If you've decided to go to law school, you'll need to manage the application process from the beginning. That means actively monitoring your application packages, including when and to what schools you apply, and when decisions are expected. Here are some tips to help you get a handle on this process.
- First, decide on your schools . Other articles on this site will help you evaluate your top choices for law schools. For now, suffice it to say that you need to have a shortlist of possibilities--two to five schools at which you reasonably believe you have a chance to be accepted, which you can afford, and at which you would be reasonably happy. While it may help to have them numerically ranked in order of preference, in case you have the happy quandary of deciding which school you want to select out of the many that accepted you, it isn't necessary, strictly speaking. Some people prefer a more open-ended approach and reevaluate their choices after financial aid packages are solidified.
- Keep records of your submissions . Once you have a shortlist of schools, keep track of your application packages. Records of submissions help you stay on top of the process to ensure you have, in fact, sent every document required. A good file will also assist you in resubmitting if the originals get lost in the mail or misdirected. Additionally, if you are waitlisted and/or asked to submit further documentation, you will want to review those materials that you've already provided in order to facilitate drafting any additional persuasive material, with an eye toward convincing the decision-makers that you're the perfect addition to the school.
What sort of records should you keep? At a minimum, keep a full copy of your application form, transcript requests, LSAT records, personal statement, and cover letter, if any, as well as any additional forms the school may request you submit with your application. Keep a record, either in list or database form, or in any other format that you can update regularly, of each application, including:
- the date you sent the application
- the date the school provides as its deadline
- whether the school engages in "rolling applications" (earlier applications are considered first)
- any other communications between you and the school's admissions and financial aid offices.
- For each school, prepare a separate checklist . While most law schools tend to ask for the same things (LSAT scores, transcripts from undergraduate school, personal statement, letters of recommendation), many schools also have unique forms they ask you to send in as well. Using the catalog or instructions that the school provides as a guide, make a formal checklist for each school of every form and document that the school requires you submit with your application. This way, you can simply check off each document as you have it completed. While it takes a little extra time, you will find the peace of mind it offers is invaluable.
- Take the LSAT as early as possible. The Law School Admissions Test (or LSAT) is offered four times per year. Take the test as early as you can (without jeopardizing your preparedness) so that you have plenty of time to decide whether to take it again, and to request copies of your scores to be sent to each of the schools on your shortlist.
- Tailor your personal statement to each school . Make sure your personal statement or application essay is grammatically perfect, with no misspelled words or typographical errors. Also, take the time to target each statement to each individual school to which you're applying.
- Ask for letters of recommendation early, and carefully . Exercise caution when you select people you'd like to ask for the necessary letters of recommendation. Make sure these are people that know you, know your capabilities or work habits, and can speak intelligently about whether you'd be a good law school candidate. There's nothing more embarrassing than to give a recommendation form to someone only to be given the form back and told, "Maybe you should ask someone else."
- Do a "dry run." It doesn't hurt to request two copies of all application materials, or to make copies if feasible, so that you have an extra set if an error is made.
- Double- and triple-check all materials. It never hurts to have someone else look over your materials. If you've been staring at them for weeks, you may have become unwittingly "blind" to an apparent error; a fresh pair of eyes can catch those errors you've missed before it's too late to change them.
- Keep track of your deadlines . Know when each school should have decisions mailed out and keep track of all correspondence. If you're waitlisted, you'll need to know what time frames apply to your reconsideration. Make a note of any deadline for a statement of acceptance, so you'll know just how long you have to make that ultimate decision.