What happens to your application once it is submitted to the admissions office? (Part 1 of 2)

There is often a shroud of mystery among applicants once they submit their applications. Questions on popular prospective student message boards such as “why is it taking my application so long to get a decision versus other people who submitted after me?” and “what is holding up my application from going complete?” are rife every year. Sparing you the boring details, here is how the process works (noting that I am not speaking for any one of the more than 200 ABA-approved law schools, but rather, holistically):

  1. An administrative assistant starts receiving your (and many others) applications. This generally starts in September and lasts until well after most law schools say they stop accepting applications. Said assistant is responsible for gathering your application from all of the various sources until it is complete, after which it waits to be reviewed (more on this). Pretty simple so far.
  2. "WHY ISN’T IT COMPLETE YET?" These five words are a near-ubiquitous source of angst. The most common reasons are:

    (a) Your recommenders are tardy (and you are cursing yourself for thinking it would be fun to call your professor tardy). This is far and away the most common hold up for an application to go complete. (note: a few law schools do not require letters of recommendation and therefore this would not be an issue for those schools) What do you do? Clearly you ask your recommender for an update, but recommendee beware: if you are a pest it could negatively impact the recommendation (one of the biggest sins in admissions, which I cover in my book and with clients).  I would advise not sending multiple and seemingly desperate emails. While timing is important, extremely important and the sooner your file “goes to committee” (more on this) the better. Instead, call the person–if they indeed can speak ravingly about you surely they will not mind actually hearing your voice.  So call them, update them on your life, and then let them know your recommendation is not in, per the admissions office.

    (b) Minor errors or incompleteness. The school lost your file (okay, this is not minor but very rarely happens), they did not get your LSDAS report, LSAC is waiting for something, your file actually is complete but not scanned into the school’s system (usually Admit-M) correctly, you typed your social security number in wrong, you left a page in the application unfinished, etc. All of these things and more happen, although with much less frequency than (a). They all can be remedied by a quick and polite call to the admissions office.

Coming up in part 2, “My application is complete but it has not gone under review and others have. What gives?"