Why would law schools offer such plans? One reason is to better understand which candidates truly want to attend their programs, and this knowledge al- lows the schools to be more judicious with their offers. Candidates who apply early decision must enroll if accepted, and those who apply early action are much more likely to enroll, which means that by selecting candidates from these groups, the school will ensure that its “yield”—the ratio of the number of offers given to the number of offers accepted—will be higher. And because rankings factor yield into their school evaluations, schools care about this num- ber, and the better the ratio, the better chance a program has of doing well in the rankings.
Through these plans, schools also ensure that they enroll strong candidates that may have accepted an offer elsewhere if they had applied to many schools during the regular application season. In addition, the plans add a level of ef- ficiency to the selection process, given that the applicants who participate in these plans have already committed to the program or have expressed a particu- larly strong affinity for it. The admissions committee is therefore not “wasting” time evaluating candidates who really may not be that interested in attending the school.
Applying early decision can confer a kind of “preferred” status on you, but in return, you must contractually agree that if you are granted admission, you will not only accept the offer but also withdraw yourself from consideration at any other JD program. As a result, if you are wholly committed to a particular school and are prepared and willing to attend it with no financial aid, applying in the school’s early decision round is a good choice. (Note: We are not saying that you will not receive financial aid if you apply in this round, just that you will need to be prepared to enroll in the school even if you are not granted any, given that you will have committed to accepting admission if it is offered, no matter what.) If you are then accepted, you will have plenty of time to address the many matters that go along with attending law school, such as arranging housing, giving notice at your job (if applicable), and preparing to move. On the other hand, should you not be accepted, you are left ample time to apply to other JD programs during the same application season. Submitting an application in a school’s early decision round does not mean that you cannot apply to other schools, so you can still be conservative and apply to other schools simultaneously, recognizing that those applications could shortly be rendered moot.
The binding aspect of the early decision option means that candidates must be completely certain of their choice. Consider, for example, the following statement from Columbia Law School, which clearly indicates that the top schools share information about applicants in this round to ensure compliance:
Please be aware that, responding to the request of some peer law schools, Columbia will provide these schools with the names of all applicants accepted under our binding Early Decision Plan.
At some schools, applying during the early decision round may require additional application elements, such as an extra essay, so we again encourage you to fully research what your target school’s plan requires before deciding on a plan of action.
As with early decision plans, early action plans ensure that candidates who apply during this round receive an admissions decision very soon after submit- ting. Although submitting during this round sends a message to the school that the candidate has an extremely high level of interest in the program, it does not involve any kind of binding agreement on the part of the candidate. Early actions plans, therefore, offer the advantage of learning much sooner whether you have secured a spot at your preferred school, but you also retain the op- tion of simultaneously applying to other JD programs and waiting for both acceptance and financial aid decisions from all before determining which to ultimately attend.
Jeremy Shinewald is the founder of jdMission, an admissions consulting firm that helps applicants get into law school. This article is excerpted from his book, The Complete Start-To-Finish Law School Admissions Guide.