Application Timing

As we come up on a new application cycle, there has been a flood of questions on application timing. Many law school websites have somewhat unclear language about how early you should send in an application, and applicants hear conflicting information from friends, colleagues, and pre-law advisers. This creates a great deal of anxiety, with people believing they need to submit as soon as the cycle begins in September. The purpose of this blog is to explore application timing using some of the data we now have, in the context of our knowledge of the changing landscape in law school admissions, to help give applicants clarity about when they should be prepared to submit (and to hopefully calm some nerves!).

What is Rolling Admissions?

Prospective applicants are starting to learn about "rolling admissions" and what it means for them. Rolling admissions in law schools is generally done a bit differently than in undergraduate admissions Here's something Mike Spivey wrote to help demystify the "rolling admissions" process.  

There is a mythology around the term “Rolling Admissions,” which the vast majority of law schools use. Rolling Admission for most schools in admissions does not mean your file is read based on when it goes complete and date stamped. It means admits go out in rolling increments and the strongest files are read first. Even a very quick skim of and admit/waitlist/deny decision dates will show how true this point is. So to believe you need to get an application in early because of “rolling admissions” is almost entirely a misnomer — you need to get a good application in. And getting a good application in toward the front-end of the cycle is often the most beneficial way to do it.
Also keep in mind that admission offices are inexorably data driven. The more data they have early, the better decisions they can make across a variety of goals (LSAT, uGPA, ethnicity, gender, scholarship, etc.) for their incoming class. Schools want you to believe that getting an application in early provides a bump. They likely have data to support this, but that data is horribly confounded by the fact that you get the majority of your strongest applications in early.
So is there a real “bump” for an application in this application environment? More so now than a few years ago. With all things being equal, submitting early is your best bet. You have more of the focus of the file readers (come March all applications start sounding exactly the same), you come across as more likely to matriculate (yield protection), and you do not run the risk of a class filling up more quickly than anticipated. It's also more important these days, as since 2017-2018 we've seen significant growth in the total number of applicants. Just don't expect it to mask a sub-par application. Do not rush to get your application submitted.

A Look at Some Numbers

But what does "early" actually mean? Thanks to LSAC we have actual numbers for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 cycles. Since the 2018-2019 cycle has not concluded we cannot make full conclusions about it yet. There are a few score categories where I feel comfortable projecting final volume, and I will note where I have done so. We will continue to update and revise the 2018-2019 numbers as they become available.

We do have full data for the 2017-2018 cycle, however, and it was fairly similar to 2018-2019. So we will show full data for those ranges.

The charts below represent application timing for each LSAT score range. The percentage indicated is the percent of total applicants within that range who have submitted at least one application by the indicated date. This is a good proxy for when individuals in that range are sending in their application packages. Why do we break it down by score range? Because generally you'll be competing most with those applicants who are within a couple LSAT points of your score. So, comparing yourself to those applicants will reveal the most about when you want to get your application in to have an advantage over them.

175+ Data

vs. 2018-2019 numbers:

And below is a chart representing the percent of the applicant pool within this range who submitted by each given date, compared with 2018-2019 cycle data.

170-174 Data

vs. 2018-2019 numbers:

And below is a chart representing the percent of the applicant pool within this range who submitted by each given date, compared with 2018-2019 cycle data.

165-169 Data

vs. 2018-2019 numbers:

And below is a chart representing the percent of the applicant pool within this range who submitted by each given date, compared with 2018-2019 cycle data.

160-164 Data

155-159 Data

150-154 Data

145-159 Data

140-144 Data

<140 Data

An Evolving Definition of Early

Unfortunately, past trends aren't a perfect predictor of future patterns. In the case of law school applications this is especially true thanks to two things: an increasingly sophisticated applicant pool, and a changing LSAT administration schedule.

First, the evolving applicant pool. Each year applicants become savvier and savvier. Web forums and blogs and articles all help spread information about good practices when applying to law school—one of which is the benefits of applying early. As this knowledge spreads, more and more applicants apply earlier and earlier, increasing the share of the applicant pool that has submitted at each early date. To put it simply, your competitor applicants are getting smarter about this process.

On the other side of the table, LSAC has shifted the schedule of administering the LSAT. Before the 2018-2019 cycle, the LSAT was administered 4 times a year: June, September, December, and February. This created predictable consequences: only applicants who had taken in June could submit by September; June and September takers submitted in the fall of each cycle, and the largest wave came after the December administration and lasted through January.

Now, the LSAT is offered up to 8 times each year, and at different times. Of particular note are the new July and October test administrations, which will allow more applicants to take an LSAT early in the cycle and submit sooner than they would otherwise have done. Further, the December test has been moved forward to November—so that there is now a sequence of tests in June, July, September, October, and November. As you can probably imagine this leading to a more intense early application cycle. If you look at the 165+ application volume by date charts above you'll notice that the 2018-2019 cycle saw an increase in early cycle applications. Some of this is attributable to a likely larger than normal share of re-applicants this cycle, but the bulk of it is most likely from an organic growth in early cycle applicants.

This trend will continue going forward, particularly in light of the full implementation of the expanded LSAT schedule, and thanks to very strong July test taker registration numbers.

Timing and Your Cycle

Those are lots of numbers and charts, and you're probably wondering: what exactly does it mean for you? Well, there's no set formula to determine when exactly you should submit an application. What we've done is combine past data with some of our projections about this upcoming cycle to create a chart that will hopefully help answer the questions of "when should I submit my application" and "will I be late."

Please keep in mind these are not strict cutoffs. If you, with a 167, submit an application on November 30th you're still likely going to be at a slight advantage over someone who submits later in the cycle, even though you're both in the "On Time" category. These are meant to be guides; not strict rules.

And of course, there are other considerations. If you're applying to a "reach" school—one where your statistics make it less likely you'll be admitted—then you should plan to apply earlier than what's ideal for that score range. Likewise, if you're applying to schools where your statistics give you a very good chance of admission, you can slow down and take your time. As with everything, context is key and each person's individual situation is different.

The takeaway from this? Anyone who is going to sit for a September, October, or November LSAT this cycle will have time to get their applications in and still be considered "on time" for the 2019-2020 application cycle. Those individuals who will be applying to schools with medians in the 169+ range should be prepared to submit immediately upon receiving their scores, but we don't feel they'll be at any real disadvantage compared to the general applicant pool for those schools. Everyone can rest easy. You have plenty of time to study and prepare fully for the LSAT.

And above all, your total application package matters. Applying early won't make up for poor LSAT/GPA, or a bad personal statement, "meh" letters of recommendation, or just a so-so application. It really is about the whole picture!

Written by Justin Kane, Mike Spivey, and Jayme McKellop