Whether you are just beginning to consider law school or have already set your sights on attending, one of the first steps is to prepare your application. Every school has different requirements, so it is important to be proactive and start planning for the application process early. This includes gathering materials and understanding timelines. Often, similar to preparing for the LSAT and bar exam, knowing the deadline and working backwards can keep you on track.
One of the first things you will want to do when you have decided to apply for law school is create an account with the Law School Admission Council. While your applications will be submitted separately to each institution, this account can serve as a central location to manage all of your transcripts, letters of recommendation and test scores. If you are applying for an American Bar Association (ABA) law school, many of them will also require these three key components:
Application Form and Supporting Addenda. This can include a mix of documents such as personal essays, addenda, resumes and more. When preparing these, it is important to review them carefully to make sure you are meeting each school’s specific requirements, while tailoring them for each institution.
Credential Assembly Service (CAS) Report. The CAS Report bundles together several important documents that are common for each school that you are applying to. In the CAS Report, ABA law schools will want to see letters of recommendation, typically two, as well as official transcripts and an LSAT writing sample. Because these require you to contact a third-party, it is important to connect with your selected individuals and institutions early to ensure they have adequate time to meet the strict deadlines.
LSAT score. Most schools require an LSAT for admission, and depending on your comfort level, some students prefer to see their test score before they submit the application, whereas others are okay with it being sent directly. It is important to plan ahead because the LSAT is only offered eight times a year, so making sure you have adequate time to prepare and take the exam is critical.
In tandem with preparing your material, it is important to review each school’s timeline for applications. Some key deadlines to watch for include:
- Open date. For an August start date, typically the application process opens the September prior. Watching for the open date is especially important for schools that use rolling admissions. Under a rolling admission deadline, the earlier you apply the better chance you have of getting accepted since you are competing against fewer applicants. In addition, schools that accept students on a rolling basis often offer scholarships at the time of acceptance and so applying later in the process can mean less scholarship money available.
- Deposit deadline. Whether a school uses a rolling admission or not, many law schools follow the Statement of Good Admission and Financial Aid Practices which waits until around April 1 to request commitments of any kind from prospective students. This allows students the opportunity to evaluate other offers. However, not all schools have the same deadline, so review closely when a deposit or confirmation is required to hold your spot. Typically, if a school’s application process is still open after this initial deposit deadline, new acceptance letters will allow students a few weeks to consider the offer before requiring a response.
- Waitlist deadline. If you are waitlisted for a school you are still interested in, review the letter closely as some law schools ask that you respond within a specific timeframe to remain on the waitlist. Failure to respond removes you from their list for that application period.
If you are denied or waitlisted, here are some ways to help navigate next steps:
- Submit any new material for consideration. This can include updated LSAT scores or major life events or achievements that were not available during the initial application process. Sometimes, law schools will re-evaluate your application if you offer these types of updates.
- Start exploring other law schools. Don’t assume it is too late to apply somewhere else if you are waitlisted. Some schools keep their application windows open longer, even up to July for an August start date. In addition, some schools have January start dates, so you do not have to wait an entire year before beginning your law school journey.
- Contact the admissions office. This is especially important if you have been denied to a law school you are seriously interested in. While you won’t be able to change the initial outcome, talking with admissions can help you evaluate ways to improve your application for the next round. The best time to contact admissions is after the new school year has started because the offices will have more availability to review applications and provide recommendations.
If you are serious about law school, be proactive. Even though all these steps occur before you are even admitted to a law school, you are not alone. You can reach out to admission offices and ask questions as part of your decision-making process, as well as learn about their application procedures and deadlines to ensure you are well-supported and set up for success.