December 27, 2023

“If You’re On Time, You’re Late”: Law School Application Timing Among Historically Underrepresented Applicants

Sherrie K. Godette, Ph.D., K. L. Risman, Tiffane Cochran, Baylee Jenkins
Research and Data

Executive Summary

The “not so big” secret of college and graduate school admissions is that applicants who apply early are more likely to receive an offer of admission than those who apply closer to the final deadline. The same is true for law school applicants. When applicants submit applications later, their admission chances may be lower simply due to the timing of their application rather than their qualifications. Applicants who identify as underrepresented people of color (uPOC) or socioeconomically disadvantaged are less likely to apply early to law school or utilize formal early decision programs. In other words, applicants who identify as uPOC or low-socioeconomic status (SES) may inadvertently self-select into a more competitive admission environment which ultimately reduces their likelihood of receiving an admission offer.

The purpose of this brief is to further explore the relationship between application timing and law school admission outcomes. Additionally, we explore other factors associated with application timing, including knowledge of the admission process, admission process engagement, and LexPreLaw interventions.

Based on our analyses, we find:

  • The predicted likelihood of a late applicant receiving a law school admission offer is 24% compared to 40% for early/on-time applicants.
  • LSAT timing is a key contributor to application timing. The predicted likelihood of applying late is 63% for applicants who sat for the LSAT late (after January 1) compared to only 26% for early or on-time (before January 1) applicants.
  • Navigational capital and “headwinds” impact applicants’ ability to apply early. Early applicants more frequently demonstrated knowledge of the key tactics underlying an effective law school application strategy. Those who applied late more frequently cited incomplete or inaccurate understanding of sound application strategy, including ideal timelines and submission processes.
  • Applicants who are incentivized or coached to apply early are more likely to apply early or on-time.
  • Factors such as prior experience in the law school application process, highest LSAT score percentile, and pre-existing knowledge of the application cycle are not statistically associated with timing of first law school application. Our findings underscore the importance of both knowing and executing an effective law school application strategy, such as submitting applications early, to increase one’s likelihood of law school admission. This is particularly important for historically marginalized applicants and those with relatively low standardized test scores.