I recently got a question from a student in one of our LSAT courses:
I am currently studying to take the June LSAT, and wanted to know if there was anything I could do to start preparing my applications. I want to start law school in 2012, so I will be applying this fall. A lot of people I've talked to told me that it's too early to start working on my applications, and that I should just focus on the LSAT right now, because applications for students not applying until this fall aren't even available yet. Is there really nothing I can do to start getting things ready? I'd like to do as much as I can right now.Thanks for your help!
This student has it right (and whoever's been telling her to wait has it wrong). In my mind, it's never too early to start working on your law school applications. The more time you devote to your application components, the better off your applications will be. There is, however, a methodical way to do it.
Keep a couple of things in mind:
- Ideally, you should not try to put your applications together and study for the LSAT at the same time. The LSAT can be an incredibly time-consuming endeavor (even more so if you work or go to school full time in addition to studying for the test). However, this doesn't mean that you can't start putting your ducks in a row while you study for the LSAT.
- While applications for this specific fall may not be available right now, there's nothing stopping you from looking at last year's apps. Most schools don't change their applications significantly from year to year, so you can get a good idea of what you'll need to work on by looking at current applications.
- You should have everything ready for submission as soon after September 1st as possible.
My application timeline for a student planning on taking the June LSAT would be:
March/April/May: Study for the LSAT. You definitely need to devote some serious time to this. Remember:Higher LSAT scores usually mean an acceptance to a more prestigious law school—and a more prestigious law school usually means better job prospects and future earning potential. Don't skimp on your LSAT prep.
However, while you study for the LSAT, you can also do a number of things on the application front:
March: Start thinking about the schools to which you want to apply. Of course, your school list will vary over time, and will ultimately be honed down by your GPA/LSAT combination, but it's always good to have a handle on where you may want to go and why. Also, getting a good idea of which schools you want to attend will allow you to know around what number your LSAT score should be. Spend the month of March investigating schools and potential specializations, and putting together a list. Read this blog post to know what to keep in mind when making your law school selections.
April: If you've already signed up for LSAC's Credential Assembly Service, or CAS (which should have happened when you signed up for the LSAT), then you can complete all the biographical information required on your profile. The information you enter there will be auto-populated into your applications later on. Also, start thinking about potential recommenders. The sooner you can let them know that you will want a letter from them, the better. Make sure to pick them carefully and be involved in the writing of the letters. The video below will give you a good idea of what you should look for in your recommenders, and how to help them put together great LORs:
May: Approach your recommenders formally and have them start working on your letters. Give them a deadline of August, and check on them periodically to ensure they're staying on track. Also, start thinking about potential personal statement topics (and check out this blog post and this blog post to read about what you should and shouldn't do). The video below will give you a brief rundown of things to keep in mind as you write your statement:
June: Take the LSAT. And then take a week off. It may be tempting to jump from the LSAT right to applications, but give your brain some time to relax. After you've slept in a few days/had a few drinks/burned your LSAT books, start writing your personal statement. Loosely follow this process; Write a draft. Walk away for a few days. Revise the draft. Walk away for a few days. Revise the draft. And so on. This will allow you to have some distance between you and what you're writing. If you're having trouble narrowing down topics, write rough drafts of various topics and have someone else read them. Ask them to tell you which one is the most powerful. Then work on that one exclusively. Work on your résumé, too—get it updated and cleaned up. Many schools will ask for one in your application materials.
July: You should have your personal statement almost completed. Now is the time to write a "Diversity Statement" (if you feel your background actually merits one). Although not all schools ask for one, many do, and it's always good to have one on hand. The diversity statement basically answers the question, "What will you bring to XYZ Law School?" Many students believe that the diversity statement is reserved for those applicants of a specific racial or ethnic background or who are members of an underrepresented minority. While it is true that these students should definitely write diversity statements, that doesn't mean other students shouldn't. Think about what makes you unique (Are you the first in your family to attend college/law school? Are you the youngest of 12 siblings? Are you a first-generation American? Have you worked in unusual positions or locations?); when law schools say "diversity," they're not just talking about race, they're taking about diversity of experience. If your experiences make you see life and your surroundings in a different way, then you've got "law school diversity"—and you should talk about it.
NOTE: You will get your June LSAT scores back in late June or early July. If you're happy with your score, have a party and call it a day. If you're not pleased with your score, make plans to retake the LSAT again in September/October, sign up for it, and study for it again. Do NOT delay taking the LSAT until December. While all schools accept the results of the December LSAT, this will have you applying very late in the cycle, which is not ideal.
August: Talk to your recommenders and make sure they are done with the letters. Give them the required CAS LOR forms and have them send in your letters to LSAC for processing. Finalize your personal statement, diversity statement, and résumé. Look into whether the schools you are applying to require a Dean's Certificate—if they do, obtain the form and submit it to the appropriate office at your undergraduate institution. Obtain CAS Transcript Request forms, submit one to every undergraduate and graduate institution you've attended, and have them send in the forms to LSAC for processing.
September: Most ABA-approved law schools make their applications available on LSAC during September and the first weeks of October. Log into your LSAC account, pull up the applications, and check them over carefully for any "supplemental essay" opportunities (i.e., "optional" essays or long-answer questions that you can use to present another aspect of your candidacy or of your personality). If you feel that your background and/or experiences merit writing any of these essays, do so. The video below will give you some pointers on what you should focus on for your supplemental essays:
Also, check the status of your LORs and transcripts on CAS—if any are missing, contact the appropriate people/offices and get them fixed ASAP. This video will give you an overview of the whole application process, and who is responsible for what part of it (surprisingly, not all of it is you!):
October: Put the finishing touches on any essays you may still be working on. Upload your personal statement and diversity statement (if you've written one) to your LSAC account, and go over the applications to the schools you're applying to with a fine-tooth comb to make sure all the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed. If you decided not to re-take the LSAT in October, press that submit button once you've thoroughly evaluated your apps. If you did decide to retake the LSAT, wait for your scores to be released, and then send in your applications. You'll be submitting them at the beginning of the rolling admissions cycle, which will improve your chances, and you should be able to hear back before the end of the year (if not early in the new year) from many schools.
Giving yourself plenty of time to get your essays, résumé, transcripts, letters of recommendation, LSAT score, LSAT score reports, and applications completed will greatly benefit you during the admissions cycle. Don't forget, this isn't the end of your college life or a brief hiatus from the working world; it's actually the beginning of your professional career. Treat it with care, diligence, and thoroughness, and you will reap great rewards in the long run.
To watch the whole 9-part PowerScore Guide to Law School Admissions, click here.
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