Once you have your school list decided, your LSAT dates locked in, and your essays all mapped out, you might think that you’ve made every important pre-application decision. But there’s at least one more: should you apply “early decision” to a law school? 

What Is Early Decision?

When you apply early decision (ED), you’re agreeing that, if the law school admits you, you will attend. You can’t make this promise in good faith to more than one school, so you’re only allowed to submit one early decision application at a time. If a school rejects you or defers you into the regular applicant pool, thus releasing you from your early decision obligation, you can submit an early decision application to another school—this is what admissions insiders sometimes call “ED2.”

Early decision deadlines are often in the fall, though some schools, like Georgetown, have let people apply ED as late as March. Schools sometimes promise to respond to early decision applications more quickly; other schools don’t offer ED at all. You should check a school’s website carefully for all their early decision policies.

Does Applying Early Decision Help My Chances? 

Applying early decision may make it slightly more likely that you will be admitted, especially if your UGPA or LSAT score is equal to or above the school’s median. Why? A few reasons:

  • The early decision process lets schools lock in candidates who will pay full tuition.
  • The early decision process lets schools lock in applicants who will support at least one of their medians.
  • The early decision pool is smaller than the regular decision pool, so it may be easier to stand out.
  • Applying early decision is a strong indication of your interest, so even if you get waitlisted, the admissions dean may turn to you before other waitlisted applicants.

There’s one more small advantage: applying early decision may expedite the review of your application.

It’s important to note that how much early decision helps depends on where your LSAT scores and GPA lie relative to the school’s medians. Our data shows that if your LSAT and GPA are both stronger or both weaker than the school’s medians, ED doesn’t give you a measurable boost. 

There are three potential outcomes once you’ve applied somewhere early decision: a school can accept you, a school can reject you, or a school can punt you into the regular applicant pool and release you from your ED commitment. The last scenario is common for applicants with below-average numbers. Schools may not feel the need to reject you yet, but they can’t accept you either until they see how the applicant pool shapes up.

Does Early Decision Impact Scholarships & Financial Aid?

Beyond the fact that early decision limits your options, it will hinder your ability to negotiate for financial aid and almost always removes you from merit scholarship consideration as well. Why? Because many students are able to negotiate for more aid by using offers from other schools as leverage. If you’re accepted to a school ED, you can’t say that you’re considering an offer of more aid from another school. In fact, admissions officers often look to their early decision pool to lock in a certain amount of revenue, knowing that early decision admits will pay the sticker price.

There may be exceptions to these conclusions. Some law schools, including Berkeley and Northwestern, have offered automatic scholarships to all ED admits. In these cases, early decision admission is probably more competitive than regular decision admission, and applying ED may not give you a large boost, but it’s unlikely to hurt your chances, either. (Need help tailoring your app to a specific school? Get advice from a former law school admissions officer).

So Should I Apply Early Decision?

You should also be sure that the school you’re applying ED to is truly, absolutely, fully, and honestly your dream school, cross your heart and hope to die. Let’s say you want to apply early decision at a particular school, and you are accepted so you have to withdraw from consideration for that coveted acceptance from somewhere like Harvard. Are you okay with that possibility? If so, applying ED is a great choice for you.

And finally, are you going to be ready to apply before the early decision deadline? You should feel confident in your application and have all your ducks in a row, including all of your written materials and letters of recommendation. Get started earlier than you think you'll need to—writing essays takes longer than you think.