I Applied Early Decision - Now What?

Some of you who applied binding early decision this season are already starting to get fat envelopes from law schools. Woohoo! Congratulations. Your hard work has paid off.

What does that mean going forward? First, do a happy dance around your chair, pop the champagne, do whatever you normally do to celebrate.  If the admissions officer who signed your letter (or wrote you the happy email) took the time to include a personal note, write a personal note back. Then do whatever your offer letter says you should do to claim your spot, and pay careful attention to deadlines, especially for financial aid.

The biggest temptation I see among applicants who receive offers through binding early decision programs is that they want to keep their applications at other schools live and active "just to see what happens." I understand that temptation, which seems to be driven mostly by curiosity, especially if you applied to some schools whose process is even more competitive than where you have just been accepted. "If I got in at School X, will I get an offer from School Y?" Since you're not allowed to accept offers from other schools, this curiosity seems to be driven mostly by pride. You'll be going to School X, but maybe you want to be able to tell yourself (and others?) that you got into School Y.

It's best to put that pride aside, though, for a couple of reasons. Most important among them: If you go back and look at the early decision language from your application, there's a good chance you agreed to withdraw your applications elsewhere once you receive an offer. You should do that within a matter of days. Not next week. Not next month. Not in April.

If you don't withdraw your other applications (whether or not you're required to do so), you're also doing your fellow applicants a big disservice, since you can't accept an offer from another school even if you receive one. Your vanity is tempting you to hog a spot that you can't even take, a spot that someone else would be grateful AND able to accept. Sure, once you turn down that offer, the spot goes back into the hopper and eventually will be extended to another applicant. But nothing between now and then will change the fact that you can't accept that other offer, so keeping your application in contention at other schools is an uncivil thing to do to the rest of the applicant community.

What if you applied early decision but haven't heard anything yet? I know it's frustrating when you're talking to other people on discussion boards and learn about offers that are already being extended, whether through early or regular decision. Don't lose hope, though. Schools all have their own internal processes for evaluating applications. Some people get snapped up right away, others much later in the process. An offer is an offer, whether you receive it now or months from now. For applicants, the waiting can be harder than the applying (truly!), but unless and until you hear "no," you're still in the running.

From my own experience as a former admissions officer, and from what I hear from current admissions officers, I can tell you that early decision applicants as a group tend not to be shoo-ins, and many of them will be rolled over into the regular decision pool. That gives admissions officers more time to see what the rest of the applicant pool looks like before making a final decision about you. That's not your preferred outcome, of course, but it's an OK outcome. It's still better than being dinged, and you will also have more time to submit a newer, better LSAT score or a more recent set of grades if you can.

And what if you get dinged outright from the early decision round? That's yucky news, of course. In many cases though, if you're going to get dinged at all, this is the more humane outcome compared to being strung along for months, perhaps even into the waitlist stage, and THEN getting dinged. Better to be set free so that you can make other plans and concentrate your efforts and excitement on other schools.

Sometimes dinged applicants feel a strong urge to appeal the decision -- clearly some mistake has been made! -- but while in theory it's possible that admissions decisions get overturned (most schools have an appeals process), from my experience, that process tends to be there to give you peace that you've been heard; I don't know that I've heard of a decision actually getting overturned. (That's not to say it has never happened, just that it must be pretty rare.) If you have room for improvement in your application -- and that usually takes the form of your LSAT score or your academic performance -- you have a good reason to reapply next year. If you don't think either of those numbers will improve, and the written parts of your application were strong this year, then it would be unreasonable to expect a different result next year, even when the language in ding letters sounds so encouraging. Be realistic. But if you do want to give it another shot, you can certainly do so. Just try to show them something that has improved between now and then.

If you have early decision news to share, please post a comment! How did you do?

From the archives:

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 navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).