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Choosing an LSAT date: June vs. October

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If you want to apply to law schools this coming fall (2010) to enroll next fall (2011), then you probably haven’t taken the LSAT yet. If you’re a junior who wants to go to law school right after graduation, then you’re in this boat. If you’re reading this, and planning this far in advance, then you’re already a step ahead of most people. But when to take the test? June, October, or December?

Technically you have four options, because you could take the February 2011 test and still apply for enrollment for Fall 11. But this really isn’t your best bet. A lot of schools won’t even allow you to apply, and those that do will generally say that it certainly lessens your chances of getting in and getting financial aid. You can make the February test work for you, but it is a last resort of sorts, so I’m going to take that off the table for this discussion (I should note, though, that if you’re not applying in the same year that you’re taking the test, then there is nothing wrong with the February test).

December isn’t perfect either, although it doesn’t have nearly as many disadvantages as February does. If you take the December test, you’ll be getting your score back around New Year’s 2011. You would want to have every other piece of application complete and submitted before you get your score back, so that as soon as you know the score, you’re submitting your applications. And if you submit your applications that first week of January, it’s not like you’ll be at the absolute end of the line. But there will definitely be quite a few people who have already applied, and that doesn’t work in your favor. Because of rolling admissions, it often tends to be the case that the later you apply, the more law schools rely on your numbers, and the less they really pore over your personal statement and the other “soft” aspects of your app.

So if it’s a possibility for you, you should really be taking the test in June or October. Doing this will allow you apply by December 1st, and if you do that your application will be reviewed before most others’. This is a good thing. Both admissions and financial aid are given out on a rolling basis, so sooner is better. If you take the June test you can even apply on the first day schools start accepting applications (generally September 1 – October 1), but that’s really not at all necessary. 12/1/10 is the date to beat.

Thus, it would seem that June and October are more or less equals. But this isn’t entirely true.

First of all, the June test is at 12:30 pm on a Monday, while October is at 8:30 AM on a Saturday. If you’re like me and hate the idea of getting up before 11 AM, then June definitely offers that big plus.

But if you were to take the test, do well, and get a score that you’re happy with, then June and October would be pretty much the same. But things don’t always go the way we want them to. So let’s say you choose a date, take a corresponding class, and start studying. But maybe you realize the LSAT is a lot harder than you thought it was (believe me, it is), and you didn’t study enough. Or you did study enough, but Mittens, your kitten, gets run over by a tricycle and you have to take her to the vet on LSAT morning. Or you get to the testing center and suddenly start simultaneously throwing up and pooping yourself. Or you have a panic attack and cancel your score. These things aren’t incredibly likely to happen, but believe me, they do. For one reason or another, you might not be able to take the test, or the test might go poorly and you cancel.

And that’s ok. One cancellation or absence on your record really doesn’t hurt you. But it’s what happens next that makes a difference. If you’re signed up for the June test and you can’t take it, then you just take the October test, applying early and everything is a-ok. But if you’re signed up for the October test and something happens, then you have to take the December test, and like I mentioned before, you would no longer be able to apply early. This isn’t the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not totally ideal. So, all other things being equal, June is a better option than October.

But of course, all other things are not equal. The LSAT is insanely hard and requires lots and lots of studying. If you’re in school right now, and the rest of your spring term is super nasty with lots of papers and finals, then studying for the June test might not be a good idea. If you take the October test, on the other hand, you probably wont have any major midterms or finals by test day, so you have more time for pure LSAT study (although you lose your summer). What is most important is getting the highest score possible, and if taking the test in October (or even December) is more likely to yield more study time, then that is really something to strongly consider.

One last thing: sign up for the test early. Like right now. In New York, all test centers for the June test are already totally full. This is insane. More people took the LSAT last year than in any other year, and that trend will likely continue in 2010. Because of this, testing centers are filling up at an alarming rate. If you want to take the June test and are in New York, don’t worry, you can get on a waiting list and will almost certainly get a spot somewhere, but you need to sign up right now. If you want to take the October test, you should still pretty much have the pick of the litter in terms of testing centers, so sign up now.

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