How Important Is An Early Application To Law School?

Unfortunately, students often feel stressed to get their law school applications in early. Let’s separate myth from reality here, and discuss some important concepts regarding law school admission and merit-based scholarships.
Law School Application Dates Don’t Get Weak Applicants Admitted Or Strong Applicants Rejected.
First, all things being equal, it definitely pays to enroll early to law school. And by “early,” we generally mean on or around November 1st. However, the idea of applying early to law school is somewhat over-hyped within the industry. Law schools are aware of the “typical” application that they accept. I hate to be the one to break the bad news, but an early application won’t get you into law school when your hard numbers (highest LSAT score and cumulative undergraduate gpa) are low for that law school. Don’t expect an “early application” to save you if your hard numbers are weak. It won’t. Conversely, you are very likely to be accepted to law school if your hard numbers are strong, even if you apply late in the cycle.
A Good LSAT Score Is Far More Important Than An Early LSAT Score.
I routinely tell my ScoreItUp students that “a good LSAT score is far more important than an early LSAT score.” In other words, the strength of your application is going to be a lot more influential than how early you apply. And since your highest LSAT score is likely to be the single most important factor in your law school application, your LSAT score will make a much bigger difference than the date of your law school application. All of that being said, if you are in the “grey area” – i.e., your numbers are competitive but not exceptional for the law school in question – every little thing helps…and that certainly includes an early application.
The Same Holds True For Merit-Based Scholarships
Law schools do not offer merit-based scholarships as a “reward” for a job well done. While it may feel like a nice pat on the back to earn a hefty scholarship, the reason law schools offer them comes down to cold, hard economics. If your highest LSAT score and gpa are strong for that law school, and the rest of your application seems solid, the law school will really want you. In particular, your hard numbers will bring up their averages, which will bring up their law school rankings and help with future recruitment.
The law school also knows you will be receiving other offers that may be from more highly ranked law schools. Knowing you are a hot commodity, the law school needs to incentivize you to take their offer…and nothing tends to speak louder than money. Scholarships are a law school’s way of “buying” you and your hard numbers. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s also important to know.
Once again, all things being equal, it pays to enroll early. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t strive to do so. But you also should be aware that other things are far more important.
“Early Decision” Applications
Finally, what about “early decision,” where you commit to going to a law school if they accept you? This has an added benefit, beyond just getting your application in early. Just like you and me, law schools don’t like being rejected – they don’t like making a student an offer and having him/her reject it.
Nobody likes being rejected. Law schools don’t like it because it makes them appear a little less competitive. Unfortunately, that often creates some gamesmanship in which law schools try to figure out if you will accept their offer before they make it. If you apply “early decision,” it takes the guesswork out of the equation for the law school. If they want you, they can make an offer knowing you will accept. That encourages them to make the offer, which is a legitimate advantage for you.
However, keep in mind that they only will have an interest in making you an offer if they feel you have a strong application. Furthermore, there are other ways for you to subtly communicate your intention of accepting the law school’s offer, if made. It may not be as powerful as the binding commitment of an “early decision” application, but it still has value. I work with students all the time on their personal statements, making sure there are no “red flags” and being sure to subtly communicate key facts to the law school.
So, the moral of the story is that your LSAT score and gpa are far more important than how early you apply. Don’t apply early to law school if it means compromising your LSAT score. But, if all other things are equal, an early application will give you an advantage if you are in the “grey area” for acceptance and/or a merit-based scholarship.