Why Hasn't My Law School Application Gone Complete?

If you've already submitted your applications, you're probably checking their status at your various schools. Perhaps a bit compulsively? That's OK, as long as you're checking your status online and not bugging a real person on the other end every six minutes.

This time of year, the most important status update for you to confirm is that your application has been marked complete. Some schools take longer than others to update your application status, but if four weeks have passed and your file still hasn't gone complete, it's worth finding out what the hold-up is. Sometimes YOU might think your file is complete, but it turns out that some piece is still missing and holding up review of your application while you're sitting back and waiting for a decision. Some possibilities:

Perhaps the dean's certification is missing? Some schools don't require one at all. Others do require one, but only from the undergraduate institution from which you received your bachelor's degree. Some require one as part of your application. If that's the case, check whether it must be mailed directly to the law school (not to LSAC). If you deviate from that process, your file won't go complete. Other schools, like Yale, require a dean's certification from all colleges or universities where you have ever enrolled, but only after you receive and accept an offer from that law school (so it's not part of your application). 

Or perhaps there's some confusion about whether a transcript is required from your study abroad program. Regarding study abroad transcripts, I've heard of cases where the LSAC website says one thing (rather confusingly), a school website says another, and the person answering phones at that same school says a third thing.

LSAC says that you must submit study abroad transcripts to LSAC for:

institutions that clearly sponsored your overseas study. Clear sponsorship means: the courses received the sponsoring institution's academic credit (not transfer credit); the course codes, titles, credits earned, and grades appear on the sponsoring institution's transcript. Typically, these grades and credits are included in the sponsoring institution's cumulative GPA. The courses are often administered and taught by the sponsoring institution's faculty at an overseas institution.

but also says the following (this is starting to look a bit like an LSAT game, no?):

The undergraduate work on your bachelor’s degree-granting institution transcript may include grades and credits earned through an interinstitutional agreement (e.g., cooperative, exchange, consortium, etc.). If your home school transcript clearly indicates that the coursework was completed through this type of program, and course codes, titles, grades, and credits earned appear on the home transcript and are included in the GPA, you need not list or request a separate transcript from the interinstitutional school attended. In these cases, your home school treats the coursework as if it were its own. This is not transfer credit. Consequently, the grades and credits will be summarized under the home school.

And for example, Michigan's website says:

If you completed foreign work through a study abroad, consortium, or exchange program sponsored by a US or Canadian institution, and the work is clearly indicated as such on the home campus transcript, you do not need to provide copies of the foreign transcript.

but also:

I spent one (or two) semesters studying at an international institution on an independent basis—i.e., not through a study-abroad program—and the credits were transferred to my degree-granting college in the US.  LSAC says I don’t need to send along that transcript.  But do you want to see it?

Your file will be considered complete in our office once we receive your CAS report, which will include all transcripts required by LSAC.  So the short answer is, no; it is not necessary to send us any transcripts that LSAC doesn’t require.  However, our reviewers prefer to have as much information as possible when reviewing an application, especially in cases where there are courses taken (and perhaps grades earned) that will not appear on the degree-granting transcript.  (With a formal study-abroad program, we get more information than a simple listing of total credits transferred.)  If our reviewers read your application and have unanswered questions about your time spent at a foreign institution, that conceivably could have a negative effect on the decision.  Other schools are likely to have a similar take—so if you decide you would like us to see your foreign transcript, we suggest that you send it to LSAC, rather than to our office. That way, it will be included as an attachment to your CAS report for all law schools to which you are applying.

I use those illustrations to remind you that a lot of important information shows up on the school websites, and if your application hasn't gone complete when you think it should have, double-check not just the LSAC rules, but also the school websites before calling (because sometimes they do tell you something different over the phone than what is on their own website). Despite what Michigan says, assume schools can and do have different policies for things like study abroad transcripts. And if you are at all unclear if you were supposed to send something that might be holding up your application, give that school a call to confirm one way or the other. Or even better: ask in an email, so that you have the definitive answer in a written record.

Do you have stories from the trenches about going (or not going) complete, your dean's certifications, or your study abroad transcripts? Any instructions we can help you interpret? Please share in the comments. And if you're finding these application instructions all terribly confusing, just wait till you're a lawyer.

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. You can find more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, downloadable as an e-book. Join the conversation here in the blog comments and on Twitter and Facebook, or email us a new question for the blog.