Fall means a few things in the world of admissions—one of the most repetitious being the panic that ensues between the time an applicant’s admissions file goes from “incomplete” to “complete” to the time said applicant hears from the admissions office which decision has been rendered: “Admit,” “Priority Waitlist,” “Waitlist,” “Hold,” or “Deny” (someone remind me to do a post on what each of these categories really means). So before the hundreds if not thousands of threads pop up all of the various law admissions websites, let me address a few of the most basic things.
“Complete” simply means your file is sitting in some computer folder. The day it goes complete is far from the day it will be reviewed by the AdCom.
A few law schools believe that the sooner they get their admits out, the more likely you will attend their school. This is, to my knowledge, an antiquated notion for a variety of reasons that do not hold true today—the primary being the scholarship wars that exist now. Fewer and fewer schools do this, and most now wait until the admissions travel season ends (see LSAC.org) before getting to what we lovingly call “file-reading season.” If your file goes complete in September, you likely will not hear until at least early December, even if you are the best thing that hit that law school since Justice Marshall. There is zero reason to panic and negative consequences to sending that school an email once a week. Actually, keep in mind that later in the admissions process you WANT to stay in touch with the admissions office. Early you do not want to pester them. At this stage, the wait is normal.
Decisions (generally just admits) will start rolling in most normally during December. Now the real panic ensues because your file went complete, you have not heard from the admissions office, but all kinds of chatter online indicates that others have. EVEN WORSE, your file went complete before that jerk who was just admitted, and you still have not heard from your dream school. What does this mean? Simply this:
Schools with good admissions offices generally sort file reading not by date completed, but by likelihood of admission (at or above both medians in LSAT and uGPA). I do not know how else to say this so I will say it bluntly– if they think you will be admitted they care a great deal about you and what you think. If they think you will be denied they care less about you. Schools with very good admissions offices usually only read first applications that are above both medians, because they do not have enough data on the current year’s applicant pool to do anything else. Schools with THE BEST admissions offices –this past year– actually read the files at their medians first because every shred of evidence nationally pointed towards tremendous pressures in this year’s recruiting just to stay even. (Here is a neat trick–if you want to know if a school you are applying to was percipient and most likely has a very strong admissions office look at their class size this year. If they went down significantly from last year that means they did not anticipate the downward pressure this year despite the mountain of evidence that it would exist.)
So, if you are reading online that people are getting admitted, it generally has nothing to do with the date the application was completed and everything to do with the fact that applicant was above both of the school’s medians. What if you are above both medians, your application is complete, and you still have not heard? A few thoughts:
Your LSAC calculated median puts you below the school’s median. LSAC takes into account the “F” you got in accounting along with the “A” you got when you retook it. Your undergraduate school and your transcript likely do not. In other words, the uGPA the law school sees is different than the one you think you have, if you retook any classes. This could put you under the law school's median GPA or the GPA they are projecting to attain. You are on hold.
You have been denied. “What? I am above both medians and I also have not been told I am denied!” People above both medians get denied from just about every school every year–if it were JUST based on LSAT and uGPA machines could read files. I won’t go into the innumerable reasons this could have happened although generally the most common would be that you likely will not be able to sit for the Bar because of a criminal record. Even if you are denied, the law school will probably wait to tell you until after they get their first wave of admits out.
You are above both medians but they have a record number who are also in this position, and therefore they are going very slowly. There is not much reason to worry here for this year’s 2012-2013 admissions cycle.