You’ve explored law school and legal careers, you’ve challenged yourself with a rigorous academic curriculum and been involved in the community, and now it’s time to apply. So how does the application process work?
Law School Admission Council
The entire law school application process is overseen by the Law School Admission Council, known as the LSAC. The LSAC administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), oversees the Credential Assembly Service, and hosts the application websites for law schools.
The LSAC has a very informative and helpful website. Start exploring it early in your undergraduate career. By the time you start the application process, you'll understand each step you'll need to take. Don't let the amount of information on overwhelm you—there are many helpful sections that are well worth your time! Begin with the Getting Started section of the Thinking About Law School area of the Future JD Students section and work your way through the other sections.
Most students find that the application process is more detailed and time-consuming than they originally expected. You must submit:
- Your Law School Report, which includes your Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score, letters of recommendation, and transcripts
- A résumé and personal statement
- An online application, which may include additional or optional essays that are separate from the personal statement
For a breakdown of each of these components, visit the Elements of the Application section of our website.
Of course, there are other considerations throughout the application process, such as deciding where to apply and determining how to disclose necessary information. These and other concerns are addressed in our Pre-Law Handbook.
Law School Admissions Cycles
Most law schools use what's called a rolling admissions cycle. Basically, rolling admissions means that law schools will begin accepting applications around September 1 and will offer admission to applicants continually until the class is full or the deadline to apply has passed (generally in March or April), whichever occurs first.
This means that someone who applies in September may receive a decision as early as October or may not receive a decision until January or later. Applying as early as possible in the admissions cycle is recommended so that your application can be considered before the class is full and before the school’s discretionary financial aid has been allocated.
Generally, you'll receive one of the following decisions from a law school admissions office:
- Acceptance—You're offered a seat in the law school class.
- Denial—The law school has declined to admit you for this admissions cycle.
- Deferred or waitlisted—You have been neither admitted nor denied. The law school will wait and compare your application to the general applicant pool. They may offer you acceptance at any time, up to and including the first week of classes.
Early Admission or Decision Programs
Many law schools now offer early admission or early decision programs. These programs vary quite a bit from school to school, and applicants would be well-advised to carefully research any such program before applying.
Generally, "early admission" means that the applicant applies by a preferred deadline and receives a decision early in the admissions cycle. For example, some schools specify that if an applicant applies by a certain date (say, by October 1), they will receive a decision by a certain date (perhaps around January 1).
"Early decision" generally means that the applicant signs a commitment at the time of submitting the application that he or she will attend that school if accepted. Early decision programs are usually binding, meaning that you're committed to attending that institution if it offers you admission, and you'll withdraw applications for other schools once admitted.
For this reason, early decision programs are best for only those students who are sure where they want to attend law school, who are very committed to going, and who are prepared to accept an offer without waiting to hear whether they’ve been admitted to other institutions.
Be sure to explore the Pre-Law Advising Compass page for more resources and information about the application process. On the compass page, Illinois students can find detailed handouts to help them explore LSAT preparation, joint degree programs, choosing schools to apply to, and more! For details on how add Pre-Law Advising to your compass home page check out our tutorial.