How to Navigate Law School’s “Rolling Admissions Cycle” to Your Advantage
An uncommon and often confusing feature of the law school admissions process is that it uses a rolling admissions cycle. In this article, we’ll explore the rolling admissions cycle that law schools use and provide tips on how to navigate the process to your advantage.
How does rolling admissions work?
Most admissions processes are based on hard deadlines: each admissions committee sets a deadline and waits until after that deadline to review all the applications it received before the deadline. Under a rolling admissions process, however, admissions committees accept applications within a prescribed window (as opposed to before a deadline) and evaluate applications as they receive them.
In the law school rolling admissions process, some offers for admission are sent to applicants before other applicants have submitted their applications. Law schools are therefore weighing candidates not only against other candidates whose applications they have already received, but also against potential future candidates who have not yet submitted applications. As a result, law school admissions offices tend to quickly offer admission only to candidates who are among the very most qualified they expect to hear from in a given application year.
What is the application window for the law school rolling admissions cycle?
The application window varies from school to school, but the earliest you can submit an application to any law school is August 15 of the year before you attend. Most schools accept applications starting September 1, and some wait until September 15 or October 1 to accept applications.
Determining when the window closes tends to be much more complicated, but no school stops accepting applications before February 1. While most schools state an application deadline, very few of those deadlines are true “hard” deadlines (a “hard” deadline is one after which the school will not read a submitted application). Although most schools will accept applications past their stated deadline, some will only review applications if they are still looking to fill their classes after they’ve read the applications they received before the deadline.
Many schools will continue to accept applications well into the summer. In general, schools in the top tier will fill their classes earlier than schools with lower rankings. Because every school has different rules and deadlines, make sure to check the deadlines and policies for each school to which you apply.
Is there an advantage to submitting applications early?
The conventional wisdom surrounding the law school rolling admissions process is that there is a significant advantage to submitting applications at the beginning of the cycle. While there is some advantage to submitting applications early, that advantage is often perceived to be much greater than it actually is.
In terms of admissions chances, there is essentially no difference between applying on September 1 and applying on November 1. After early decision deadlines pass (November 15 for most schools) and admissions committees make decisions on those candidates, they will generally turn to the regular admissions applicant pool.
Furthermore, the advantage to applying early in the cycle has been declining over the past several years, corresponding with the recent drop in the number of law school applicants. With a smaller applicant pool, schools are left to fight over fewer and fewer qualified applicants; they fill their classes more slowly; and they are more willing to wait until later in the application cycle to submit their final offers of admission.
In a nutshell, don’t rush writing your application just to submit it a couple of weeks early, and don’t hesitate to take the December LSAT and submit applications in January if you believe you will increase your LSAT score by even a few points.
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