How to Approach Law School Seat Deposits

Because law school admission is a rolling process, applicants will not receive all their decisions at once. Waiting can be hard, but no news isn’t necessarily bad news. Some schools may take many months to make a final decision.

So, don’t panic if you haven’t heard back by March. You can send a brief update if you’re worried, but communicating your frustration to schools will not come across well.

[READ: When to Expect a Law School Decision.]

What about the law schools where you have been accepted? They will usually ask you to confirm your intent to attend by placing one seat deposit or more.

The Basics of Seat Deposits

Seat deposits usually range from $200 to $500, although some are up to $1,000. They are usually nonrefundable.

The first deposit deadline is typically around April 15 or May 1, but read your acceptance letter closely for specific instructions, which may vary between applicants based on the timing of their acceptance. Some law schools require two or three deposits before full tuition is due.

Schools ask for seat deposits to nudge applicants off the fence. Applicants who wisely apply to a balanced target list of at least a dozen law schools are likely to gain entrance to multiple schools. While it’s great to have options, each of those acceptances takes a place away from other interested applicants.

Putting down a seat deposit, and declining admission at law schools where you are less interested, frees up space and merit scholarship money for schools to offer admission to applicants on the waitlist. That is why waitlisted applicants start hearing back around late April, after initial deposit deadlines pass.

[Read: Conditional Scholarships for Law School: What to Know]

As waitlisted applicants receive new offers, they may take themselves off other waitlists and decline admission at law schools where they have already put down seat deposits. This opens up space for even more applicants, resulting in a game of musical chairs that continues into September, even after classes commence.

Can You Pay Multiple Seat Deposits?

Putting down a seat deposit is not usually a binding commitment, although admissions officers dislike it when applicants drag their feet and hold up their process. Current Law School Admission Council policies encourage law schools to allow applicants who have made seat deposits to accept new offers from law schools.

Before making multiple seat deposits, be sure to read the specific terms of your enrollment and scholarship offers. Some programs require you to stipulate that you have forfeited enrollment and scholarship offers from other schools when making a seat deposit. Some of these programs may be binding commitments, even if you did not apply early decision.

The LSAC provides periodic reports to law schools about where each applicant has made a seat deposit or accepted a binding commitment, so it’s useless to hide this information.

It may make sense to place multiple seat deposits in some cases, but practice your lawyering skills by reading terms closely to avoid jeopardizing your offer.

What if You’re Unsure Where to Make a Seat Deposit?

If you need some extra time to decide, ask for it. As long as you’re polite, there’s no reason to be apprehensive. Admissions officers understand the time pressures applicants are under, and they may be willing to offer some flexibility.

[Read: How to Pick the Right Law School]

It helps your case to present a brief and well-reasoned email about why more time would be helpful, like awaiting a school’s determination of financial aid or a scheduled campus visit.

How Do Seat Deposits Affect Scholarship Offers?

Making a seat deposit does not preclude scholarship negotiations. While it indicates your commitment, your circumstances may change. For example, you may receive new admission offers or other tempting professional opportunities.

As the admissions process progresses and applicants accept and decline offers, the amount of funds a school has available for merit scholarships may change. It may be reasonable to ask for a scholarship reconsideration. Some schools have processes in place for such requests, while others may be best approached with a polite email explaining your situation.

Ultimately, seat deposits cost little compared to the cost of law school tuition. Think of a seat deposit as a tentative commitment rather than the final word on your future.

More from U.S. News

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