As the summer ends and application season approaches, you need to decide whether or not early decision is for you. Early decision law school applications are binding, meaning if you are accepted, you are required to attend that school. Before applying to a binding early decision program, you should make sure that you would absolutely attend that school if you got in. Here are some things to consider:
First, you should check to see if your top choice school has early decision. If it does, then you should look at the statistics and scholarships associated with that early decision program. If your top school choice does not have early decision, you may want to opt out of the early decision process. Yale, Harvard, and Stanford are a few examples of top choices for many students with no early decision program. If one of these schools is your top choice, then you may want to opt out of a binding early decision to another school.
Next, you should look at the financial aid and merit scholarships associated with early decision programs. Some schools guarantee a certain amount of scholarship money upon admission through the binding early decision program. For example, Northwestern offers their early decision admitted class a full scholarship for all three years. University of Texas - Austin gives a stipend of $10,000 each year to residents, and give nonresidents in-state tuition and a $1,000 yearly stipend upon granting admission through their binding early decision program. However, many schools do not guarantee scholarships, and applying early decision can hurt your chances of receiving scholarship money. UCLA, for example, allows early decision admitted students to be considered for financial aid but not for merit scholarships. Since the program is binding, and you must attend the school you chose to early decision, schools know that they do not need to win you over with scholarship offers.
Finally, you should make sure that you are using your early decision application wisely, since you only get one. When choosing a school to apply early decision to, keep in mind that applying early decision may only give you a slight advantage if any at all. If you are well below the median for GPA and LSAT, applying Early Decision will most likely not be enough to make up for the gap. However, if you are right below one of the medians, early decision could give you the boost you need to get in. Early decision boosts seem to vary from school to school. According to data reported on Law School Numbers, some schools that seem to have a significant early decision boost are The University of Chicago, Northwestern, Duke, and The University of Pennsylvania. For most other law schools, the boost seems to be insignificant. Since boosts are for the most part insignificant, choosing a school that is a slight reach is a better choice than choosing a super reach.
Applying early decision to a law school is a big deal and requires a lot of consideration. Unless financial aid and scholarships are not a concern to you for law school, you should look carefully at the early decision program you are applying to and make sure it has benefits like scholarships or boosts. Remember, you must attend the school that you are admitted to through early decision. If you will be unable to attend without a scholarship, then do not apply early decision to schools that do not guarantee a scholarship of some sort.