A Definitive Guide to the Law School Application Process

August 18, 2021

The law school application process can feel overwhelming and complicated. When should you start, and what do you have to do? 

This guide breaks down how to apply to law school and provides tips and resources on creating a well-executed law school application.

Woman applying to law school on a laptop

The Law School Application Timeline

18-24 Months Before Law School

Your law school application timeline can start nearly two years before you attend law school, mainly due to the time it takes to prepare for the LSAT. If you are an undergraduate student, this would be in the fall semester of your junior year. However, if you don’t have this much time to prepare — don’t worry. You’ll still have time to get everything done! You may just have to compress this timeline to fit your schedule.

There are several steps you can take early on to ensure a smooth application process.

  • Take a practice LSAT: Establish your baseline so you can know what you need to focus on in your preparation, and create a plan to study for the LSAT.
  • Request info from law schools: Most law schools have the option to request a booklet or pamphlet (print or digital). Now’s the time to download those PDFs and stock up on those glossy brochures so you can be armed with information before narrowing down where you want to apply.  Sometimes your best fit for law school is not the law school you initially envisioned, so be open to the possibilities.  
  • Create an LSAC account: The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is where you register to take the LSAT. 
  • Investigate financial aid: It’s never too early to familiarize yourself with the costs of law school, assess your savings and borrowing ability, and conduct research on financial aid, scholarships, and student loan options.

14-18 Months Before Law School

A year and a half or so before you start law school, or the spring semester of your junior year, you should focus on the following to make sure you head into summer with everything you need. 

  • Study and take the LSAT: If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to take the LSAT or retake it if you aren’t happy with your previous score. If you take it now, you’ll have plenty of time to retake it, if needed. If you are retaking it, study strategically based on your weak spots. There’s something to be said about not taking the LSAT too many times, and you can only take it three times in a single testing year.
  • Research potential law schools: Now’s the time to start compiling a list of law schools you want to apply to. You can use your LSAT scores as a guide to know which law schools are more of a “reach” versus which ones would be more “safe.” 
  • Start working on recommendation letters: Reach out to who you’d like to request recommendation letters from to let them know about the timelines and what to include in your letter. Getting them on board now will save you stress later!  

12-14 Months Before Law School

Over a year before law school, or the summer before your senior year, you should start gathering everything for your application. 

  • Take or retake the LSAT: If you haven’t already taken the LSAT, you should take it now. Also, you still have time to retake it.
  • Start your personal statement and essays: Think about why you want to go to law school, and what can distinguish you as a candidate. 
  • Update your resume: Many law school applications require your resume, so you should spend some time tailoring it to your law school application requirements.
  • Visit law schools: When planning your campus visit, make sure you check out the surrounding area and speak to students, faculty, and staff if possible.  There are great law schools all over, but focus on where you think you could be happy and can do you best work.

8-12 months before law school

You’re less than a year away from law school! (Or in the fall semester of your senior year.) How exciting. This is when it starts to become crunch time, as applications are opening up and applying early offers many advantages. This is when all of the final application details come together. 

  • Take or retake the LSAT: The October LSAT is ideal for retaking it so that you can still get your applications in early.
  • Finalize your list of law schools: You should have your final list of schools that you want to apply to at this stage.
  • Visit law schools: If you haven’t already done so, you should schedule your law school visits to narrow down your list and confirm your interest.
  • Register with the LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS): CAS handles your transcripts, LSAT scores, and other application documents. 
  • Fill out your applications thoroughly: Give yourself the time to fill out your applications to ensure you don’t make any errors. 
  • Finish your personal statements and application essays: Have you avoided these common mistakes in your personal statement? Have you included anything that you shouldn’t have? Make sure your personal statements and any other application essays (like addendums) are pitch-perfect by spending plenty of time on them yourself and asking other people to review them for you.
  • Start submitting transcripts and letters of recommendation: Start requesting and submitting transcripts and letters of recommendation to CAS, with the goal of having this done by August or early September.
  • Start submitting your applications if possible: Many applications have rolling admissions that open up in the fall. Submitting your applications before the holidays is a great way to avoid stress and provides you the many benefits of submitting your application early.
  • File the FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a must-do before starting law school. 
  • Search for scholarships and grants: While you may receive scholarships and grants from law schools, you can also search for opportunities from external sources like law school associations, professional organizations, and nonprofit groups.

3-8 months before law school

If you’ve already submitted your applications, this is when you should start to receive some admissions decisions to consider your options. If you’re an undergraduate student, this is in the spring semester of your senior year, so it’s the perfect time to evaluate your choices and see what will work best for you not just in terms of the school itself, but also the financial aid and scholarship packages they are offering you. Don’t be afraid to negotiate scholarship offers in this time period, especially if your LSAT and GPA are in the higher range of the school’s student profile.

  • Investigate housing options: If you are going to move, you should start looking at on and off-campus housing options.
  • Submit applications: If any schools have later application deadlines, now is the time to finish up those applications.
  • Attend events: Student open houses, orientations, or other events for admitted students are typically held in this window, which can help you finalize your decision if you haven’t already.
  • Send a continued interest letter: If you’ve been waitlisted, but you’re still interested in the school, send a continued interest letter to demonstrate your position.
  • Update transcripts: If you are still in school and have your senior year grades, submit an updated transcript to CAS to reflect those grades. 

After you’ve gone through all of these steps, it’s decision time. Make your final choice and pay the deposit. 

1-3 months before law school

It’s the summer before law school, which is the perfect time to relax. However, there are a few small details you'll want to take care of to set you up for success in the fall. 

  • Check all enrollment requirements: Make sure you’ve met all the requirements for enrollment, including deposits and any other paperwork. 
  • Attend events: If you haven’t already, attend events for admitted students.
  • Finalize housing: Whether you’re living on or off-campus, confirm the details of your housing and start moving in.
  • Confirm financial aid: Check with your law school’s financial aid office to verify all financial aid and scholarship details.
  • Give thanks: A lot of people have helped you along the way, including everyone from the people who wrote your recommendation letters to the family and friends who helped you study for the LSAT and review your personal essays. Thank them for their support. 
  • Get ready: Prepare yourself for law school by completing any recommended or required readings and assignments, as well as studying up on note and test-taking tips.  Being organized will make all the difference.  

How to Apply to Law School: Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to apply to law school? 

As we’ve shown with our timeline, it can take over a year to prepare your law school application. You can even start earlier than that. LSAT preparation alone can take 2-4 months or longer, if you wish to retake it. However, the actual application process can be shorter — if you have a year before law school, you can compress the timeline above. It is just a guideline and a way to help you have plenty of time to submit your applications. 

How long does it take for a law school to process your application? 

Law schools typically review applicants fairly quickly once the application window opens, and it can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks to know if you are accepted depending on the admissions process.  Applying earlier can lead to a faster decision.

When can you start applying to law school? 

Typically applications open up starting in September. Law schools with early decision options have deadlines as early as November, so submitting early can raise your odds of acceptance due to the rolling admissions cycles. 

Stetson’s Law School Application Process

If you are interested in applying to Stetson Law, we’re here to help. Our admissions blog is full of tips on the law school application process, and our admissions team is available to answer any questions you may have. Learn more about our J.D. application instructions here.

Topics: Applying to Law School