The longest admission cycle ever is coming to a close. Instinct and experience tell me that a larger percentage of law school hopefuls submitted applications in February 2014 than any previous February in recent memory. With widespread knowledge that year over year applications are down yet again, applicants know they are in demand more than ever. But now is the time of year to fish or cut bait: if you haven’t yet applied for the Fall 2014 cycle, then don’t. Wait and gear up for 2015.
I am still getting calls from people who are trying to apply now – in March – for admission in the fall. These aren’t highly desirable candidates with strong qualifications and they don’t like it when I tell them they are better off to wait and apply early in the next cycle.
Why wait for 2015? Because the trend will continue. Applicants will continue to get into schools that would have been impossible for them just five years ago. And because rolling admissions does still matter: statistically and practically, your best chance of admission to a reach school (as well as obtaining scholarship funds) is early in the cycle rather than later. The early bird really is more likely to catch the worm: you are more likely to get an offer before schools feel secure about their prospects of being able to fill their classes with qualified applicants. If you have any problems in your application (character and fitness or academic issues to report,) your application will need to go through a few channels. This takes time. Waiting to apply also gives you additional time to improve your résumé, personal statement, and other materials, and to garner more impressive letters of recommendation.
March is the time to gear up for the next admission cycle. You should know by now whether you are taking the June 9th LSAT. If so, you should be well underway with a prep program, either self-study or a commercial course. You have until May to register, but don’t wait until then: the most popular testing locations fill up quickly. See http://www.lsac.org/jd/lsat/test-dates-deadlines/2014-2015/us-canada-june. There is not a lot of risk to signing up early, because you can change your mind up until the day before the test and forfeit only the fees you’ve already paid. If you don’t take at least five timed practice tests, with the last three in a range you’d be happy to hit on test day, then you’re not ready to take the test.
Only when the June LSAT scores are released in early July will you be able to seriously consider your competitiveness at different schools. You will then have July and August to work on your materials because application availability opens in late August for some schools, early September for most others. You will be able to complete all of your applications in September if you are not retaking the LSAT and your letters of recommendation are sent to LSAC in time. September is the ideal time to apply to law school, but even if you end up taking (or re-taking) the LSAT in October, you will still be able to apply by Thanksgiving. When applications were at an all-time high five years ago, Thanksgiving was the date I used as the “early” deadline applicants should aim to meet. Over the next few years, the date slid back to Christmas. Arguably, now it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but using Thanksgiving as the target is still ideal.
If you have a low LSAT score (in the mid-140s, for example), your chances of being admitted somewhere are better than ever. See http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/which_law_schools_have_the_best_lsat_profiles_and_how_many_are_struggling/. However, just because you can get into a law school doesn’t mean it’s worth taking out student loans in excess of $100,000 to attend. Having an “it’ll all work out” mentality now is something you will most likely regret later. Make sure you take the time to consider the long-term consequences of a decision you are (likely) making while still in your early twenties.