An uncommon and often confusing component of the law school admissions process is the rolling admissions cycle. In this post, we at Stratus explore this type of admissions cycle and provide tips on how to navigate the process to your advantage.
How does rolling admissions work?
Most admissions processes are based on hard deadlines: each admissions committee sets a deadline and waits until after that deadline to review all the applications received before the deadline. Under a rolling admissions process, however, admissions committees accept applications within a prescribed window and evaluate applications as they receive them.
In the law school rolling admissions process, some offers for admission are sent to applicants before other applicants have even submitted their applications. Law schools are therefore weighing candidates against not only other candidates whose applications they have already received, but also potential future candidates who have not yet submitted applications. Consequently, law school admissions officers tend to quickly offer admission only to candidates who are among the very most qualified they expect to hear from in a given application year.
What is the application window for the law school rolling admissions cycle?
The application window varies from school to school, but the earliest you can submit an application to any law school is August 15 of the year before you attend. Most schools accept applications starting September 1, and some wait until September 15 or October 1 to accept applications.
Determining when the window closes tends to be much more complicated, but no school stops accepting applications before February 1. Although most schools state an application deadline, not all of those deadlines are true “hard” deadlines (a “hard” deadline is one after which the school will not read a submitted application). Although these schools will accept applications past their stated deadline, they will typically only review applications if they are still looking to fill their classes after they’ve read the applications they received before the deadline. With the increase in the number of applications and the quality of applicants’ credentials in recent cycles, candidates should not count on this as the best option.
Some schools will continue to accept applications well into the summer. In general, schools in the top tier will fill their classes earlier than schools with lower rankings. Because every school has different rules and deadlines, make sure to check the deadlines and policies for each school to which you apply.
Is there an advantage to submitting applications early?
The conventional wisdom surrounding the law school rolling admissions process is that there is a significant advantage to submitting applications at the beginning of the cycle. Although there is some advantage to submitting applications early, that advantage is often perceived to be much greater than it actually is.
In terms of admissions chances, there is little difference between applying on September 1 and applying on November 1. After early decision deadlines pass (approximately mid-November for most schools that offer it) and admissions committees make decisions on those candidates, they will generally turn to the regular admissions applicant pool.
Applying early may indicate to a school that you are uniquely interested in that school (a sign to schools that you will attend if admitted, therefore helping their “yield”). Despite the emphasis on a candidate’s “numbers,” schools do want to admit candidates who are interested in attending their school specifically (so don’t forget to address why you are applying in your application).
Additionally, schools typically will have already issued many application decisions as their deadlines approach, whereas at the beginning of the cycle, classes will not yet be filled. Schools, therefore, might feel they can take more of a chance on a candidate early on. Thus, if you have a choice, apply early. It certainly can’t hurt, and doing so might very well give you a small advantage.
Note, however, that because the median LSAT of many schools has recently increased due to higher-than-usual scores on recent LSAT administrations, schools will likely make decisions on candidates slowly and thoughtfully regardless of the date of application. Candidates may not receive a decision as quickly as they would have in cycles in the past, as schools sit back and wait to see what their total applicant pool looks like. There will likely be expanded waitlist activity, and patience for those on the waiting list may very well pay off.
In a nutshell, early applications are encouraged so long as they are ready, but don’t rush writing your application just to submit it a couple of weeks early. It is better to apply later in the cycle if you need the time to make your application the best it can be—especially if you believe, for example, you can increase your LSAT score by even a few points by taking the LSAT later.