Submitting your law school application if you're retaking the LSAT

    Law School Admissions

    What to do if you're submitting your law school application if you're retaking the LSAT.We had an interesting question posed recently that we thought we would share:

    "When you submit an application to a law school (say, in November), but you are registered to take the test in January (or March), do law schools automatically see that and hold off on making a decision until they receive your score? Or do you have to "remind" them somewhere on the application form?"

    That's a great question (and something that a lot of students face around this time of year). Here's the deal.

    Paramount in many applicants' minds is the need to submit their application early (after all, it's something that both law schools and many advisors endlessly repeat). So when the time comes to submit applications, many students are torn: What if they want to submit their apps early to take advantage of rolling admissions, but also want to take the LSAT again to see if they can improve upon a previous score (and therefore improve their overall chances)? What do they do then?

    When it comes to submitting your application while still registered to retake the test, here are the scenarios:

    • If you do not have an LSAT score on record and you submit your application. Schools will not review your app until they receive a Law School Report, which they request from LSAC upon receiving a student’s application (and which LSAC does not send out until it is complete—which means it needs an LSAT score). 
    • If you already have an LSAT score on record, you submit your application, and you don’t tell schools that you’re taking the test again. The  schools will see that you have a retake scheduled when they receive your updated Law School Report. Depending on the school's policy, it's possible that they will just proceed as if the application were final (and render a decision with your initial score). It is much more likely that they will hold your application until the new score is available. Because of this uncertainty, it is not recommended that you use this approach unless you do not care which path is taken by the school. Instead, the better policy is to write the school and request the action you prefer (review immediately with the score on record, or hold until your new LSAT score arrives). More on this choice below.
    • If you already have an LSAT score on record, you submit your application, and you do tell schools that you’re taking the test again. They will most likely hold off on reviewing your application until the scores of the test you told them you were registered to take are available. However, you can make this more likely by requesting specifically that they do so, or alternately you can request them to immediately consider your application with your current score if that is your preference.

    If you have a score on record, the generally preferred approach is to write the school and specifically request a course of action on their part (review or hold). As to how you can let schools know you're retaking, there are a number of possibilities. Some schools have an area on the application form where you can note that information, or give you specific instructions on how to do it. For others, you need to submit a brief note letting them know, or you can email them to alert them of the retake. In any case, make sure they are notified in some fashion! And even if you're accepted with your first score, you'll want them to review your file again if you improve your score in case you qualify for any additional financial aid.

    One of the important considerations in this process is whether you should apply earlier with a lower score, or apply later with a potentially higher score. The data on this is overwhelming: having a higher LSAT score is worth delaying your application. As law school admission expert Mike Spivey noted recently, in 19 of the last 20 cycles applicants would have been better off applying later with just a one point increase (his example compared applying in November versus applying in January/February with a one point improvement). Why would it be the case that just a one-point higher LSAT score is more important than an earlier application? Because of the quantitative nature of the LSAT and the fact that LSAT scores are used in rankings whereas the date of your application is not. When admissions committees are comparing two candidates, you can be sure they will compare LSAT scores but it's highly unlikely they care about the date each applicant applied.

    At the end of the day, an LSAT score above the range a school is looking for will give you a much greater admissions advantage than submitting your app early in the process (don't get me wrong, applying early also helpsbut not as much as a killer LSAT score). Keep this in mind when weighing the pros and cons of submitting early vs. telling schools you're retaking the LSAT vs. retaking and hoping you won't get reviewed until after scores are available. 

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    Image credit: "University of Washington Fall Foliage" by Cindy Shebley.