Given the cumbersome process involved in applying to law school, you might wonder what is the right timeline for applying. In this blog post, we at Stratus offer some guidance to position you for success in the months to come.
January of Your Application Year
Ideally, you should start thinking about law school in January of the year in which you will apply to law school. At this point, you will either have completed your undergraduate degree or be close to graduating. Consequently, you should know or have an idea of what your final undergraduate GPA will be.
Research law schools.
If you’ve not done so already, you should take time in January to research law schools and see which appeal to you. Consider such factors as location, class size, legal market, employment statistics, strengths in particular legal areas, reputation, and campus culture. News articles, posts in online forums, and publications such as U.S. News & World Report are good resources.
Consider your undergraduate GPA.
Once you’ve done some research on law schools, you should compare your undergraduate GPA to the average GPA of accepted students at your target schools. If your undergraduate GPA is way below the school’s median, this does not necessarily mean you won’t get in, but you will need to do extremely well on your standardized tests to increase your odds of gaining admission.
Take practice tests.
In January, you should also take a practice test for at least the LSAT. If your target schools accept the GRE and/or GMAT, it might be worth taking practice tests for those as well. Test prep companies typically provide free tests for all three exams. You should try to take these practice tests under conditions approximating the real tests to give yourself an accurate projection of your score.
Devise a test strategy.
If you took the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT practice tests and you scored significantly better on the GRE and GMAT than the LSAT, it might be worth taking one of those instead of the LSAT. However, you should first make sure that all of your target schools accept the test you choose to take. If you scored about the same on all three tests, it probably is best to take the LSAT—just because it is more standardized in terms of law schools, so you will have a better barometer of what to expect in terms of admissions and financial aid prospects. The LSAT is more standardized because it has been used in law school admissions for decades. Therefore, the public data for what LSAT scores are likely needed to get into a school and to receive a merit scholarship are more certain than for GRE scores, which schools have only accepted for a few years.
If you are less comfortable with the LSAT, it could be worth taking the GRE or GMAT instead, even if you scored the same on all three tests—unless, of course, one of your target schools only accepts the LSAT. If your experience with the practice test makes you believe that you will score better on the GRE or GMAT than the LSAT through studying, it could be worth taking the GRE or GMAT. Also, know that once you take the LSAT, you will have to submit that score. Only the LSAT has this requirement. So, if you do really poorly on the LSAT and stellar on the GRE or GMAT, the law school will likely still weigh the LSAT score most heavily. Therefore, do not take the LSAT until you are sure you do not want to take the GRE or GMAT.
Whichever test you choose to take, consider your standing with regard to your goals. If your test score is significantly below the score that you need to get into your target schools, this does not mean that you have no chance; you just might need to study more.
It is a good idea to plan to take your preferred test in May or June. If you can be ready to take the test by then, you will have the summer to study for a retake in case you do not score as well as you’d hoped. If you are still in college and you feel that studying for a test would take too much time away from your classes, you could wait until a summer between school years to study for and take the test, or you could consider applying in a year or two instead.
Prepare for standardized tests.
In February and March, you should start studying for your chosen standardized test. If you need to increase your score substantially, you might want to invest in a preparation course or a tutor. However, if financial constraints are a concern, you could start with a preparation book or software to help you study on your own. After four to six weeks, you could take some practice tests to gauge your progress; if you are not approaching your target score, you should consider investing in a course or tutor.
If you decide to take a course or hire a tutor, be sure to complete all of the assignments. If you are studying on your own and want to ease into it, you can start off by just studying a few hours a week, but do not get complacent.
Start taking standardized tests.
Ideally, you will be taking your first test in May. If you had planned to take the test in May but do not feel ready, you can reschedule it. Be sure to cancel your test ahead of time to prevent it from appearing on your record.
However, if you decide to reschedule your test, you should try to take it within three months if you want to apply for the upcoming year. If you feel that is not enough time, it is worth considering applying in a year or two instead.
Contact potential recommenders.
May is also a good time to start reaching out to recommenders. Although you will not need to submit your letters of recommendation for at least three months, many professors like to be approached well ahead of time. Moreover, some professors might only write a certain number of recommendations each year, so asking them early can be a good idea. When you contact a potential recommender, be polite and humble. Also be up front about when you need the letters completed.
Your recommenders might ask for some information to help inform their letters, so you should be prepared to provide relevant details.
If recommenders are taking a long time to respond to your request, you should consider looking into a backup or ask someone else instead.
Identify reasonable target schools based on test scores.
If you took a test in May, you will likely receive the test results by June. If so, based on your GPA and test score, you should have an idea of which schools are reasonable targets.
Start working on application essays.
If you are satisfied with the idea of applying to the target schools you determined based on your test scores, you should look at the application essay prompts for those schools (they will not be officially released until the beginning of September but generally remain the same each year) and start writing essays for the schools to which you want to apply. At a minimum, you can prepare your resume, research your undergraduate school’s procedure for sending a transcript to a law school, and start brainstorming for your essays.
When brainstorming, a good place to start is to list all of your accomplishments. These can be related to such areas as your family, your undergraduate years, and your professional experience. Then try to tie these accomplishments to why you want to be a lawyer. Any essay will likely ask about this.
Many law schools will also ask “Why do you want to apply to x school?” or offer an optional essay on how you would increase the diversity of the school’s academic community. So, if you have time, you can start working on these essays for the schools that interest you.
Conduct additional school research.
You can also spend some time in June researching schools further. For example, you can look up professors, student organizations, centers on campus, alumni, and fellowships to help determine which schools would be the best fit for you. This is also a good time to join email lists for your target schools. Although receiving a lot of emails might get a little annoying, they’ll provide details on resources such as information sessions and campus visits. Such events can be helpful when deciding whether you are interested in a school, and attending them can demonstrate to the admissions team your interest in the school.
Continue preparing for standardized tests.
If you took a test in May and are not happy with your results, you should start studying again. Focus on why you did not do as well as you’d hoped, and look for strategies to improve your score. You could consider taking a course or hiring a tutor if you did not do so earlier. A tutor can help you zero in on areas where you need to improve. Instead of paying for weeks of sessions with tutors, you could just hire a tutor for two or three sessions to give you strategies on the areas where you need to improve. Using tutors in this limited capacity can save you money.
Consider hiring an admissions consultant.
June is also a good time to consider whether you want to work with an admissions consultant. If you hire a consultant at this stage, they can walk you through the entire application process and will have plenty of time to work with you before you apply.
Evaluate your test strategy.
If you are still studying for a standardized test in July, you should be evaluating your progress by taking practice tests. Based on your results, consider whether you need to change your strategy.
Follow up with recommenders.
July is also a good time to check in with your recommenders, but be respectful and not overbearing. See if they need anything else from you, remind them of the deadline, and thank them again for agreeing to be a recommender.
Continue application prep and school research.
In July, you should also continue preparing your application materials and conducting research on law schools.
Finalize your school list, continue your testing, and check in with recommenders.
At this point, you should put the final touches on your application materials if you have been working on them throughout the summer. This is also a good time to finalize the list of schools to which you will apply. The number of schools will vary from applicant to applicant, but most people focus on a few schools where their LSAT scores and/or GPAs are below the median of accepted students, a few schools where their stats are right around the median, and a few schools where their stats are significantly above the median.
As you finalize your list, you will want to research which schools offer early decision and/or scholarship programs and weigh their impact on your application process. If you apply via binding early decision to one school, you should still prepare applications for other schools—but realize if you get into a school via early decision, you will have to enroll there.
August is also a good time to either retake a standardized test or take it for the first time if you have not done so yet.
In addition, in August, you should follow up with your recommenders via email to ensure they will be ready to submit your letter by your deadline. If they do not respond, follow up again after two weeks. If they still do not respond, you should find a new recommender.
Confirm application deadlines and essay prompts.
Applications officially open in September. You should confirm the schools’ application deadlines, particularly for any early decision and/or scholarship programs to which you will apply.
You should also compare your essay drafts against the official prompts. If the newly released prompts do not align with what you prepared, make the necessary changes.
Continue preparing for and taking standardized tests.
If you took an exam in August, you should receive your scores by September. Based on those results, you can modify your list of target schools to reflect your scores and/or plan for a retake.
If you feel you need to retake an exam, try to take it by November. The November test is often the last test schools will accept for early decision programs. Taking the exam by November will ensure that all of your materials are ready by December, which is generally the latest you’d want to apply.
Start submitting applications and consider early decision programs.
Once your application materials are ready, you should apply as soon as you can, especially for schools with rolling decision. However, do not sacrifice the chance to earn a better score or improve the quality of your application materials just to apply a few weeks earlier.
September is also a good time to determine whether you will be applying via early decision so you can plan accordingly.
Attend informational events.
More informational sessions and tours will be available in September, so keep an eye out for them.
Continue preparing and submitting applications.
In October, you should continue preparing your applications. If you are applying to schools via early decision, there is a good chance the deadline is in November, so you should prioritize those applications.
Continue preparing for and taking standardized tests.
If you are taking an exam in November, now is the time to ensure your final preparation is going well.
Prepare for interviews.
If you applied at the beginning of this cycle, you should start receiving invitations for interviews in November. If you receive an interview request, be sure to prepare adequately. For example, ensure you know the content of your resume and essays well, and research interview questions specific to your school. You can often find interview questions on Reddit, or you can search on Google to see if there are articles or other forums that discuss your school. In addition, record yourself responding to questions to fine-tune your delivery. Also, if interviewing remotely, be sure to check your webcam, internet connection, lighting, and sound quality in the location where you will do the interview.
Finalize application materials.
If you are taking an exam in November, make sure to finish gathering your application materials so you are ready to apply as soon as you receive your test scores.
Continue submitting applications.
For those who took an exam in November, December is the time to apply. Although it is good to apply as early as possible, the closer it gets to the holidays, the less likely it is to make a big difference. For example, applying on December 10 versus December 20 probably will not matter, so take another week or two to prepare your application materials if you need to.
Consider applying to additional schools if necessary.
If you applied at the beginning of the cycle, you will have heard from many of your schools by December. If you do not hear from some, do not lose hope. But if you receive more rejections than you expected, you might want to consider applying to a few more schools.
Take action based on school decisions.
If you applied to a school via early decision and got in, you should withdraw all of your applications to other schools.
If you start receiving non-binding offers of admission and are basing your decision at least partly on the amount of financial aid you will be awarded, you should wait until you receive all of your aid packages so you can reach out and try to negotiate, if necessary. If a school of great interest to you offers less financial aid than others, you could consider contacting that school to see if it can give you a better offer. If you have received financial aid offers from other schools, you should mention them—but be sure to be polite and humble and to reiterate your interest in this school.
In addition, you may get waitlisted at this point. If you do, you should write a statement of continued interest. In this statement, which should not exceed one page, you should list the reasons why you are interested in attending the school and provide any updates that might make you a better candidate. You could mention other schools that have offered you admission, but be sure to reiterate that this school is your top choice (but only if it actually is!). You should also consider visiting the campus if possible. Doing so could help convince the admissions committee that you will attend the school if you receive an offer.
Finish submitting applications.
Unless you are applying after December, you are likely to hear from many schools during January and February. If you are applying after December, submit your application as soon as you can. Once December passes, the later you apply, the more challenging it will be to get in. Schools’ final application deadlines will be in mid-February or early March, so these months really are your final chance to get your materials together.
Decide where to enroll.
By March or April, you should have received a decision from most schools. If you have been accepted to multiple schools, try to attend their admitted students weekend to help you decide where to enroll. In addition, you can contact admissions staff, professors, financial staff, or students about any questions or concerns. If the admissions staff is not answering your questions sufficiently, you could also reach out to an affinity group related to your concerns. You should do some research on your own as well. If you are deciding between schools that offered you different amounts of financial aid, research their employment statistics to see if one is a better investment. If you have any concerns about a school’s reputation, look up relevant news articles to learn more.
Consider alternate schools or restarting the application process, if necessary.
By May, you should have decided where to attend. If you haven’t done so, there are likely two reasons why:
- You were waitlisted. If you are still on the waitlist in May, it is a good idea to send the school another statement of continued interest. If you were accepted at another school that you would be happy to attend, you could consider moving forward with that school.
- You are unhappy with your school options. The other reason could be that you are not satisfied with where you got in and are considering restarting the application process. If you want to take this route, it is best to move quickly, especially if you are retaking an exam.
Start preparing for law school!
However, if you have decided where to enroll, you should start looking for a place to live and take care of any necessary moving arrangements. May is also the time to consider attending a law school prep program. Finally, you should find some time to relax and do something fun, like taking a vacation!