The law school admissions calendar

If you decide to apply to law school, it is important to understand the admissions calendar that applies to most first- and second-tier law schools. While most law schools start accepting applications for the next entering class beginning on September 1, intensive review of these applications does not usually begin until October. The first round of the application process runs from October through December, and there are several good reasons to apply before December 31. The first reason is that early in the year most law school application readers have more time to read admission files and learn about each applicant. They are more likely to read your entire essay and resume, and also more likely to research applicants on the Internet. This is especially beneficial if you are hoping to be admitted to a school that usually denies students with your grades or scores, since law schools are often more willing to make exceptions when most of their class remains unfilled. The second is that there is more scholarship money available, and when it runs out it is rarely supplemented. An applicant with good credentials is generally more likely to be awarded a scholarship in the fall than an applicant with identical credentials in the spring. These reasons strongly suggest that you take the LSAT no later than October of the year in which you are applying for law school, and apply no later than the end of November.

The second round of application review runs roughly from January through March, by which time most top-tier schools will have selected their entering class. Competition for admission becomes more difficult, admissions offices become more conscious of diversity considerations, and scholarship money begins to dry up. Applicants who might have been admitted in the first round may find themselves on a waiting list as law schools monitor responses to make sure they are within the target range for their class. Students who are waitlisted can improve their chances for admission by submitting supplementary recommendations or information about recent achievements, but in doing so they run the risk of annoying admissions offices if they contact them too often or for trivial matters.

The third round of law school admissions runs from April to June. By this time the classes at most top-tier law schools have been filled, and to the extent they are not, available places are given to applicants who have been placed on the waiting list. This is where schools give final consideration to the overall composition of their entering classes to adjust for lower- than-expected yields among applicant groups. Students admitted during this time are rarely given scholarship money. Many students who find themselves on waiting lists submit deposits to their safety school to keep their places in an entering class, knowing they will have to forfeit this money if a better offer comes along. This strategy is well known by law schools. They also can identify applicants employing it, since schools have access to a centralized database that indicates whether students have submitted deposits to two or more schools.

The last round of application review is in July and August. Every year some students will request deferments over the summer, and some schools will tap their waiting lists as late as mid-August. This may result in difficult choices for some students, who risk losing thousands of dollars in deposits if they accept a late admission offer at their preferred law school. The quantity of such “midnight offers” varies from year to year, and those who receive them are often put on the spot to accept within a matter of hours or lose their offer. Students who choose to remain on waiting lists for better schools need to be prepared to make snap decisions of this kind.