Law School Applications: Overview and Timeline

By Kayla McCormack · August 03, 2023 · 9 minute read

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Law School Applications: Overview and Timeline

Getting a law degree is bound to take a big commitment — in time, energy, and money. And it’s tough from the very first step. Getting into law school isn’t easy, especially for those aiming for the top tier. So the sooner you can attack the application process, the better.

Here’s some background on how the process works:

Applying to Law School

When you’re figuring out how to go to law school, the application process alone can feel like quite a journey. In addition to completing a Bachelor’s degree, the law school application process involves preparing for, and taking, the LSAT, writing a personal statement, and securing letters of recommendations. With all that on your list, figuring out how to get into law school can feel like a bit of a maze.

After getting into law school, you’ll also need to pay for your education. This can also require some leg work, such as filling out the grad school FAFSA or potentially applying for scholarships or private law school loans. Continue reading for a more detailed explanation on the law school application process.

1. Prep for the LSAT

Because the LSAT, otherwise known as the Law School Admission Test, is the only test accepted for admission purposes by all ABA-accredited law schools, most American Bar Association-approved law schools in the U.S. require students to take the exam. The half-day, standardized test is administered nine times and students can take the test at home, or from another preferred location, as the tests are now proctored remotely.

At a minimum, the LSAC recommends taking a practice test, including a writing sample, under the same time constraints allowed for the actual test. The results could give you some idea of your strengths and what areas need improvement.

Those who plan to take the practice test and/or sign up for classes, will probably want to leave enough time before their LSAT test date. The LSAT and your GPA are two of the important numbers to law schools. LSAT scores range from 120 (lowest possible) to 180 (highest possible).

Though other factors are considered, if you want a good chance at getting into a certain law school, your LSAT score and GPA should be at or above the LSAT and GPA medians of that school. You can generally find this information on the college’s website.

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LSAT Prep Timeline

Many law schools require applicants to take the test by November or December in order to be admitted the following fall. However, organizations like Kaplan, a college admission services company that offers test preparation services and admissions resources, suggest factoring in the law school admissions cycle when selecting your testing date. They note that June, July, and September test dates are generally popular since they allow for plenty of time for students to receive scores.

Be sure to factor in your schedule and workload when deciding when you’ll take the LSAT. Taking the test in June will give you time to retake it if you aren’t happy with your score — but if you’re still in college, you’ll have to prepare while you’re busy with coursework.

If you take the test in October, you’ll have the summer to prepare, and you can take the test again in December if necessary. But your applications may be submitted later than other test takers — and some schools already will have started filling their seats. Some students may choose to take a year off between college and law school to prepare for the LSAT and work on their applications.

Test takers may want to look for some free prep materials online, or may decide to sign up for paid online classes, in-person classes, or tutoring sessions.

2. Register for CAS

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is a not-for-profit organization that offers services and programs to help students manage the law school application process. Creating an account at the website allows applicants to track their progress and manage deadlines as they connect with their selected schools.

The Credential Assembly Service (CAS), which is provided by the LSAC, is required by most ABA-approved law schools. For a fee (currently $195), the CAS will put together a report containing transcripts, LSAT scores, and letters of recommendation.

3. Submit Your Transcripts and Letters of Recommendation to CAS

Students must contact their college (or colleges) to have transcripts sent to the CAS. And it’s up to the student to find professors they believe will provide positive evaluations of their past and future performance to send recommendation letters to the CAS. (It’s a good idea to do this in August or September when college offices and faculty are back in full swing.)

You’ll only have to do this once. Then, when you apply to your chosen law schools, they can contact the CAS and request a copy of your report. Each report sent costs $45.

4. Search for Law Schools

There are several factors that could go into your school choice. Just as with your undergraduate education, you may want to apply to a mix of “reach” schools, “safety” schools, and a few that land right in the middle.

But the application process can be pricey, so if you’re on a budget, you may want to narrow the field. When you’re deciding how many law schools to apply to, here are some things to consider:

Location: If you’re hoping to go to a top law school, you’re probably prepared to relocate. If not, you may want to start your search by thinking about where you’ll want to practice law someday. After all, you’ll be building a network with your fellow students, professors, and people you meet in the community.

Reputation: Starting out, fellow attorneys (and potential employers) won’t know much about your skills. Instead, they’ll likely regard you as a “Duke grad” or a “Harvard man” (or woman) … and judge you by what they know about your law school. That doesn’t mean you have to go to a big, prestigious school — but you may want to look for a respected school.

Interests: By attending a school that offers classes that focus on the type of law you think you’ll want to practice (sports and entertainment, criminal, business, health care, etc.) you’ll likely be better prepared for your career. And you’ll probably have an opportunity to find mentors who could help you as a student and in the future.

Recruitment, Tours, and Alumni Events: If you have the opportunity, you may want to attend a meet-and-greet event in order to touch base with recruiters, former students, and faculty who can fill you in on what law school and a law career have in store. You also may be able to get an idea if the campus and community are a good fit for you.

Let the schools find you: The LSAC’s Candidate Referral Service (CRS) allows law schools to search a database and recruit students based on certain characteristics (LSAT score, GPA, age, geographic background, etc.). Registration is free for anyone with an account.

Recommended: A Guide to Transferring Law Schools

5. Apply to Law Schools

After you’ve taken the LSAT, set up your CAS, and squared away your letters of recommendation, you’ll need to start on your personal statement. Stellar LSAT scores and grades are important to a law school application, but a personal statement could also tip the balance in your favor. The goal of a personal statement is to explain to the admissions committee why you would be a valuable addition to their student body.

Start early so you have a chance to show your work to others who might help you fine-tune it — advisors, teachers, parents, friends … and any grammar snobs or professional writers/editors you might know. This is your chance to stand out from the crowd, so use your personal statement to explain what makes you, you. And if you’re applying to multiple schools, you may want to take the time to tailor your piece as needed.

When you have everything ready to go, you’ll have the option to apply to as many U.S. law schools as you like through your account. Make sure all the information on file is accurate and up to date, and keep good records of every step in the process.

And be patient: Many schools practice rolling admissions, which means the earlier you get your application in, the sooner you’ll hear back. But there’s no set timetable, so you may have to wait a while.

How Will You Score?

It can be difficult to predict how you’ll score on the LSAT. Taking practice tests can be an indicator of how well you’ll perform on the day of the exam. The questions on the LSAT are all weighted equally and you won’t be penalized for incorrect answers. What matters is the number of questions you answer correctly.

Paying for Law School

Once you’ve cleared the hurdle of applying to law school, you might want to start considering ways to pay for your law school. You may be familiar with the financial aid process from applying for undergraduate loans, but graduate students are also eligible for federal student aid.

The requirements of FAFSA are similar for grad students and the information provided will be used to determine federal financial aid like scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans. When those sources of funding aren’t enough — private student loans could help fill in the gap. Though, they are generally considered after all other sources of financing have been exhausted because they don’t offer the same borrower protections (like deferment options) as federal student loans. Check out this private student loan guide for more information.

The Takeaway

Applying to law school requires a lot of dedication, time, and preparation. Taking the time to understand the application process can help students get into law school. Plan out your LSAT study schedule so you are prepared for test day, think critically about which law schools are a best fit for your personal and professional goals, and don’t forget to devote enough time to write, edit, and rewrite your personal statement.

Once you’ve gained admission, you’ll need to figure out how to pay for law school. Law students are eligible for federal financial aid like grants, scholarships, and federal student loans. But when those aren’t enough — private student loans could help fill in the gap. SoFi offers competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers and flexible repayment terms. Plus, there are no fees and applications can be completed entirely online. If you’re set on attending law school, a private student loan may help make your ambition a reality.

Wondering how you can manage the cost of law school? Check out how a SoFi private student loan could help.

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