Many law schools use a rolling admissions process, meaning they evaluate applications as they come in and release admissions decisions, one by one. Because there are typically more spots available in a law school class…
Many law schools use a rolling admissions process, meaning they evaluate applications as they come in and release admissions decisions, one by one.
Because there are typically more spots available in a law school class at the beginning of the admissions process than at the end, the ideal time for J.D. hopefuls to apply to law school is in the fall or early winter, experts say.
“I tell anyone planning on applying to law school to apply early,” Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik, a partner and owner of DPW Legal, an intellectual property and appellate practice boutique law firm in Florida, wrote in an email. “The class just fills up, and it gets harder and harder to get in as time goes on.”
Wasylik, who earned her J.D. from Georgetown University, says she knows from experience that the timing of a J.D. application is critical. The first time she applied to law school, Wasilyk was in her senior year of college, and she submitted all her application materials at the last minute because she felt unsure about whether she wanted to attend law school at the beginning of her senior year. She only realized later in her senior year that law school was the logical next step for her, and says she was disappointed by the responses she got from law schools when she eventually did apply.
“One Ivy League school granted me deferred admission, saying ‘we’re full this year, but if you pay a deposit, you can come here next year,'” Wasylik wrote. “That is what really told me I was late to the game.”
So Wasylik decided to take a gap year between college and law school, and she applied to her dream law school — Georgetown — a second time, since she had been rejected the first time she applied. But this time, she applied in September instead of January. “When I reapplied, other than my essay and one year of work experience, my resume was exactly the same,” Wasylik said via email, adding that she didn’t retake the LSAT or do anything extra to boost her application. “But the packet arrived in admissions super early. I was thrilled to get an acceptance fairly quickly, and the admissions office handwritten note said, ‘so glad we had room for you this year!'”
“It can be advantageous for students with lower LSAT scores and GPAs to apply earlier in the admission process,” Zavrotny wrote in an email. “Schools are less focused on those indicators earlier in the process.”
Zavrotny says that law schools typically have a target median GPA and LSAT score, so J.D. admissions officers typically limit how many students they will accept who have credentials beneath those guidelines. So, as the admissions cycle progresses and a school nears its quota for the number of students with below-average academic statistics, the school becomes less inclined to admit people whose statistics don’t align with its ideal numbers. “Put simply, an applicant may be admitted in December but that same applicant might not be admitted if they applied in May or June,” Zavrotny explained.
However, Rick Garcia, director of admissions and enrollment management for the University of La Verne College of Law in California, cautions law school hopefuls not to submit their law school application until it is truly ready.
Garcia says it is unwise to rush through the law school application process or submit generic admissions materials, such as personal essays that are not tailored to specific schools, because a careless approach to an application is often obvious.
“Research the schools to which you are applying,” Garcia wrote in an email. “Understand who they aim to serve, why they aim to serve them, and how you can contribute to their social and academic milieu. Also, do not write one personal statement and swap school names. Admissions officers receiving statements addressed to schools other than their own are apt to infer low applicant interest from such submissions. Understand what they are asking for and submit a well-reasoned and concise statement.”
Nevertheless, Garcia concedes that applying early to selective law schools typically improves admissions odds, assuming someone submits a thoughtful and well-written application. But he notes that application timing is less important at lower-ranked law schools than it is at top law schools.
“More popular institutions receive more applications than they have seats to offer. Making your case for admission earlier is a good strategy to compete at those schools,” he says. “Less selective schools want applicants to submit a well-composed application, but tend not to fuss over timing as much the quality of the application.”
Wasylik says one way for students to ensure that they are ready to apply during the fall of their target admissions cycle is to sign up for the LSAT well in advance of the date they intend to apply, so that they have sufficient time to retake the LSAT if their first score is not ideal.
She also says law school hopefuls who are in their senior year of college but don’t feel ready to apply to law school shouldn’t be afraid to take a gap year between college and law school. “That (gap year) turned out to be a really good thing for me, even though I didn’t feel like it was at the time … because I just got a little more experience in the world.”
Wasylik says law schools highly value work experience. A year in the workforce allows law school hopefuls to gain maturity before starting a J.D. program, she says.
“I don’t think that it hurts you to take that gap year,” she says. “I think it can only help if you’ve done something interesting.”