Should I apply to law school now or later?

Think carefully about this decision — circumstances vary from student to student.

If you’re feeling unsure as to whether or not you wish to attend law school the fall after you graduate, it may be best to give yourself time before going through the law school application process, which is expensive and time-consuming. Consider carefully whether your senior year academic commitments and other activities might be compromised by this process–applying to law school in your senior year is often considered to be as much work as taking an additional course.

If you’re considering waiting to apply, you should know that, historically, people who have been out of college for a year or more have a slight edge in law school admissions – law schools have appreciated candidates who have a bit more experience and maturity. However, Amherst’s graduating seniors do very well in the applications process, so don’t let this deter you if you genuinely wish to go right on to law school.

Many seniors apply to law school knowing that they want to defer. Many law schools don’t like this practice much, and some offer deferrals only for compelling reasons. You must check with individual law schools about their deferral policy – these can vary widely from school to school. It is considered better to wait to apply until the year before which you want to begin law school, for a number of reasons. Obviously, there are circumstances in which a graduating senior would want or need to defer a law school acceptance, but, in general, it is better not to apply with deferral as a goal.

Deciding Where to Apply

A number of factors will go into your decision about the law schools to which you’ll apply. The most important thing is to find out as much as you can about the various schools on your list–learn about their courses of study and the culture of the schools–so that you can make good decisions for yourself once you’ve received your acceptances. Be sure to visit the schools on your list. Check their websites–most offer “Open House” days during which you can visit with admission deans, sit in on classes, and talk with current law students.

Here are some of the common factors applicants consider in drawing up their lists:

Law School Ranking–many Amherst students and alumni are interested in applying to top-ranked law schools. Having attended a prestigious law school can, indeed, open doors for you after law school. However, it’s very important to remember that there are other good reasons for choosing a given law school. Many applicants prefer to select a school for other reasons – for the programs it offers, its geographic location or the comfort level a school provides in day-to-day life. Whether you’re pursuing a top-ranked school, or feel more comfortable choosing schools based on factors other than rank, be sure to learn as much as you can about the culture of a given law school before making a decision to attend it.

Geographic Location–this is another major factor in making decisions about law schools. Some applicants want to be near family or friends, some want to experience an area of the country in which they’ve always wanted to live and others want to choose a location which will help them make career contacts. Often, applicants choose to attend law school close to where they know they want to practice law – this can be helpful in making contact with potential employers and building a network of colleagues.

Programs–often, an applicant will choose to apply to a law school because of its strength in his or her chosen area of study or because it offers a particular dual degree. To find law schools in your area of interest use the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.

Cost–many applicants choose to apply to law schools which will cost them less. Tuition and fees vary widely – you’ll need to check individual law schools to find out their costs and their own policies on financial aid. A few things to remember: In-state tuition for state law schools is significantly lower than for private schools. Some law schools offer special scholarships or fellowships for their own students. And some offer loan forgiveness programs for graduates electing a career in public service law.