Admissions Counselors are often asked if there is an optimal time to submit your law school application. The answer to that question depends upon the law school admissions deadlines of the school(s) for which you plan to apply.
Does the school offer “Early Decision” (ED)? ED programs allow for both early application and - as the name implies – an early admissions decision. Often times ED programs are “binding.” When you are admitted to a binding program you are bound to withdraw applications from any and all other law schools (and make your deposit commitment to the ED school). Most ED schools have “hard” deadlines. A hard deadline absolutely requires receipt of your application materials by a given date. These deadlines are not flexible and applications completed after the deadline will normally be deferred for consideration in the regular (non-ED) process. Early Decision processes 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.
Other law school admissions processes may also have “hard” deadlines of which you should be aware. Hard deadlines indicate that applications and application materials will not be accepted by the law school after the date indicated. Obviously, you will need to carefully plan to insure that you meet such deadlines. 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.
Many law schools offer “rolling” admissions. Rolling admissions often have a “priority” deadline. Priority deadlines are preferred deadlines – a date after which your opportunity for admission may diminish. Since rolling admissions programs admit students in a rolling process (as applications are received up through the priority deadline), there can be real risks associated with submitting a late application – especially after the priority deadline. The Seton Hall Law School priority deadline is April 1. This means that applications completed after April 1 may have a more difficult time gaining admission. 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.
Additionally, admission to designated programs and/or access to scholarship funding and other financial aid may be tied to 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 times, scholarship funding can become limited or even unavailable after deadlines have passed.
The message from this discussion is to apply when you are ready, provided that you meet required/recommended deadlines. 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.