Law School Admission Cycle: Who Applies First?

LSAT Blog % of 2011 Applicants Counted by 1/6/11 vs. 3/30/11, by Highest LSAT Score
An LSAT Blog reader recently asked whether law school applicants with relatively higher LSAT scores apply earlier in the admission cycle than others.

I've always believed this to be the case, but not until recently did we have the information necessary to determine whether this is actually true.

Data from the Law School Admission Council indicates that high scorers tend to apply much earlier in the admission cycle than do low scorers.

The graph to the top-right displays the percentage of law school applicants counted by LSAC at two different points in the 2010-2011 admission cycle, by their highest LSAT score.

By 1/6/11, 66.1% of applicants scoring 165-169, 76.1% of applicants scoring 170-174, and 77.5% of applicants scoring 175+ had already been counted by LSAC.

However, at the same point in the cycle, only 26% of those scoring below 140, 27.8% of those scoring 140-144, and 33.2% of those scoring 145-149 had been counted by LSAC.

By 3/30/11, the difference, although less pronounced, was also significant. All but a few applicants scoring 165+ had been counted, while 22.4% of applicants scoring below 140 had yet to be counted as such.

The number of applicants counted by LSAC at any given point in the cycle should be a fairly accurate representation of those who have submitted at least one complete application to a law school by that time. LSAC states that after fall 2000, it asked law schools to identify applicants as such when they ask LSAC for applicants' law school reports (PDF). Law schools make these requests after applications have been submitted.

So, why do high scorers tend to apply earlier in the cycle?

While one might speculate about a variety of reasons, two major ones come to mind:

1. Earlier application deadlines at top schools

High scorers tend to apply to top schools, and top schools tend to have earlier application deadlines.
(This past cycle, Stanford and Harvard had application deadlines of February 1st. Yale's was February 15.)

Low scorers tend to apply to lower-ranked law schools, and lower-ranked law schools tend to have deadlines that are far later. Some don't have formal application deadlines at all. (Cooley states, "You can apply at anytime [sic]. With rolling admissions, applications are reviewed as they become complete.")

2. Rolling admissions

High scorers tend to apply to more competitive law schools. Law school admissions is conducted on a "rolling" basis. In other words, law schools review applications in the order in which they receive them.

Those who are applying to top schools may be more likely to feel the need to apply earlier in the cycle - when top law schools still have a greater number of seats available. Doing so can give one a relative edge, allowing for slightly easier admission. As such, it's especially important to apply earlier in the cycle than later at these schools, which have the lowest admission rates.

The take-away:

If you're applying to law school, get a top score on the LSAT and apply early in the cycle. The top scorers are doing it for a reason.

See my post on deciding between the June and October LSAT.


The graph:

The data I used to create the graph in this blog post was based upon the number of applicants counted by LSAC in its reports for 1/6/12 (PDF) and 3/30/12. I used the percentage decreases for each score range to calculate LSAC's count of 2011 applicants by 1/6/11 and 3/30/11. LSAC's National Decision Profile for Fall 2011 (PDF) provided the total number of applicants in each score range for the 2010-2011 application cycle.

1/6/12 is the first date for which LSAC included applicant breakdowns by score range, so 1/6/11 was the earliest point in the 2010-2011 cycle that I was able to analyze.

We'll presumably have more information next cycle with regard to what happens over the course of the fall.


So, why do you think high scorers tend to apply earlier in the cycle, while low scorers tend to apply later in the cycle? Leave your thoughts in the comments.


For further reading, see my series of posts on recent trends in law school admissions.


  1. early bird gets the worm...

  2. It could also be the fact that top-scorers may be generally more acquainted with the process. They have put a lot of time and effort into earning a top-score, so they may also have located information that encourages them to apply early (ie. test prep companies encouraging applicants to apply sooner).

    Moreover, lower scorers like myself (140s), who are unable to enroll in test prep classes and don't have relatives who are white-collared professionals, or people who really no way of learning about the wealth of online information available about law school might not be as aware of the importance of applying early in a cycle.

  3. Two more obvious reasons spring to mind:
    1. Lower scorers may be waiting on an LSAT re-take.
    2. There may be a correlation between high LSAT score and organizational skills/ambition/eagerness to go to law school. (Note that I am not saying that everyone with a high LSAT has these traits, or that everyone who scores low lacks them.) In LSAT terms, Steve's possible reasons explain the correlation by having the LSAT score cause the early applications; it may be instead (or as well) that there is a third factor which contributes to both.

  4. Anonymous at 8:23am has it about right...

  5. Anonymous has it correct for me at least, on the second post; I got a 148 in 2011, took it again in Feb and scored a 153, now I got accepted to two different schools, tier 3.

  6. Anonymous at 8:24am reason #2 sounds about right.