What is Required to Apply to ABA-Approved Law Schools?
The law school application process is almost entirely electronic. Simplifying things even more, online JD programs that are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) share the same admissions requirements as residential law school programs.1 You should stay on top of each of the following elements of the law school admission process:
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is a not-for-profit organization that, among other things, administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). In order to take the LSAT and apply to ABA-approved law schools, you will need to create an account on LSAC.org. The “My Calendar” feature available through your LSAC account will help you track each deadline in the admissions process.
Unlike other standardized tests, the LSAT is currently only offered four times a year. You must register for the LSAT in advance; walk-in registration on the day of the test is not permitted. You can register online for the LSAT through your LSAC.org account or on the phone by calling LSAC at (215) 968-1001. After you take the LSAT, you will automatically receive your LSAT score by email roughly three weeks after the test date. Your LSAT score will only be released to you and the law schools to which you apply.2
The application form for each ABA-accredited law school that you are interested in applying to will be available through LSAC.
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) streamlines the application process for prospective students. Through CAS, all documents required to apply to law—your college transcript, letters of recommendation, etc.—are sent to LSAC just once. As a result, you no longer need to prepare separate documentation for each law school you apply to, which will save you serious time. LSAC will then combine your application documents with your LSAT score and send the full report to your list of schools. The fee for CAS is $195. You can apply for a fee waiver through LSAC; however, LSAC makes clear that “only those with extreme need should apply.” From a timing standpoint, you should sign up no later than four weeks before your first law school application is due. According to LSAC’s website, it will take around two weeks for LSAC to process your transcript once it is received.
Though they are only one part of your application, your letters of recommendation will give admissions officers invaluable insight into who you are as a person. Unlike your LSAT score or your undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation can speak to your work ethic, character, and individuality. You should ask people who know you especially well and can highlight your unique attributes to write your letters of recommendation. Instead of the CEO of the company you interned for one summer, consider asking your academic advisor in college or your supervisor at work. The substance of the letter, rather than the title of the person writing it, is what matters most.
The personal statement is your opportunity to speak directly to the law school admission team. It is your chance to answer the all-important question: why are you a compelling candidate? You should aim to grab the reader’s attention from the first sentence. Highlight what makes you qualified for success in law school and the legal profession. While you are advocating for yourself in your personal statement, it is essential that you do not cross the line into narcissism or oversharing. Have someone you trust (who can also provide honest feedback) review each personal statement you prepare before you submit it.
In addition to the CAS registration fee charged by LSAC, many law schools you apply to will also charge their own application fees. This fee varies from school to school, so best to check with the school directly (or online) when budgeting for the application process. Similarly, each law school also has its own fee waiver policy, so be sure to research whether you are eligible.
In order to be considered for federal student aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is made available on October 1 every year for the following academic year. It is a good idea to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. This quick turnaround will help eliminate the possibility that you miss out on available financial aid.
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If you plan to apply to law school in the early fall (for attendance in fall of the following year), whether as a senior in college or as someone in the workforce, here is a general timeline to help you begin the planning process:
Look into taking an LSAT practice test in order to calculate your base score. These practice tests are offered for free by various test prep companies in the hope that you will ultimately use their services. It is important that:
You do not let your practice test score freak you out or dissuade you from applying. Remind yourself that this is the first time you are seeing the test—your score can only go up from here.
Do not let your first experience taking the LSAT be anything other than a practice test, since every LSAT score will be reported to the law schools to which you apply.
Give yourself enough time between taking the practice test and taking the real LSAT to work on those sections that are challenging for you.
Research different LSAT prep materials and LSAT prep courses. Here are a few different options:
- The Princeton Review
- Manhattan Prep
Taking a class or even working through an LSAT prep book will give you new strategies to apply on test day.
March, April, and May
Check upcoming LSAT test dates as well as registration deadlines. Since the LSAT is only offered a few times a year, make sure to register far in advance.
Register for CAS around this time so that you can start completing your file. If you have already taken the LSAT, but are not satisfied with your score, look into taking the LSAT a second time.
Reach out to your undergraduate institution to request that your transcript be sent to CAS. You should also start thinking about which professors and supervisors you will ask to write letters of recommendation.
End of August - September
It is a good idea to start completing your law school applications and personal statements before you go back to school for the start of your senior year (or, if you are out of school, before everyone comes back from summer vacation). You will want time to write multiple drafts and incorporate feedback from trusted friends. One resource to look into is The Law School Admission Game: Play Like An Expert by Ann Levine, a former director of admissions for law schools.
September - November
Aim to submit all of your law school applications during this time. With rolling admissions, there is an ever-narrowing window of openings, so you want to be sure you are ahead of the curve. Make sure you receive confirmation from every law school you apply to that your application is complete. If you determine that you might need financial aid, fill out the FAFSA once it becomes available on October 1.