Interested in going to law school? There are a few things you should know before you apply. Law schools operate on rolling admission cycles, meaning that acceptances and scholarships are given out throughout the year. Generally, there are three different stages to this cycle: You can apply early, on time, or late in the process. Applying early refers to applying between September 1, when law school applications open, and the end of November. Any application submitted between the beginning of December and the end of January is generally considered “on time.” For some schools, especially schools with a lower median GPA or LSAT scores, applying in February is also considered on time. Applying after February is definitively late in the application cycle. So when is the best time to apply? Watch the video below and read on to learn the breakdown of each stage and how timing can affect your ability to maximize your chances for acceptance and scholarships.
Stage 1: Applying early (September–November)
Applying early when law school applications open in September is always the best time to apply because it can be crucial to your outcome to be among the first people who submit their applications. Why? As most law schools operate on a rolling admission cycle, law schools fill their classes and accept students as they receive applications. It’s not like the regular college application process where there’s a set time frame for reading apps and admitting students. The rolling nature of the application cycle also means that it’s actually easier to get into law school in September than it is in February. You can be the exact same student: same essays, same LSAT score, same GPA. If you apply in September, you might get in with scholarship money, but if you apply in February, you might get denied. Yes, it can be that drastic of a difference.
Holistic application review
In September, law schools have more leniency to look at applications holistically. They can more readily admit students who have a lower GPA or LSAT score but strong essays, work experience, and an evident passion for law. If you’re an applicant with a lower GPA or LSAT score, or a score just below the median of the school you’re applying to, your best bet is to apply in September. Once law schools have started to solidify their class, they’ll only want to take applicants who’ll raise their median GPA and LSAT score. The higher the GPA and LSAT medians, the higher the school’s chances of moving up in U.S. News & World Report rankings.
Additionally, some schools give scholarship money on a rolling basis. Those schools start giving away money as time goes on and may not have much left for applicants who apply later in the cycle. If you’re considering applying to a top 25 law school, you should aim to have your applications submitted no later than the end of November. Due to the large number of applications and the applicant pool’s selectivity, applying after November can make it significantly harder to get into these schools.
Don’t play the waiting game
Another benefit other than admissibility is that the sooner you apply to law school, the sooner you’ll hear back. If you apply in the first couple of months, you’ll likely hear back from some of your schools by December. This will allow you time to relax and enjoy the holidays knowing that you got into law school and received scholarship funding. Suppose your applications are ready in the fall. In that case, you’ll also have time to figure out if applying Early Action or Early Decision is the best strategic decision for your applications. Whether you apply Early Decision or Regular Decision, when you apply early and receive your acceptance letters earlier, you‘ll be able to have longer, more detailed conversations with the financial aid office and consider your law school education’s finances in a non-rushed manner. You’ll be able to take your time, apply to outside scholarships, and have more time to negotiate your merit awards with the various schools.
Stage 2: Applying on time (December–January)
For the majority of law schools, submitting your application between the beginning of December and the end of January is considered “on time.” There are just a few schools that don’t read applications on a strictly rolling basis, and for those schools, there might not be a significant difference between applying early and applying on time. You want to make sure that you’re aware of application deadlines and that you submit the strongest application possible. Law school applications are more than just your GPA and LSAT score—you should make sure you have a strong personal statement, diversity statement, and any other optional statements and essays you have the opportunity to submit (take advantage of these!).
One of the most common reasons I see students applying in December or January instead of September to November is because they’re waiting to retake the LSAT exam. For this reason, I suggest you take an LSAT diagnostic exam, even as early as one year before you wish to apply. This will give you ample time to know how much to study and research test preparation resources, courses, and tutors. It generally takes three to nine months to study for the LSAT, so giving yourself as much time as possible will ensure that you don’t have to rush your applications. Nonetheless, there are some schools in which an increase in your LSAT score will increase your chances of getting accepted to law school more than applying earlier in the cycle. PowerScore has a blog that covers which schools favor timing over an LSAT increase and vice versa.
Stage 3: Applying late (February–June)
I don’t recommend applying to law school after February. Often, I’ll talk to students who think about applying later in the cycle, and I suggest they wait and submit their applications in September for the following cycle instead. Most tell me they don’t want to wait an additional year and genuinely have their heart set on starting school this September. My response? Your law school community is forever. Your legal degree is forever. Your alma mater is forever. This is the cohort and alumni base you’re going to have forever. Isn’t that worth waiting for? Instead, wait and apply at the beginning of the next cycle and take the extra time to foster relationships with admission professionals throughout the summer. This will show that you’re a prepared candidate ready for the seriousness required in law school.
Make your first impression your only impression
I also hear students say, “I’ll apply now, and if I don’t get in, I’ll just reapply in September.” Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Additionally, you’ll need to write or amend your application essays. You shouldn’t just submit the same essay; admission committees want to see you put effort into your reapplication. Can you still get into law school if you apply in March? Yes. Some law schools regularly accept applicants who apply in March. Is it possible to get into law school if you apply in June? Sometimes—but only to a very select number of schools.
You should want more for yourself than just accepting whatever schools will take you as a spring/summer applicant, especially if you’re not going to get substantial scholarship money. Unless you can say that you have a very compelling reason why your top-choice school is okay with you applying in March—for example, a unique program you’re going to apply to makes applying late in the game worth it—you generally shouldn’t apply this late.
Types of law schools that allow late applications
The types of schools you’re going to get into at this point are a completely different caliber. If you have low test scores, a low GPA, and have had to overcome multiple academic barriers, you’re not giving yourself the best chance. What often happens to students at this stage is they apply to law school in March or April, and they don’t get in. After they’re rejected, they conclude they aren’t capable of becoming an attorney. Nothing is further from the truth. The issue isn’t your abilities; it’s you’re timing. It’s not that you can’t be a lawyer; it’s just you shouldn’t apply to law school in March or April when you could have applied in September. Even if you do get into school after applying this late, you’re not likely to receive much (if any) scholarship aid. There are many ways to go to law school with at least a half-tuition scholarship. In most cases, unless you’re going to a top 25 law school, you really shouldn’t go without at least a half-tuition scholarship.
Your law school application is the first step on your path to becoming a lawyer. Good lawyers make wise decisions, exercise judgment, mitigate risks, and always overprepare. Your application process and strategic timing should reflect these principles. Take this opportunity to have your first legal case and make a plan—early.