Because law schools use a rolling admissions cycle, applicants often find it daunting to figure out each school’s application deadline—and what to do if they miss it!
“Hard” versus “Soft” Deadlines
With the rolling nature of law school admissions, candidates submit applications over many months, and schools will accept applications on a space-available basis late into the application cycle. This pushes most schools to employ what we at Stratus call “soft” deadlines as opposed to “hard” deadlines.
A hard deadline is the date after which a school will not accept or read an application. A soft deadline, on the other hand, does not prohibit the submission of applications after that deadline. However, don’t treat a soft deadline as an invitation to apply after the deadline! You should always make every effort to submit applications by the stated deadline, which can be as early as February 1 and as late as mid-August.
Schools also have separate deadlines for specific programs or scholarships. For example, Berkeley Law’s general application deadline is February 15, but the deadline to be considered for the Berkeley Law Opportunity Scholarship is December 15.
Most years, the ability to submit your strongest possible applications earlier rather than later could help increase your odds of admission. Rather than focusing on the schools’ deadlines, find out when they’ll begin both accepting applications and considering the applications they receive. We suggest that you plan your submissions around those dates instead!
Early Decision versus Regular Decision
When you decide to apply to law school, one of the first things you’ll want to determine is whether to apply early decision. There are strategic advantages and disadvantages to doing so, but one clear factor is the deadline. Early decision deadlines tend to fall sometime in November, usually at least three months before the regular decision deadline. Early decision deadlines also tend to be hard deadlines, while regular decision deadlines tend to be soft deadlines.
When Is It Too Late to Submit Law School Applications?
Although some law schools have hard deadlines, the vast majority will accept applications after their stated deadlines. Note that many of the top schools will only guarantee full consideration of applications that are submitted by their stated deadline. To complicate matters further, many schools have “priority” deadlines, which generally means they will guarantee a decision by a certain date for applicants who submit before that deadline. In addition, many schools will accept applications into the summer and will accept candidates who submit applications as late as June or July.
For most schools, the only way to know for sure that it’s too late to apply is to call the Admissions Office and ask. You might be surprised by their answer!
Summary: What You Need to Know
- Law schools generally begin accepting applications between September 1 and October 1.
- Early decision deadlines are mostly between November 1 and December 1 (but note outliers such as Georgetown Law, whose early decision deadline for fall 2021 was March 1).
- Regular decision deadlines typically fall between February 1 and April 1, but most schools will accept applications after their stated deadlines.
- Check with a school if you have any questions about its application deadline policies.
As with many aspects of the law school admissions process, the treatment of application deadlines varies greatly from school to school, so always check with the schools themselves if you have any questions about their deadlines.
On a final note, meeting deadlines is key when it comes to practicing law. To put your best foot forward, make every effort to submit your applications by the stated deadlines!