(Note: To make this post evergreen, I should add a note that makes the timeframe specific. This post applies to anyone thinking of submitting an application to law school any time between late November and the Spring of the following year. The time to apply to most law schools is very limited: September-October of the year before you want to start law school. If you're thinking of applying any other time, then this post applies.) It's mid-November, and lately I've found myself yelling a lot in class about how it's already too late for 2012 law school admissions. This shocks a lot of students, so I thought a clarifying blog post might be in order. If you haven't already put in your applications for 2012, you should probably wait a year--and it's not because the job market for lawyers is currently crap, although that's also very true. Really, it boils down to one reason:
Several of my former students have told me, some of them weeks ago, that they've already been admitted for the fall of 2012. Many of these students have also told me that they've gotten big scholarships--six-figure offers are not uncommon. They have one thing in common: they all applied at the beginning of the admissions cycle, in early fall. If you apply now, you wanna guess who's going to be paying the tuition for these students? That's right--YOU are.
My intention is not to be the bearer of bad news or to crush your law school dreams. My intention is simply to be realistic, and maximize the chances that you get 1) the best admission offers and 2) the best scholarship offers you can. (If mom and dad are footing the bill, and the money doesn't matter to any of you, then ignore #2--but #1 still applies.)
Of course, if you feel you really MUST apply now, then go ahead and ignore this post. There are exceptions to just about any rule, so maybe you will get great offers, both in terms of admissions and scholarships. I hope you do! Whatever path you choose, I wish you the best and I'm here to help. But I'm afraid that most people who haven't already applied are going to end up accepting a substandard offer, and I don't want this to be you. That's why this post exists.
As I've previously written, law schools use rolling admissions and the LSAT/law school admissions process takes a lot longer than most people think. Some spots for 2012 have already been filled, and many of the scholarship dollars for 2012 have already been given away. It's a feeding frenzy at the beginning of the admissions cycle. Schools are desperate to sell the seats they have available, and they're desperately competing for the candidates that will help them move up in the rankings. They're throwing around scholarship money, because they know that the students who apply late, and barely get in, will pay full freight. The schools aren't on the hook for all those scholarships. YOU ARE.
Simply put, the later you apply the less seats and less dollars will be available. If you apply late, you're going to get admitted to lower quality schools, and get less or zero money from each school that admits you. At those schools, there will be scholarship students who are equally or less qualified than you are, but you'll be paying their tuition. If I were you, I would wait.
I know it feels like you MUST dive in now. I know you want to get on with your life. But law school, plus the bar, is already a three-and-a-half-year endeavor. Does it really matter whether you get sworn in to the bar in 2015 or 2016? Because that's what we're really talking about here. I started at Hastings in 2008. My class is getting sworn in later this year--that's late 2012. Would it really make a difference if I'd waited a year? I can't see how it would have mattered. I could have worked a real job for one more year, or waited tables, or traveled the world, or explored my passion for... anything... basically, I could have done whatever the hell I'd wanted with those 12 months. At the end of that time, I would have gotten a full ride to law school. A year makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. But $150,000 in student loans certainly does. So does going to an inferior school.
Speaking of loans, I got my first bill today. It's due in December, and it's double my rent. This could have been averted if I'd 1) applied early to 2) a LOT of schools (like 30 schools) and 3) renegotiated with those schools for the best possible scholarship offer. I was stupid to jump into law school after applying late, and I want you to avoid the same fate.
Law school is the most expensive purchase you'll ever make, besides possibly a house. Why on earth would you dive into it?
Until you write your first tuition check, you have all the bargaining power. Law schools are trying to sell you a very expensive product, and they have a lot of inventory at the beginning of a new model year--schools are desperate to put you in the driver's seat. As soon as you drive it off the lot, schools know they have you on the hook for the whole thing. But until you do so, you have the opportunity to kick the tires, negotiate, and shop around for the very best deal. Please do not give away that power. Get the best LSAT score you can, get your application materials on file with LSAC, and apply to at least 30 schools on September first of 2012, for fall of 2013 admission. You'll thank me when the offers come rolling in.
Please don't use this as an excuse to slack off on your LSAT studying or your applications for 2013. You're not early for 2013--in fact, you're right on time. You're allowed to take the LSAT three times in any two-year period. So take some combination of the December 2011 LSAT, the February 2012 LSAT, and the June 2012 LSAT--as soon as you get the score you know you're capable of, then you're done. And get your letters of recommendation in ASAP--it ALWAYS takes longer than you think. Send me a copy of your personal statement, I'd love to tell you if you're on the right track. September first of 2012 is going to be here before you know it, and the applicants who start NOW preparing for that date will be next year's admitted students and scholarship recipients. If you don't do it now, I'm afraid we'll be having this same discussion again in 12 months. Let me know how I can help.