This FAQ and information page is meant to inform the reader about the Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) admission programs that many schools offer, including the dates required for these applications, the advantages and disadvantages to these types of applications, and factors an applicant should consider before opting for one of these choices. It is highly recommended that anyone considering the Early Decision option read and thoroughly consider the potential disadvantages to this choice before submitting an ED application. I hope this helps anyone who is considering one or both of these options when applying, and good luck to everyone!
Note: As this is an early version of this article, if anyone has any additions to the information provided herein, suggestions for more content, or questions regarding the process, please post them and I will update the article accordingly, providing credit where due. Also, please forgive the poor image quality. All I currently have at my disposal is MS Paint!
1. What are the Early Action and Early Decision options, and what is the difference between the two?
The Early Action and Early Decision application options are generally offered by law schools as a way of applying early on in the application cycle, and guaranteeing a decision and response to the application earlier than is normal for many schools. Each (when offered) have their own set deadlines for filing your application and going complete, and all have guaranteed response dates by which the school will inform you of their decision (though sometimes they may defer your application to the general applicant pool). Normally, the deadline for submitting the application is in late October or early November, and nearly all schools will respond by the end of December (though this is not universally true; see the question below for more details).
There is one significant difference between the two options: Early Action is a non-binding application which simply guarantees a response by a certain date. Early Decision, however, requires that the applicant agree toa binding commitment to the school s/he is applying to, guaranteeing that if accepted, s/he will matriculate to the school in the following school year. There are occasionally additional requirements for this type of application, which are also mentioned below (and appear in the table provided). One is heavily encouraged to research the requirements of the ED option at any schools s/he is considering this type of application at.
2. How do I go about applying Early Action or Early Decision?
Most schools have a checkbox on their application where you can indicate specifically which type of application you would like to submit. For example, the Early Decision option at Michigan appears on the application like this:
It should also be noted that you will normally also be required to submit an additional signed document declaring your intention and understanding of the Early Decision option. Sometimes this comes as an additional segment of the application itself, while other schools may require you submit an additional document. Other times, there are additional stipulations which you must agree to (which are discussed in another question to follow).
3. Do all schools offer these options?
No, not all schools have Early Decision or Early Action options. Many have one or the other, though few (if any) have both. I have compiled a list of the top 100 schools (as per USNWR rankings) and included the basic information for each school (including due dates, type of applications offered, decision dates, and additional notes). Below you will find a screenshot of the T30, and you may click here or on the image for the full spreadsheet (hosted by Google Docs).
4. Aside from the binding agreement, are there other stipulations of the Early Application or Early Decision agreement?
The Early Application option generally does not have any further stipulation. It merely serves as a convenient way for applicants and admissions departments to get notice of their decision earlier than would otherwise be normal. It is possible that the school may require an earlier deposit deadline, though this is unlikely. It would be a good idea to check each school's website for this information.
The Early Decision option, however, often comes with at least a few requirements. First, it is a binding agreement, so the applicant must commit to attending if accepted, and is normally required to withdraw all other applications within a given timeframe (5 days, for example). Other schools may require that you write an additional essay indicating why the school is your first choice (Cardozo does this). Michigan requires that students who apply through the ED program start their law school career the following summer (a semester before the normal start date). Applicants are also generally not allowed to defer their acceptance to the next year when accepted through Early Decision - an option that may exist otherwise under extenuating circumstances.
5. What are the advantages of each option?
Early Action offers several concrete advantages over a regular cycle application. First, because the application is coming in so early in the year (before a majority of the applications are submitted), the class has not yet been filled at all. There is evidence that schools generally offer more acceptances during the beginning of the cycle before the class has been filled and applicants have begun to accept schools' offers (--LinkRemoved-- provides decision date graphs which show, nearly universally, that more applicants are accepted at the beginning of the cycle rather than later in the cycle). The later one applies, the more filled the class will become, and (generally) fewer spots are available, increasing the competitiveness of applications. Second, an Early Action application will result in an early decision (and oftentimes an early scholarship award). This can be very helpful to students who either wish to select their law school early and begin making plans as soon as possible, or it can be helpful in negotiating scholarship offers, among other uses. For non-traditional applicants, this option provides an ample amount of time to decide where they may have to move to and how to accomodate such a transition (moving a family, finding a new job for a significant other, etc).
Early Decision offers similar advantages, though it does not allow the applicant any freedom in choosing where to attend (if accepted). First, (and maybe most significantly) Early Decision indicates to the application committee that their school is truly your first choice, and that if accepted, you would definitely attend. To the school, this means that in accepting you they have a yield ratio 1:1 for all ED applicants accepted - except in the circumstance that the applicant does not end up going to law school at all. This matters to the school as yield percentage is a factor used in most rating formulas (a factor the school is not likely to admit, but nonetheless considers). Also, if the admissions committee sees an ED applicant which stands out for some particular reason (high LSAT, high GPA, diverse background, cured cancer), they have a surefire way to getting that applicant into their school. To the applicant, this all means that an ED application is sometimes given a boost in consideration (though how much of a boost is a hotly debated topic - search the forums to see more on this), as the ad-comms are aware that you have chosen their school as your first choice - and flattery rarely hurts! For "splitters" or borderline applicants, an ED application may be a good way to increase your chances of acceptance at a school. Second, the option allows the applicant more time to figure out their transition to law school, as does the EA option. This option, however, is not without its drawbacks.
6. What are the disadvantages?
Early Action has very few (if any) real disadvantages. Really the only thing negative about this type of application is the sometimes difficulty of getting it submitted and complete by the deadlines. These types of applications almost always prevent the application from taking any LSAT after the Sept/Oct test date, so taking the LSAT in Dec or Feb is generally out of the question unless one is placed into the general decision pool after consideration under the EA program. Early Action also prevents one's first semester grades from being considered in the application, and for applicants who are hoping that said semester would bring up their GPA in a significant way may be at a disadvantage with an EA application. These disadvantages, however, are fairly small compared to the advantages of submitting an EA application (no strings attached!).
Early Decision is a different matter entirely. There can be significant disadvantages to this application type, and it is strongly recommended that anyone considering this option careful and thoroughly review the disadvantages. First, because this is a binding application, if accepted to your ED school, you CANNOT accept an offer from another school (regardless of the circumstances). It does not matter if you received more merit aid from a different school - you have committed to your ED choice and there really is no escaping this reality. This brings us to the second disadvantage: if you are strongly in need of scholarships or financial aid, an ED application may be the wrong choice. Being that the school is all but guaranteed your matriculation, they are not exactly in a position to attempt to persuade you to attend through the use of monetary offers. While most schools claim to evaluate ED applicants exactly the same as their regular applicants in scholarship consideration, that does not prevent another school from making a better offer that you cannot A) accept, or B) leverage against your ED school. One must be absolutely sure that they are committed to attending their ED school before applying, because once it is done, there really isn't a backing out (aside from flat out not attending law school). Third, for an applicant who is more of an auto-admit or even just better than borderline accept, it is not likely a wise choice to choose the ED option. There is not much evidence to support the idea that for well off applicants, ED provides any significant boost, and it may hurt your chances for merit awards. If you within the numerical range (GPA and LSAT) of the school, and you are not 100% sure you want to attend, or even think you may change your mind, there is little good reason to lock yourself into attending and potentially passing up other, occasionally better offers. The same disadvantages discussed above in the Early Action paragraph also apply here.
7. Should I apply to other schools along with an Early Decision application?
Yes - Early Decision and Early Action applications do not by any means guarantee acceptance (even for students comfortably within or above the school's median numerical ranges. Though your acceptance may be very likely, it is still reccomended that you apply to other schools in case your first choice doesn't turn out in your favor.
8. Do you have any suggestions for potential EA or ED applicants?
As stated many times, before submitting an ED application, make sure that you are 100% committed to that school and have done the appropriate research into the school's specific policies and requirements. If the school requires you to start a semester early during the summer (as Michigan does), you should be aware of this and able to make the transition at that point in time.
In terms of the actual applications, it is probably a good idea to also submit an essay pertaining to why said school is your first choice. Cardozo requires this of all its ED applicants, whereas Mich, Penn and Duke explicitly offer this as an additional (optional) essay, and although schools like UVA don't specifically ask for them, dean's from other schools have indicated that they are receptive to this type of essay when submitted. This takes an extra step in showing the school just how committed and knowledgable you are.
Some have suggested visiting the school you are applying to (especially when its an ED application). If you are going to commit to the school completely, it is a good idea to have seen and experienced the school firsthand. While this may be difficult and expensive, it is a very good idea if you are not 100% sure about an ED app.
9. Is EA or ED right for me?
This is a very personal question and one which cannot be answered by anyone but yourself. However, if you answer "yes" to any of the following questions, I would suggest either not submitting an ED app, or at least thoroughly reconsidering the option.
- -Are you unsure of which school you want to attend?
-Will merit scholarships and financial aid be a major factor in your decision on where to attend?
-Are you within or above the school's median numerical ranges (GPA, LSAT)?
-Would you regret having to turn down acceptances from other schools which may accept you?
Code: Select all
Future updates and potential changes may include:
-better formatting of lists within the answers (like the different advantages and disadvantages)
-inclusion of an example picture of a graph from chiashu showing acceptance dates
-inclusion of an example picture from LSN showing ED applicant data from random school
-add info on Law School Predictor's new ED consideration
*What about September LSAT retakers?
*Can you refuse an ED offer? (This one is answered in a post below, but I plan to add it to the OP)
*Do other schools know you've applied ED? Can this hurt your chances at other schools?
Please let me know if you have suggestions and I'll add to this list!