Why It Matters When You Apply

by Brett Twitty

Each year, I get a number of emails from prospective students that essentially ask the same fundamental question: “When should I apply.” I always respond with something to the effect of “sooner is better than later,” and, “in order to be in a competitive position for admission at W&L Law you should try to submit your application by no later than December 31.” However, in reflecting on this response, I felt some hard data might be helpful. After all, how soon is “soon,” and how late is “late” (this all sort of reminds me of one of the greatest songs of all time).

Let me begin by saying the below information is intended as a guide. Each admissions cycle is unique, so this year’s cycle will likey differ from last year’s in certain ways. However, the outline provided below is generally reflective of most of our admissions cycles and is therefore fair to use as a rough guide.

At W&L Law, we do NOT have an early admissions program and we make all decisions on a rolling basis. Last year, we made our first round of decisions on November 11th (123 Admits, 31 Waitlists and 71 Denies) and made subsequent decisions on an almost weekly basis until mid-April (our first deposit deadline was May 1, and as we guaranteed all of our applicants who applied prior to March 1 a decision by no later than early April, we made almost all of our decisions prior to mid-April). This is important to note. As the previous sentences indicate (and as you likely guessed), the admissions cycle isn’t really from September until August. Most of the action is packed into four months (November through February).

Think about it this way – our Admitted Student Open Houses are typically scheduled for February and March, and we want to make sure as many admitted students as possible have an opportunity to attend one of these events. Consequently, we do everything we can to make most if not all of our offers prior to March 1. As an applicant, this is important to acknowledge. This timeline is important to keep in mind when applying to our law school. However, I would wager that it is the case at almost any school to which you apply. Every admissions officer wants to give his/her admitted students a sufficient opportunity to consider their law school choice. Consequently, since most first deposit deadlines are in early to mid-April, you can almost guarantee that most schools will have made a significant number of their admissions offers by February.

However, this timeline doesn’t really tell the full story of our admissions cycle. Consider the following graph:

As the graph details, we made most of our offers of admission (the blue line) in November, December and January. After February 1, offers tapered off significantly and flattened between the months of March and April. You will also notice these months witnessed an increase in the number of denials.  As a general matter, it is fair to say that candidates who apply later in the admissions cycle are often less strong than candidates who apply early. However, this only tells part of the story.

Each year, there are candidates who apply late who have strong credentials, and we are compelled to waitlist or deny these individuals simply because we feel we have extended all the offers of admission we can extend. As you are hopefully aware, W&L Law is a very small school, and we are therefore wary of extending too many offers. If our first-year class is too large, we feel this will compromise certain aspects of the first-year experience at W&L Law, and this is something we try very hard to avoid.

An additional graph, reflecting the percentage of offers of admission made during this same span of time makes the trends described above plain:

As you can tell from this graph, last year, we made 82.5% of our total offers of admission prior to February 1 and 94.2% of our offers prior to March 1. Between February 1 and May 1, we extended only 13.4% of our total offers (roughly 129 offers). After May 1, we extended only 3.1% of our total offers (roughly 40 offers), and all of these offers went to candidates initially placed on our waiting list. Expressed another way (in terms of number of offers made per month for the months from September through April), the 2010-11 admissions cycle looks like this:

So, what does all this mean? Well, if you wish to put yourself in the most competitive position possible to gain admission to our law school, consider doing the following:

Apply prior to November 1. Each year we typically make our first round of admissions decisions in early to mid-November. If your file is complete by November 1, you are in the most competitive position possible to gain admission. As the above graphs make plain, a candidate’s chances of being admitted decrease with each passing month and drop precipitously after February 1. As one of my colleagues at another law school used to say, think of admissions as a funnel – wider at the beginning and narrower towards the end.

What if you can’t apply by November 1? Don’t worry. Applying by December 31 or even mid-January is not too late. So, if you’re sitting for the December LSAT, you will still be in a competitive position for admission. However, if you are sitting for the December administration, I would encourage you to get organized and begin working on the other parts of your application now. Results from this administration will be released towards the end of December/early January, so if you submit all of your other application materials in advance of this date, your file will be complete (and therefore eligible for review) once we receive your LSAT score.  If you wait to begin your application after December LSAT scores are released, your file may not be complete until late January or early February. As previously noted, this is later in our admissions cycle and applying this late could potentially affect your chances of admission significantly.

What if you’re planning to apply in March? Consider applying earlier. While there have been years when we’ve admitted candidates this late in the cycle, March is not a month when we typically extend a significant number of offers, and an applicant’s chances of being admitted are much stronger in January and even February than March. Remember, most of the admissions cycle’s real action occurs between November and February, and, at the very least, you want to make sure you apply somewhere between these two months (and remember – sooner is better than later – and a couple of weeks can make a difference).

When thinking about all of this it’s also important to keep in mind merit scholarship consideration. We typically make our first awards in mid-January or so, and all students admitted by this date are automatically considered for an award at this time. Remember, we have a finite amount of scholarship money, so it’s in an applicant’s best interest to be in the admit pool when we are making our first scholarship awards. After this date, we have less money to award, and candidates admitted later in the cycle often receive smaller scholarships than they would have had they applied only a month or two earlier. Given that the cost of legal education is such an important consideration to so many applicants these days (and rightfully so), the above point is important to bear in mind when applying to our law school. After all, why do something if it could potentially going to cost you thousands of dollars?

So, we end as we began. While generalizations are always hard in the world of law school admissions, sooner IS better than later, and, at W&L Law, soon typically means prior to December 31/early January. We strongly encourage you to keep this timeline in mind as you assemble your application, and, as always, if we can be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us. We can be reached by phone at 540.458.8503 and by email at LawAdm@wlu.edu.

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