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Early Decision vs. Early Action: Your Law School Applications

Since most law schools accept applicants on a rolling basis, the early bird [applicant] really does get the worm [an admissions offer]. Some applicants try to increase their chances of admission by applying as an early decision or early action candidate. Although anyone can apply early to law school, not all schools have the option for early decision, but if you do apply early you can get a decision back sooner.

Confused yet? Don’t worry! We break down what it means to apply early to law school vs. early decision vs. early action. (Bonus: Try to keep track of how many times we use the word “early” in this article.)

What Does It Mean to Apply Early to Law School?

Submitting your law school applications in the fall or early winter is generally considered applying early. As the cycle progresses, there are usually fewer seats and financial aid, so it’s always best to apply sooner rather than later. This means planning when to take the LSAT strategically so you get your score back in time.

There’s also another group of applicants who want to specifically apply early action or early decision to a law school that offers it. These applicants submit their law school applications well in advance of the application deadline, but they also agree to abide by specific rules.

What’s the Difference Between Early Action and Early Decision?

The difference between early decision and early action is simple: Early decision is binding, meaning that if you apply early decision to a school and you get accepted, you have to go. Early action just means that the school will let you know whether you’re accepted earlier in the cycle. You can apply early action to as many schools as you want, but you can only apply early decision to one school.

Applying early decision makes sense if there’s a certain school that you would definitely attend if you got in, especially if that school is a bit of a reach for you since it can give your application a bit of a boost. The applicant pool is also smaller at that time, making the competition less fierce.

However, one big con to applying early decision is you’re likely stuck with whatever financial aid package the school offers you. When you apply for regular decision, you can consider financial aid packages when choosing what school to attend and you can try to use other schools’ financial aid offers to negotiate higher scholarships at your top-choice schools. Some law schools do offer additional financial aid for early decision applicants but not all.

Another con is that you cannot break an early decision acceptance agreement, even if you change your mind about the school. This could also affect your ability to defer admission. However, there are a few exceptions for each school and it’s best to research your potential law school’s policy before applying.

When Are Early Decision and Early Action Deadlines?

Law school applications open in September and most schools’ early deadlines can be as soon as October into mid-November. This doesn’t give you a big window of time to get your personal statement and other application materials ready if you want to apply as an early applicant.

Even if you’re not applying early decision or early action, you still want to get your applications wrapped up as soon as possible. Most people submit their applications between Thanksgiving and the New Year, so you’ll want to finalize your applications by then to stay ahead of the curve.

That said, there are certain situations where it makes more sense to submit your applications later in the cycle. For instance, it’s always better to apply later with a higher LSAT score, so if you’re retaking the LSAT don’t stress about getting your applications in early. You should aim to have everything submitted by the time scores are released but your primary focus should be on getting an awesome LSAT score.

Whether or not you should apply early decision or early action is ultimately up to you. If there’s a law school that you without a shadow of a doubt know you will attend if they give you the chance, then it’s probably a good option for you. However, if you’re not completely sold on any one program, it might be better to make a law school list and apply to a range of schools.

No matter when you decide to apply to law school, we can help! Blueprint Law School Admissions Consultants can help take your law school application from good to competitive. Schedule a free consultation now to learn about our different services.


An earlier version of this article was published November 2, 2015.