What Rolling Admission Means for Law School Hopefuls

Shawn P. O'Connor

Law school application deadlines are different from the college admissions deadlines that you may have encountered in the past.

Many college admissions offices set a deadline on or before which prospective students must submit their applications to be considered for admission; however, rolling admission is commonplace among law schools.

This means that applications are available for submission by early fall, and applications can often be submitted as late June or even later, depending on the school.

But what does rolling admission really mean for you as an applicant? Are applications evaluated equally regardless of when they are submitted?

[Learn the deciding factors in law school admissions.]

You can most successfully navigate the law school application process and determine the best time for you to send in your applications for the upcoming admissions season if you understand rolling admission and priority deadlines.

Rolling admission means that a school accepts and evaluates applications continuously until a final deadline, which may be just weeks before classes start and more than six months after applications were initially accepted.

Decisions are typically delivered based on when applications are submitted, and prospective students can submit as late as the summer, though all the spaces in the class may be full by late spring.

[Use this timeline to get law school applications in.]

While many applicants may wish to take advantage of the additional time afforded by rolling admissions, I always encourage my students to apply as soon as they have prepared their applications to the best of their ability.

To ensure the best and earliest possible submission, many of my Stratus Prep applicants have already begun writing their law school applications for the upcoming year, since the questions almost never change from year to year. They will be ready to submit as soon as schools open the admissions season in September or October.

The three Stratus Prep students recently admitted to Harvard Law with LSAT scores between 161 and 163 all applied during this early part of the admissions cycle.

While it can be tempting to procrastinate since some schools do not set a specific application deadline, the best time to apply is by the end of November -- unless you need to take the December LSAT. In that case, you should wait to receive your score before submitting, notwithstanding what the law schools might suggest.

According to data reported by the Law School Admission Council, 55,764 applicants submitted law school applications as of May 17. Judging from graphic data, approximately 25,000 of those applicants submitted by January.

Applying by November assures that you compete against a smaller pool of students; the later you apply, the more spaces will have been filled. Decisions are usually generated approximately two months after an application is submitted, though students should double check with the specific school as some schools take much shorter times, others much longer.

If you feel that submitting around Thanksgiving rushes your application process and would preclude you from putting forward your strongest possible application -- or you wish to take or retake the LSAT in December -- then try to aim to submit your applications by the end of December. That way, you will still be in the first half of the submissions.

[Get tips on mastering the LSAT.]

The disadvantage, however, of applying late in the cycle has been significantly reduced in recent years as applications have dropped. Many third- and fourth-tier schools are still trying to fill their classes with qualified applicants over the summer just before classes start.

Some law schools set a priority deadline. If a law school lists Feb. 1 as its priority deadline, the admissions committee guarantees that applications submitted by that date will be granted full consideration. The school will continue to accept applications after that date, but cannot guarantee that spaces in that fall's entering class will remain available.

While waiting until the priority deadline in February or March can be tempting, I recommend applying earlier, if possible, to increase your chances of acceptance. While both rolling admission and priority deadlines offer prospective students additional time to prepare, try to get your law school applications in early. In my experience, the stretch candidates who are admitted despite their numbers almost always submitted early in the application season.

Finally, submitting your application early will give you more time to enjoy your senior year of college or your time outside of work, as long as you can avoid obsessing over the arrival of your admissions decisions.

When are you aiming to get your law school applications in? Have you already started on your personal statement? Let me know in the comments, email me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.