Applying for law school is competitive. If you want to maximize your chances of being accepted to your top schools, you will need to have things prepared and ready to go at the right time. The later you apply in the cycle, the lower your chances become of gaining admission. With this in mind, we wanted to put together this detailed timeline for applying to law school, so that you know when you should be taking action on the various components of your application so you are not left behind the curve.
Maintain High GPA and Gain Experiences
The most important thing you can do in the months and years leading up to the year you intend to apply to law school is to work hard to maintain the highest GPA you can achieve and to continue to build up your resume of professional and life experiences. Not every decision you make during this time should be solely for the sake of improving your chances at law school. Indeed, your plans may change and you may decide that law school is not for you. However, maintaining a high GPA and gaining experiences will help you out with any path you choose, including law school. For further reading about how to build a solid foundation for a future law school application, check out our article here.
Begin Law School Application Journey
As you enter the new year, it is time to take an initial LSAT diagnostic test to determine where you stand and how much you will need to improve. Once you have you diagnostic score, you should start assessing your LSAT abilities and understanding where you are strong and where you are lacking. Gain an initial understanding of the structure of the test and start immersing yourself in the LSAT environment.
In addition, you should start seeking information about law school and engaging with other prospective law school applicants. In the lead up to applying to law school, you will want to equip yourself with as much information as possible. In addition to reviewing information on law schools’ websites and reading articles about the law admission process (check out our Law Blog here for lot of great articles), you should seek out more dynamic platforms dedicated to law school admissions, such as law admissions forums, where you can get a better sense of who the other law school applicants are for your cycle, what they are up to and share thoughts and also ask questions, express concerns and receive feedback in real time.
February – May
Study for LSAT
Depending on where you land on your diagnostic test and where you want to apply, you may need several months of dedicated LSAT study. For example, if your initial diagnostic is 158 and you are hoping to go to a Top 10 school, you will likely need to engage in hard LSAT prep for several months.
During this time, you want to (i) study LSAT-taking techniques and possibly work with an LSAT prep company and (ii) take as many practice tests as possible. You can obtain official past LSAT tests on The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) website here. You should take the practice tests under real test-like environments as best as you can. Find a quiet spot in the library, bring a timer, earplugs, friends to simulate other takers and take the test start to finish. After each practice test you take, review why you got the score you got. DO NOT try to argue with the test about which answer you think is correct. That is completely irrelevant and wasted energy. All you need to do is train your mind to understand why the credited response is correct and how to spot the credited response next time. The LSAT transitioned to a digital format in September 2019, so be we encourage you to review our article here regarding the digital format and take the digital practice tests on LSAC’s website here.
Create LSAC Account and Register for LSAT
LSAC is an essential tool for law school applications. Your registration for the LSAT, applications, transcripts, and letters of recommendation are all submitted through LSAC. At lsac.org, you will see the prompt “Log in as…” on the top right hand side, with a drop down menu underneath. Select “JD Applicants” (or another option, as applicable), and on the next page below the login space, you should select “create an account.” Once you have done that, you can hover above “The LSAT” on the homepage and choose “Registering for the LSAT” on the left to register for the test. Registration generally opens one month prior to the exam.
Seek Letters of Recommendation (LORs)
Most schools require you to submit at least two LORs and most allow you to submit an additional one or two letters. Schools encourage applicants to submit LORs from teachers who can speak to the applicant’s academic abilities, but an additional LOR from a manager at work may also be helpful if they will write a compelling letter. Consider which of your college professors know you well enough to speak to your academic abilities and will be able to write a genuinely positive letter for you that addresses your professionalism, commitment, discipline, maturity, teamwork and communication skills. This is the one component of your law school application that is completely out of your control, and many times professors drag their feet with LORs since they are focused on many other things. Therefore, it is crucial that you start thinking about who will write your LORs and made the request around April or May. Since your recommenders will likely be professors, they will have a bit more downtime during the summer months to reflect on who you are and to start preparing your LOR. During the summer you can follow-up with them if they have not already completed it. You don’t want to find yourself in the awkward position of having to hound your professors for your LOR because you are running into timing issues. Check out our article here for additional tips regarding LORs.
June – July
The LSAT will be offered 9x per year (see schedule below). You should aim to take the LSAT in one of the summer administrations if possible. This will leave you plenty of time to take the test again in the fall if you do not get the score you were anticipating. It is important to note, however, that as of September 2019, students can only take the test three times per testing cycle (June through the following May). There is also a limit of five LSAT attempts every five years, and a lifetime limit of seven attempts. Check out the dates on LSAC’s website here.
July – August
Register for CAS
A service provided by LSAC, the Credential Assembly Service (CAS) will, for a fee, assemble a report which contains your LSAT score, transcript and letters of recommendation. The CAS report is required by most law schools and when you apply, that school will contact CAS and request a copy of your report. Once you have created your CAS account, you should contact your undergraduate school to request that your transcript be sent to CAS. Remember that you must send a transcript from every college you have attended and you should be sure to check the transcripts for any errors.
Review Public Profile
During these generally slower summer months, you should take the time to review your public profile. According to a recent study of 117 law schools (including 28 of the top 50 ranked by U.S. News & World Report), found here, approximately 56% of law school admissions officers say they have looked at applicants’ social media accounts, which has nearly doubled since 2011. Furthermore, approximately 91% of admissions officers say looking at an applicant’s social media accounts is “fair game.” The study also found that admissions officers who visit social media pages say the odds of finding something that negatively impacts the applicant’s chances at admission is a staggering 66%. Common issues that are uncovered include things like inappropriate photos which revealed the applicant engaged in “unsavory activities” and also racist, homophobic posts or posts about undisclosed criminal activity. Law school admissions officers in particular, as opposed to business or graduate school, are focused on whether a prospective student possesses good judgment and character. Once graduating law school, prospective lawyers will need to go through the character and fitness review prior to being admitted to a state bar and once admitted to the bar, a lawyer will remain subject to potential disciplinary review at any time for character and fitness issues. Lawyers are simply held to a higher standard in society due to their position and relationship with their clients.
Form School Target Strategy
Even before you get your LSAT score, you can begin forming a strategy for which law schools you will apply to. Using your UGPA and your practice test LSAT score, create a list of 10-15 school you plan to apply to. Check out each school’s stats on their websites to find out where you GPA and test scores fit within their application pool. You should plan to have a mix of target, safety and reach schools – check out the LSAC school selection tool here. Typically, the most important factor in deciding which schools to apply to are their rank on the list of best law schools published by USNews, found here. However, ranking may not be the most important factor for every applicant. Check out our article here regarding the various factors you should consider when choosing the right law school for you. You should also attend law school admissions fairs, visit campuses and speak with students at the schools you intend to apply to.
Brainstorm, Outline and Start Drafting Your Essays
This is a good time to get ahead of the curve on your essays. Start thinking about topics for your personal statement, create outlines and begin writing. A great personal statement leaves the reader with a sense of who you are as a person, what motivates you, and what experiences and skills make you ready to excel as a law student and as a lawyer. Check out our article here for additional tips regarding the personal statement. Also, you may consider working with a law school admissions counselor to assist you in nailing this important part of your application.
Law schools typically let applicants submit additional essays beyond the personal statement, including a diversity statement or explanatory addenda. If this is something you plan to submit, use this time to brainstorm topics, outline the essays and begin writing. Check out our articles about writing diversity statements and addenda here and here.
Prepare Law School Resume
If you do not already have a resume, you should start putting that together during the summer months as well. Check out our prior article here for tips on how to draft your law school resume.
Seek Required Documents and Apply for Financial Aid
If you plan to seek Financial Aid, you should start the application process as soon as possible because the earlier you apply for financial aid, the greater your chances are of receiving it. You should complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and any other loan applications and other forms that you will need. Research each school’s application process and requirements and those of LSAC and your FAFSA application. For some forms of financial aid, you may need to obtain several other documents as well, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, certificates from your school’s dean, and even bank statements. Obtaining all of these documents can be more time-consuming than you would expect.
Retake LSAT if Necessary
By this point you have received your summer LSAT score and may be considering whether you should retake the test or not. This may be a very hard decision if your score was close but not quite as high as you were anticipating (and consistently scoring on practice tests).
Revisit Target School List
Now that you have your summer LSAT score and your plan for your retake or not, now is a great time to revisit your law school list. Recalibrate the list to make sure you have the appropriate spread for your numbers, giving you the best chance of gaining admission to the schools you want to attend.
At this point, you should be refining and tightening your essays so that they are in the best shape possible. Proofread your essays as much as possible and have several other people review your essays for content and errors.
Fill Out Applications
Most law schools process applications on a rolling basis, meaning there is generally no hard “deadline” after which all the applications will be reviewed. Rather, the applications will be reviewed in bunches as they are received. First decisions from rolling admissions typically come out around November-December. Applying late in the process can be dangerous, because it is possible that all open spots in the class will be filled before you apply. If there is no reason to delay your application, it’s advised to start working on it and to round up your application materials early.
Consider Early Decision
Many schools allow applicants to submit their application early in the cycle for an agreement to attend the school if they are accepted. An early decision application may improve your chances of getting admitted but you should be very sure that the school where you submit your application is the school you would be happy to attend should you get accepted – typically you should choose one of your reach schools. However, an early application is not a guarantee either. Evaluate your GPA, LSAT score, resume, and letters of recommendation in the context of the school to which you’re applying – that early application could give you a bit of a bump, but it won’t make up for significant deficiencies.
September – December
Complete and Submit All Applications
You should aim to complete and submit law school applications by the end of November (submitting your applicable before Thanksgiving is a good goal to aim for). Once you have submitted all your applications, take some time to decompress and have some fun. The past 6-9 months have been a stressful and anxiety-riddled process. Reconnect with your friends for a bit and have some fun since there will likely be more challenging times ahead.
December – February
Confirm Applications are Complete
Make sure that your file is complete at each of the law schools to which you applied – you can check your application status online. By six weeks after you completed and submitted your application, contact any law schools that have not notified you that your application is complete. It is important to be patient as most application decisions will be made from January on into late Spring.
Send Follow-Up Letters
If you have any significant updates that might positively impact your application chances, including high semester grades that have boosted you overall GPA or impressive work experience or other important accomplishments, you should send a letter to the schools that are still considering your application to inform them of these updates and express your continued interest and enthusiasm for their school.
March – April
Send Letters of Continuing Interest
If you are still on the waitlist at schools you are interested in attending, you should send them a letter of continuing interest to express why you are still very interested in their school and update them with any positive developments that may impact your chances of admission. If there is a school that you would definitely attend if you were accepted, you should also include in the letter your intent to accept admission to their school if offered it (only if this is actually the case). At this point in the cycle law schools appreciate greater certainty that an offer extended would be accepted, so this might increase your chances of admission.
Road Trip! Visit Schools
Visit as many of the law schools to which you have been accepted as you can. Ideally, plan the visit at a time when school is in session and students are available or during an admissions event. Do your research and prepare questions on any points you want to clarify during your visit. Meet with students, administrators and faculty as appropriate to find out more about the learning environment, course options, housing, and career placement resources. Get a feel for the school, the campus and the surrounding area – is this somewhere you will be happy for the next three years of your life?
If your application is compelling enough against the rest of the applicant pool when you receive an offer of admission you may also receive a scholarship offer. The offer you first receive may not be where things end, however, particularly when you have acceptances and scholarship offers at comparable schools. It is important that you weigh all the pros and cons of each school and think about what level of scholarship might make going to that school more worthwhile than the other schools. If you feel that you would strongly consider a school if it offered you a bit more in scholarship money, contact the admissions department of the school and have a discussion. Let them know that you are really interested in attending their school but that you have received offers from other schools and want to inquire as to whether there is any way they can increase the size of your scholarship. Check out our prior article regarding law school scholarships here.
Make Your Final Decision, Carefully
It’s generally a good idea to wait to accept admission at a school until you have heard from most of the schools where you applied. Financial aid, scholarship money, cost, rankings and location may each be a factor in your decision. Once you have made your decision, out of consideration for fellow applicants, notify the other schools immediately if you no longer wish to be considered. Now sit back and relax because you are going to law school! Congrats! Be sure to continue to share your outcome with other applicants to help the community understand how the cycle is going. Reach out to your recommenders and let them know how things turned out and thank them again.
May – Beyond
You Have Not Yet Applied?
If this is the case, we recommend that you not apply in this cycle and instead wait for the next cycle if at all possible. At this point in the process the class is entirely or nearly entirely filled and it is very likely that your application will be viewed differently by the admissions committee than if you submitted it early next cycle.