Early Decision: What should you know?

Early decision application deadlines are fast approaching.  Some are as soon as November 15, (two months from now!) and others are December 1.  Many of you ask us whether you should opt for early decision.  The answer is (of course) — it is entirely up to you!

What does choosing to apply early decision actually mean?  It means that you have decided that X law school is your top choice and that you would choose to attend that law school regardless of whether you were admitted elsewhere and regardless of the amount of financial aid offered by your early decision school. More importantly, when selecting to apply via the binding early decision track you are agreeing that, if admitted to X law school, you will attend that law school and, therefore, will immediately withdraw all of your other applications at all other law schools. Some nearby schools with binding “Early Decision/Early Commitment” programs include: University of Michigan Law School Northwestern University School of Law, and University of Chicago Law School.

What is Early Decision versus Early Action? Binding “Early Decision” or “Early Commitment” programs should not be confused with non-binding “Early Action” or “Early Notification” programs like those offered by Chicago-Kent Law School and Loyola University of Chicago School of Law. An early action or early notification typically means that if you apply by a certain deadline (for example, November 30), then you will receive an expedited response (for example, by January 1). Early action or early notification programs are non-binding, which means that if accepted through them, you can still pursue other law school options.

Are there advantages to applying Early Decision? In most cases, the one key advantage to applying early decision is that you demonstrate to the law school a very strong interest in their program.  Further, since you are applying early, you will hear from the admissions office much earlier in the admissions cycle.  Finally, with regard to scholarships and financial aid, the impact of early decision varies from school to school.  Many schools treat early decision candidates/admitted applicants the same as they treat those applicants applying during and admitted through the regular admissions cycle.  However, other law schools offer financial incentives for qualified applicants to apply early decision. For example, in the case of Northwestern, if admitted through its Early Decision program, you are guaranteed a total scholarship of $150,000 ($50,000 per year). Note: if you are applying early decision to Northwestern you must complete an admissions interview by November 15. Click here to access information about scheduling an interview at Northwestern.

How sure do you need to be to apply early decision? Very sure. By applying early decision, you are telling a law school that it is your number one choice, and you are committing to going there if they admit you regardless of how much financial aid you are offered. You will also agree to withdraw all other applications if you are admitted through the ED program…which means you will not be able to see the results of your other applications if offered admission through an ED program!

So…should you or shouldn’t you? The decision to commit to a binding early decision program is a very individual one.  Consider all of the pros and cons very carefully. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is this school my absolute top choice?
  2. Would I attend this school regardless of the financial aid offered to me?
  3. Am I willing to withdraw all of my other law school applications–even before I get a response from them?

If you decide early decision is the right approach for you, double check all of the deadlines and make sure you finish all required elements of the application by then.  Good luck!

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