October exam, but if I don’t reach my target score I plan to retake in December. Will this place me at a disadvantage?

    Thanks,
    Michelle

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Michelle, that “apply before Thanksgiving” advice is outdated as this post suggests. Because applications to law school are so far down right now, there shouldn’t be any significant disadvantage to applying to law schools a little later if you have to retake in December. This holds true for both URM and non URM.

      Applying very late (January or later) might still cause a disadvantage, so if you retake in December, make sure to have your applications ready to go when you get the score.

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