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Law School Application Overview
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Getting into law school is no easy task and getting into a top law school is an even tougher one. It's important that you develop a strategic approach and attack the application process full–force.
Here is an overview to help you through the process.
Timing Is Everything
Recognize this central truth of law school applications from the get–go, and you will automatically place yourself at an advantage over your more procrastinating peers. While law schools often list their application due dates as occurring some-time between January and April, most schools employ a rolling admissions process that heavily favors those people who submit their applications as early as possible. We encourage you to disregard the due dates listed on law school websites and aim to submit all of your applications by late November or early December, if not earlier.
This means, ideally, giving yourself about a year to complete all of the necessary steps, starting in January (though this is a best–case scenario, and you won't be doomed if it takes you a little longer to get your act together).
If you start thinking about the LSAT in January, you'll thank yourself later. The sooner you take the test, the more time you'll have to devote to other facets of the application process, and the sooner you'll have a sense of the law schools in your range. Take an LSAT free practice test in January and calculate your diagnostic score; in February, start thinking about an LSAT prep course (in–person, online or independently with a book–we strongly recommend the first two options), and sign up for whatever suits your fancy; in March, obtain an Official LSAT Registration Book, which will provide LSAT test dates, registration deadlines, and all the other logistical information you'll need to know for the big day (also check out the LSAT section of the LSAC website).
Unlike the GRE, the LSAT is only offered four times each year (usually February, June, October and December), and the deadline for registering is usually about a month in advance. We suggest signing up as early as possible to guarantee getting your first-choice test location. If you can sign up in April to take the test in June, you're right on schedule; if you need to hold off and take it in October, you'll still be okay.
Treatment of LSAT scores varies greatly by school. Some schools will look at your best score. Some will look at your first score. Some will look at your last score. Some will average your scores. Our best advice is to prep for the LSAT one time and earn a score that makes you happy.
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is provided by the LSAC and is required by most ABA-approved law schools. For a fee, the service will assemble a report containing your transcript, LSAT scores and letters of recommendation. You should aim to register for the CAS around July so that you can complete your file as soon as possible (again, find the required forms at www.lsac.org or ask your prelaw advising office for registration information). After you apply to the law schools of your choice, they will contact the CAS directly and request a copy of your report.
Transcripts and Recommendations
August is a good time to contact your undergraduate institution(s) to ask that your transcript be sent to the CAS. As for recommendations, it's probably best to wait until September, after the fall semester has started and professors are getting back in the swing of things. The number of recommendations required will vary from school to school, but it helps to have two professors in mind who knew you well enough to offer solid predictions (and positive impressions) for your future performance. The more you can communicate with your recommenders, the better: Give them a clear sense of what you're hoping to get out of law school and the kinds of programs you're looking into. If you complete your personal statement before they've submitted their recs, send it along — this will give them a clearer sense of your direction and communicate your commitment to the field. They might even be able to offer helpful editorial criticisms.
While you navigate the seas of the LSAT and CAS bureaucracies, you should start thinking about where you'd like to end up. Your LSAT scores, once received, will give you a sense of your possibilities — check out school stats to find out where your GPA and test scores will fit comfortably within the application pool. Most people apply to somewhere between six and 10 schools (you won't need to go crazy if you pick a range of safeties, realistic choices and dream schools). After you've settled on a favorite few, around August, request applications (even if you will ultimately be applying online) and start setting up file folders in which to organize the information you receive and print out from their websites. This is a good time to touch base with your prelaw advisor to make sure you're on track with your selection of schools.
The Application and Personal Statement
Start working on your applications and personal statements around September. While your applications will be relatively straightforward to complete, your personal statement provides a chance to stand out from the crowd and will most definitely benefit from careful ruminations and multiple revisions. Ask some people who know you well — and have good critical eyes — to look over your personal statement to make sure that it communicates your character and a clear sense of purpose. Admissions officers will appreciate a clear indication of what attracted you to law and what field interests you particularly.