Many law schools, including top law schools such as Columbia Law SchoolDuke Law SchoolNYU LawUniversity of Chicago Law School, and University of Pennsylvania Law School, have binding Early Decision programs to their admissions options.

As admissions officials point out, binding Early Decision and non-binding Early Action programs give applicants earlier notification of their admissions outcomes. Students know by December whether they have been admitted to a law class convening the following fall. That extra notice is important for applicants who will be leaving a full-time job to attend law school, or who will be combining law school with family responsibilities.

But even applicants who do not receive an admissions offer in the ED round can gain from the experience. If an applicant who applies early is placed on ‘hold’ – i.e., deferred to the regular admission applicant pool for further review – this is a signal that the school was interested enough in the applicant to keep him or her in the pool. Additionally, that gives the applicant an opportunity to take a step back, re-review the application that was submitted, and think about what he or she might send the school to supplement the application.

If an applicant is rejected through an early admission program, it may be an indicator that he or she needs to cast the net a bit more widely and apply to additional schools that are more within his or her reach.

Applicants must look carefully at the conditions of a particular school’s early admissions program before deciding whether to apply to it. Different schools have different guidelines. Be especially careful to check whether or not the program is binding, meaning that you promise up front to attend the school if it accepts you.

Be warned, however, that in the world of admissions, ‘binding’ means ‘binding.’ When you apply early, your application includes a signed statement saying you will attend the school if you are accepted. The school will expect you to honor that commitment. Starting off your legal career by reneging on a signed agreement is not the way to go.

Obviously, this means that binding ED programs might be valuable if you’re absolutely sure you want to attend a specific school, but they’re not the right choice if you prefer to keep your options open.

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