How And When To Apply To Maximize Your Chances
Applying to law school requires months, sometimes years, of preparation. So, finding the perfect time to apply to law school is key to finding success in the admissions process and ensuring the long journey of preparation pays off! In this post, we’ll tell you when and how to apply to law school to maximize your chances of admission. We’ll dissect how to apply to law school, what’s required, when to take the LSAT, how applications are reviewed, how to leverage your timing to maximize your chances of admission, and more!
How And When To Apply To Maximize Your Law School Admission Chances
Am I ready to apply for law school admission?
You should know that only you can determine when the best time is for you to apply to law school. A juris doctor program is three years full-time, which is a huge investment of time, energy, and money. But the beauty of law school is that it will always be there waiting until you’re ready for it! Take time before you apply to law school to think about this decision to be sure it’s the right one. Wait until you are personally, professionally, emotionally, and financially ready to begin your legal journey.
What do I need to apply for law school admission?
Once you’ve determined a good time to apply to law school, begin to compile your application materials. Every law school’s requirements may vary slightly but there are core components of the application that each school will ask for and that you must prepare. They are:
1- Application Forms
2- LSAT/GRE Score
5- Letters of Recommendation
6- Personal Statement
First, you will need to fill out the application forms. Law school applications can be found on the Law School Admissions Council’s (LSAC) website, www.LSAC.org. LSAC administers the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), but they also host all law school applications. You’ll log into this website, create an account if you don’t have one already, and upload your materials there. Even if you go to each of your school’s admissions websites, they’ll have a link to their application that takes you back to LSAC to submit your application there. If you are taking the GRE, you’ll still need to make an LSAC account to apply to law school.
Filling out the applications is the “easy” part of the application process. These online forms require you complete biographical information about yourself.
When applying to law school, you must take an entrance exam. At most schools, you have two options: the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Records Exam (GRE).
There are pros and cons to taking each exam. One of your first considerations when deciding which exam to take should be whether the law schools you’re interested in applying to accept the GRE or only the LSAT. At the time of this writing, there are 199 ABA-accredited law schools and only about 100 of them accept the GRE. That number is growing every year, but if your target schools don’t accept the GRE then you won’t have any choice in which exam to take. For a full and up-to-date list of which law schools accept the GRE, check out the ETS website, the administrative body for the GRE.
Every school will also require you to submit transcripts from every undergraduate and graduate institution you’ve attended. You must send these documents directly to the law school from the LSAC. Similar to your letters of recommendation, your transcripts will not pass through your hands.
For many students, you will need to submit transcripts from schools other than your degree-granting institution if you took:
- College classes while in high school
- Summer classes at a different college or university
- Classes through a study abroad program
- Classes at one school and transferred to another
A full list of the transcripts that you are required to submit by LSAC can be found on their website here.
Admissions committees are very interested in seeing your resume summarizing your professional and academic achievements. It’s important to keep in mind that when applying to law school, you should not simply submit the same resume you have from past job applications.
Law school resumes often require slight tweaks. There’s a different audience and different goals for a law school resume versus an employment resume. We offer resume review services to help you fine-tune and polish your resume for applying to law school.
Letters of Recommendation
Law schools typically require at least two letters of recommendation, but some will review up to four. These letters are an evaluation from a professor/supervisor on what they think of your talents, abilities, character, and work ethic.
Letters can be academic (from a professor or advisor) or professional (from a supervisor or manager at work). Letters, however, should not be personal. Just because your family friend is an attorney does not mean you should ask that person for a letter of recommendation unless you have worked with them before. Letters should also not come from your peers and co-workers if they are not in a position to evaluate your work.
For more information, check out our post on who to ask for letters of recommendation and how to ask for a good letter of recommendation for law school.
For many students, the personal statement is the most challenging part of the application. (For many, it’s even harder than the LSAT). This is because it is an open-ended essay where applicants must select their own topic and themes to highlight the essence of who they are as a candidate in about 2-3 pages (double-spaced). This is a big undertaking!
Its purpose is for the Admissions Committee to get to know who each student is and also assess their writing abilities. For schools that don’t conduct interviews, the personal statement often serves as your interview. It allows you to highlight what’s unique and impressive about your life story and journey to law school, beyond just your stats (GPA/LSAT).
For help brainstorming and writing your personal statement, we offer essay review packages for applicants at any stage of the writing process.
Note about Optional Essays
These essays are not required (hence the label as an “optional” essay) but they are something that most schools offer to applicants when you apply to law school. Your candidacy won’t be hurt if don’t submit these essays, but they can certainly help you! This can be especially true for schools that don’t conduct interviews. The more information you can provide that shows why you’re such an outstanding candidate for admission, the better!
Timeline for Applying to Law School
The timeline for submitting your application is essentially one year before enrollment. That means that if you want to apply to law school next year you should be applying this year.
Applications at most schools open between August 1st and October 1st and close as early as February 1st or as late as July 1st. As soon as applications are open, you may begin to fill them out.
However, don’t wait until the applications open in the fall to begin preparing your documents. It should take approximately 6 to 12 months before you submit your applications to prepare all necessary components. At this stage, most of your “preparing” will be spent studying for the LSAT or GRE.
Suggested Preparation Calendar
Here is a suggested two-year preparation calendar and overview:
- Fall: Identify a spring or summer LSAT or GRE test that works for your schedule and sign up for it. Then begin studying if you have not already.
- Spring: Take the LSAT or GRE
- I always encourage students to pencil in a second test date in case they don’t do as well as they hoped on the first test. By taking your entrance exam sometime in the spring, you leave open the option to take another exam, if needed, in the summer or early fall without delaying your application submission in the fall.
- May- August: Prepare your application documents
- Research which schools you’d like to go to and what their application requirements are.
- Consider early decision program options.
- Reflect on what you are looking for in a program, school, and career.
- Begin working on your personal statement.
- Polish your resume.
- July: Identify who you might ask to write your letters of recommendation. Re-establish contact with them, if needed. Update them on what you’ve been up to since you last spoke and share your goal of going to law school.
- Check out this blog post on who to ask for law school letters of recommendation.
- August: Request letters of recommendation from authors. Give them weeks or months to complete these letters.
- Also, be sure to request transcripts from all necessary institutions at this time.
- August – October: Take the LSAT/GRE again if needed.
- September: Begin filling out applications.
- Polish your personal statement.
- September – October: Complete all school-specific essays. These are often optional essays that schools invite students to submit based on offered prompts.
- If your schedule allows, start these essays in the summer. Schools advertise their essay prompts on their admissions website so you can begin preparing in advance.
- November: Apply to law school!
- Most early decision programs have deadlines beginning in November or later.
- Winter and Spring: Wait to receive decisions, visit schools, and attend events!
- Here is an article we published in the National Jurist on what to do after you submit your applications!
Leveraging your Chances of Admission by Applying Early
As you can see from the schedule outlined above, we encourage everyone to apply to law school early, ideally in November.
Applying in November is a great target because it allows you to take advantage of rolling admissions. Check out our post explaining the ins and outs of rolling admissions. Essentially, the earlier you apply, the earlier the law school reviews your application, and the higher your chances of admission. You stand to benefit from applying early for three reasons.
Apply before the class fills
First, and the most obvious perhaps, is that the class is not yet filled! At the beginning of an admissions cycle, schools are trying to actively fill their class by handing out many offers of admission to strong candidates they believe will be successful in their program. Unfortunately, schools cannot admit everyone since they are limited by a certain number of seats in the class. As the admissions cycle progresses, and students fill class and commit to attending, there are fewer spots available. It becomes much more difficult to gain admission to schools near the end of their admissions cycle (i.e., closer to their final deadline).
Use future uncertainty to your advantage
Second, you benefit from applying early because, at the beginning of the cycle, no one knows what the upcoming admissions cycle will look like. Deans try their best to predict what it might be like based on various factors, (e.g., election years or the economy can both have an impact on applications) but the reality is that no one knows the strength of the upcoming application pool. Use that uncertainty to your advantage by applying early! Then, if it turns out to be a really competitive year, you’ll have already received decisions back from schools and not risk being caught up in an uber-competitive cycle.
Get the chance to apply early decision or early action
Applying early also gives you the benefit of applying to a school through their early decision or early action program if your target school has one.
These programs allow you to apply to law school early through a similar but separate application process where they review your application and render a decision earlier than if you were in the general application pool. In applying this way, candidates make a binding commitment to attend that specific school. If the law school offers admission to a student as part of an early action program, that student agrees to withdraw their applications elsewhere. For that reason, you can only apply to one early decision program. So, be sure it is your top-choice school!
The most important thing for applicants to know is that these programs have strict deadlines that usually start to appear around November 1st or November 15th. If you apply after the deadline has passed, you miss your opportunity to apply through that program altogether and must apply as part of the general application pool. Note that some schools offer multiple rounds of earlier decision options that extend throughout the winter, but most have deadlines in the late fall and early winter.
Lastly, it’s important to note that not all schools offer an early decision option. Even when they do, it doesn’t mean it’s the right option for everyone. Check out our post outlining the pros and cons of early decision programs.
How Law Schools Review Applicants
Every school takes a holistic approach to the review process. That means they consider everything you submit. Many people default to relying on GPA or LSAT/GRE scores in discussing what defines a successful candidate. That’s because those are the only common denominators among all applications. Therefore, it becomes easy to use these denominators and define successful applicants. You can’t quantify a great essay like you can a GPA. But that doesn’t mean that a specific GPA or LSAT score without great essays, letters, and other components will guarantee admission or vice versa. The review process will always be holistic.
There’s no certain amount of weight that is given to any one component. The review of each application is highly individual, as is the amount of consideration given to specific aspects of one’s application. For example, an applicant who is attending law school as a third-career professional with decades of work experience will not have much weight put on their academic transcripts from years ago. Inversely, a candidate without any work experience who is graduating from undergrad and going immediately into law school will have their academic transcript weighted more heavily than the first candidate.
Third, and relatedly, if you apply to law school early, it forces schools to rely more heavily on making a decision of admission based on an evaluation of your own credentials without the benefit of comparing you to everyone else in the application pool. This is simply because fewer people have applied at this point in the process. Keep in mind that schools want to admit the very best students as 1Ls each year.
To do so, they employ a two-fold review process. There is a vertical and horizontal review. The vertical review is where you are evaluated on your own credentials to determine if you will be a good fit for their program. The horizontal review is evaluating how you compare to everyone else in the application pool. This helps the school ensure they are only admitting the strongest candidates.
Keep in mind, however, that some schools can get around this by holding a review of applications until later in the cycle (usually January) when more people have applied. Nevertheless, most schools do not want to hold off on making any decisions about admission. Instead, they will begin to review your application as soon as you submit it.
A Note on Applying without an LSAT/GRE Score
You can apply to law school without your LSAT or GRE scores but your application won’t be reviewed for admission until all necessary documents (outlined above) are received. This includes having an LSAT or GRE score on file. It can be helpful to submit your application without your score so that immediately upon the release of test scores, your application will be complete and ready for review. However, a law school won’t review your application until you have a test score on file.
If you are taking the test for a second time, you should indicate that on your application. In that case, the review of your application will likely be held until new test results are received. You can also email the law school to indicate whether you’d like your application reviewed with your old test scores or held until they receive your new ones. It may also depend on if your upcoming test is in the immediate future or months away. Determining which is the best option is highly dependent on the individual and your unique situation. We offer consulting options to guide you through the best thing to do in your specific situation.
For more information on all of these application components, check out our series of free video modules there walking you through the application process. These can be found on our free online Law School Prep Course.
We hope this post on maximizing your law school admission chances is helpful!