When Does Early Decision Make Sense?

Law School Early Decision deadlines are coming up, so it's a good time to revisit the topic. Under what circumstances does it make sense to apply ED? (And for these purposes, I assume "Early Decision" is binding.) A couple of thoughts:

1. The Early Decision commitment will not overcome an otherwise weak application. If you're less than competitive for an ED school, they aren't likely to snap you up out of the early pool. Rather, they'll probably want to roll you over into the regular pool so that they can see how their applicants are shaping up that year. For that reason...

2. If you're in your fall semester of senior year, applying Early Decision makes sense only if you are already at your strongest academically. You still have two semesters of grades ahead of you, and many college students do their most interesting and important work senior year. Unless your GPA is already at its peak by the end of junior year, it might make sense to reconsider your application timeline. People who have upward trending grades throughout college would be cutting off a sizable fraction of that trajectory. Especially if you have academic weaknesses to mitigate from the earlier part of college, you'll want to show them a stellar senior year's worth of grades.

In theory, you could wait until your first semester is done to submit your applications, but at many law schools, especially the most competitive ones, that's already pretty late in the game. If you're not at your strongest at the start of senior year, consider putting off your apps for a cycle so that you can apply with the benefit of your senior year accomplishments.

3. If a school doesn't offer an ED option, and it's genuinely your first choice, it might make sense to commit yourself anyway. If you would definitely accept an offer if you received one, let them know. All else being equal, they would rather have students who really, really want to be there. If you make that promise, though, treat it as if it were like any official binding ED commitment. In both cases, it would be bad form to back out of that binding commitment. And if the thought of committing yourself to a school makes you ruminate about the options you might be closing off, or if you know you're the kind of person who would have buyer's remorse, a binding commitment might not be right for you.

4. If you are accepted into your ED program, do whatever it is you agreed to do when you made the binding commitment. Does your ED school require you to withdraw all your other applications if you're admitted? (That's the typical case.) If so, withdraw immediately. Not next week. Not two months later. Some applicants are tempted to leave their other applications in place, mostly out of curiosity ("I know I've committed myself, but I really want to know if I get into Yale"), but sometimes also in the hope that they can "upgrade" if a better offer comes along. Neither situation is kosher if you're required to withdraw. Plus, your "upgrade" school could very well take a dim view of you reneging on your ED obligations to another school. The law school admissions world is a small one.

For more thoughts on Early Decision, check out this podcast I did recently along with Sarah Zearfoss (Dean of Admissions at Michigan Law School) and Al Watson (Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions at University of Cincinnati College of Law).

Also check out the most recent posting about Early Decision by Dean Zearfoss on the University of Michigan Law School Admissions blog.

Questions about Early Decision? Please share.


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).