I'm trying to figure out my timeline for applying to law school. Harvard, e.g., opens their application on September 15. Is there any advantage to submitting on the 15th rather than the 22nd? If not, at what point in the calendar does the "earlier the better" maxim become relevant?
Great question, and I know you hear a lot of conflicting advice out there. My recommendation is to have your applications go complete by November 1. That's not a hard deadline, just a guideline. November 1 is plenty early, and builds in some wiggle room. Worst case scenario, get your applications in by the end of November. If you apply to a school under a binding Early Decision program, then the Early Decision date should obviously govern. Many Early Decision deadlines fall in the month of November, but you'll want to check for your particular list of schools. The good news is that if you shoot for November 1, you'll be ready whether you're applying Regular Decision or Early Decision.
What's it mean for an application to "go complete"? That means (1) you've submitted all of the pieces that you're responsible for — the application form, your essays, resume, application fee, etc. — and (2) you've confirmed that any third-party pieces like recommendations or dean's certifications or the LSAC Law School Report have been received as well.
I know it can be tempting to think that there is some upside to being first or second or third in the bin of applications for the entire season, but that's a misconception. Admissions offices all have different ways of sorting the applications that come in. Some might sort purely by date, but there are other ways they can sort as well. They typically read files in batches, and those batches can be sorted, for example, by date, or by geography, or by LSAT score, or by Early Decision status, or any other variety of factors. Don't make too many assumptions about how they manage their process internally; that process varies from school to school, and sometimes from file reader to file reader. And when admissions officers get together to discuss files as a committee (usually after the first pass by the intial reader), they might apply a yet another ordering mechanism.
So shoot for that November 1 guideline, and you'll be in good shape in terms of the timing. Note that in order to have your applications go complete by then, it's not ideal to wait until October to take the LSAT. That score won't come back until the end of October, and if you still want to submit by November 1, you'll have only a few days in which to make a realistic (and sometimes emotionally taxing) assessment about which schools should even be on your list. If you've been working away on your applications before then on the assumption that you'd get a certain score, you might find yourself scrambling if your score turns out to be in a different ballpark. In that scenario, aiming to submit at the end of November is more realistic.
More timeline advice here:
- More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Law School Recommendation Letters
- Why Hasn't My Application Gone Complete?
- Start Tackling Academic and Criminal Disclosures Now
- Running Your Numbers: The LSAT/GPA Calculator
- A Pep Talk (Of Sorts) for June LSAT Takers
- Perfect World LSAT Timeline
- Dean's Certification MIA
Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants think through their educational and career goals, navigate the admissions process, and make smart choices along the way. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey), or come introduce yourself and join the conversation on Facebook. Anna is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but works from pretty much anywhere on the globe that has a broadband connection.