(Post updated September 14, 2023)
One of the top questions Admissions Counselors are often asked is whether there is an optimal time to submit your law school application. The answer depends upon the deadlines of the particular law schools to which you plan to apply. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider as you begin your application process and map out all the deadline dates.
Does the school offer “Early Decision” (ED)?
ED programs allow for both early application and - as the name implies – an early admissions decision. Most ED programs are “binding”’ which means that when you are admitted through a school’s ED program, you are committed to that school and must submit your seat deposit to secure your spot. Admission in this instance means you must then withdraw all applications from all other law schools. ED programs have “hard” deadlines. A hard deadline means that all your application materials must be submitted by a given date. As the name implies, “hard” deadlines are not flexible and applications completed after that deadline will normally be deferred for consideration in the regular (non-ED) process. Early Decision programs are designed for applicants who are absolutely committed to attending a particular school from the start of the process. ED is not for applicants who want to weigh options or are dependent on scholarship funding.
Are there other "hard" deadlines outside of ED programs?
Other law school admissions programs and processes may also have “hard” deadlines. Schools who do not follow a rolling admissions process will generally adhere to “hard” deadlines and will generally not consider any applications received after the date indicated. Normally, a ‘deadline’ refers to the date that the full and completed application is received by the school (this is not necessarily the same day you submit the application). So, you need to build in sufficient time to gather all the appropriate and required documents such as transcripts and letters of recommendation.
Additionally, admission to designated programs and/or access to scholarship funding and other financial aid may be tied to "hard" deadlines. For example, application to the Seton Hall LEO (Legal Education Opportunities) program is required by April 1 (this is a “hard” deadline). Be sure to read and understand what is expected of you. Often, scholarship funding can become limited or even unavailable after deadlines have passed.
What does "rolling admissions" mean? Is there a deadline?
Many law schools offer “rolling” admissions. As the name implies, rolling admissions programs admit students on a “rolling” basis. Applications are reviewed as they are submitted and completed. Most schools with rolling admissions will have a “priority” or preferred deadline. Priority deadlines signify a date after which your opportunity for admission may diminish. Since rolling admissions programs admit students in a rolling process, there can be real risks associated with submitting a late application. A late application is one submitted after the priority deadline.
Seton Hall Law follows a “modified rolling admissions” process with a priority deadline of April 1. “Modified rolling” means that applications will be reviewed as they are completed, but most of our decisions will not sent until closer to the priority deadline. Even though decisions are not being sent out until later, “modified rolling” still means that applications completed after April 1 may have a more difficult time gaining admission and will, most likely, have limited options for scholarships. This can differ from year to year depending upon the applicant pool. So – the safe thing to do in any year, is to apply and have your application completed by April 1.
So, what’s the take-away here? You should apply when you are ready and when your application is the strongest, but you must keep all deadlines in mind. Earlier is generally better – but, you should ensure that you are not short-changing your application by pushing it out before it is ready. Your application is the representation of you in the admissions process – if you complete it in a rushed manner – it will often be noticeable to Admissions Committees.