Should you reapply to law school?

This post comes from our consultant Danielle Early, who served as Associate Director of Admissions at Harvard Law School before coming to Spivey Consulting Group, where she has been working directly with applicants for the past six years.

When I was at Harvard Law School, I would always begin my reading days with the thickest application in the pile. (Yes, we were still reading paper files back then!) The thick files intrigued me — double the amount of pages meant the person was likely reapplying. I always root for the underdog, and I love to see someone who has the courage to say, “let me see if I can do that better,” when things didn’t turn out as they hoped. And every once in a while, as I flipped through the pages of one of those thick applications, I’d feel a smile form on my face as I realized that that person’s decision to try again was likely going to work in their favor.

After my time at HLS and spending the last six years working at the Spivey Consulting Group with reapplicants who applied to a variety of schools, I can tell you that reapplying isn’t right for everyone. So, I want to share some observations about successful reapplicants that may help you decide if it’s the right path for you or if you should take one of the offers you have this year.

Your motivation for wanting to reapply is your own. You may have a particular school that is the ultimate launching pad for the career you want to pursue, location may be paramount for you and your family, finances may be impacting your decision. I won’t judge your motivation, I just want to offer some things to consider to help you decide whether reapplying makes sense for you.

Start with taking an honest look at your application.

Figuring out what worked against you this year can help you identify if there is anything you can do to strengthen your application next cycle.

  • Where are you in comparison to the school’s medians? Your GPA is likely not changing (unless you applied as a senior, and then only slightly), but your LSAT score could.
  • Is your resume a bit thin?
  • Is there a Character and Fitness issue in your app? Did you do a good job of presenting it? Do you need a bit more time to pass between who you are now and the issue?
  • Did you struggle with your interviews?
  • Is your application riddled with typos? Did you submit something that looked a bit sloppy?
  • Did you select the best people to write your letters of recommendation? Is there someone else who would write another one for you (such as a current manager or a professor you got to know better since applying)?
  • When did you submit? If you applied very late in the cycle, timing could have played a part.
  • Do you think it’s just because it was a tough cycle?
  • Did you overshoot and only apply to reach schools?
  • Or, are you happy with your decisions, but hoped to receive better merit scholarship offers?

If you aren’t sure about what impacted your decision, reach out to someone you trust to review your application. Your pre-law advisor or career services office may be able to point out some areas for improvement. We (Spivey Consulting) also offer a Decision Analysis service to look over your application and help you get some clarity. If your concern is scholarships, chat with the admissions officer at the school and see what they have to say.

Once you identify your weak areas, ask yourself if you can change those issues significantly before applying again.

Some of those things listed above are within your control to change. But others aren’t. For example, you can’t guarantee that next cycle will be less competitive than this one. Have an honest conversation with yourself about what you can do to increase your chances. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Could you retake the LSAT and get above your target schools’ medians? Don’t just think about if you want to make that happen, but ask yourself how you’ll do it. Do you need a tutor this time? Do you need to learn better tools to manage your anxiety? Or did you just need a little more time to study, but were rushed to take the test in time to submit?
  • Is one year enough to change the biggest issues in your application? Check the schools you really want to go to — if 80% of the students at one school have 2+ years of work experience and you are a senior in college, you might be better off reapplying in two years rather than in the fall. If you had a Character and Fitness issue that is significant and recent, maybe a two-year wait before reapplying will put more space between you and that incident.
  • Were you waitlisted at your top choice schools? If you did apply late in the cycle, that’s a sign that you might have a chance if you reapply early in next year’s cycle. Similarly, a waitlist may see better results if the following cycle is less competitive. But if you were denied outright, you likely need to make significant changes in your application to make that school happen.
  • Did you only apply to reach schools? When I used to visit high schools as an undergrad admissions officer, I remember seeing a worn-out sign on a guidance counselor’s bulletin board that read: “Reach for the stars… but keep your feet on the ground.” In your next cycle, go ahead and reapply to those reach schools, but maybe add in a few safeties this time.

There are also some practical things to consider:

  • Can you afford to reapply? Application and LSAC score report fees can add up. (If this is a concern, and you didn’t receive an LSAC fee waiver this cycle, you may also consider exploring that as an option. We've written about this in the past here.)
  • Do you have the time (and the motivation) to write a new application? You will want to write a new personal statement and new optional essays to show the school that you are serious about reapplying.
  • If you were admitted to some schools this year, they might be less inclined to readmit you next year if they think you are unlikely to attend. Are you comfortable taking that risk that they may not be an option for you again?
  • What will you do with the additional year? Do you have a job already that you plan to stay in? Do you have a new job opportunity? Volunteer work, master’s degree program, etc.? The admissions officers will expect to see something significant on your resume for this period of time.

When should you decide if you are going to reapply?

This is going to be entirely dependent on your situation. Maybe you will submit a seat deposit to one school and retake the LSAT in the summer. If you pull off the score you need, then withdraw from that school and start working on next cycle’s application. Some schools will even let you defer your matriculation year and apply to other schools — though most won’t, so make sure you check their policies. Or maybe in April, you’ll decide to pursue the waitlists you are on and turn down your acceptance offer(s), then if the waitlists don’t pan out, you’ll reapply. Do withdraw from schools to which you’ve been admitted as early as you can to allow them to offer your spot to someone on their waitlist.

If you decide to reapply, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Write a new personal statement. You have more than one story to tell. Show the admissions officer another part of who you are through this new essay and let them see that you are serious enough about trying again that you were willing to put in that effort.
  • Continue to show interest in that school. Go to their information sessions. Ask if there’s anything you should know as a reapplicant.
  • Some schools will ask, if you are a reapplicant, why you didn’t enroll in school already (Penn Law is an example of this), so consider how you want to present your answer to that question.
  • Some schools will limit the number of times a person can reapply, so if you are already a reapplicant, make sure you’re not going to go above that limit. (Harvard Law is an example of this.)
  • Some schools require new letters of recommendation for reapplicants. (Stanford Law is an example of this.)
  • Some schools will read your old application along with your new one, and others will only read the new one, so your application should make sense in both contexts.

Reapplying to law schools is an opportunity to make a dream happen, but before you make that decision, really think about your motivation and then about whether you can make an impact on your future application enough to justify turning down your current offers. If you do decide to reapply, I hope you will be reassured knowing that there are likely admissions officers who are rooting for you as you try again.