COVID-19 and Law School Applications

Questions are coming into the UMass Amherst Pre-Law Advising Office about how the COVID-19 pandemic, and the responses to it, might affect various aspects of the law school admissions process. This post will be updated regularly with new information and new questions (and answers), but remember that events are moving VERY fast these days, and circumstances are changing all the time. When in doubt, double-check the info to make sure it’s up to date. In particular, if you have applications pending right now, don’t hesitate to contact individual law schools for the most accurate info about their own admissions process.

What about the LSAT?

The March 30th LSAT has been cancelled. Everyone who signed up for that date has been automatically switched to the April 25th sitting (or the June sitting for those who had signed up to take it abroad). However, with so many colleges and universities closed, LSAC remains uncertain about whether they’ll have adequate test sites. And, of course, with a still evolving situation, it’s hard to know right now whether additional public health measures will make the April sitting advisable or even possible. LSAC is updating this page regularly as new information emerges or as plans change.

UPDATE 3/27/20: LSAC has announced an extraordinary policy: “Any candidate who registered for the March 2020 or April 2020 LSAT, and who has a canceled score from a previous LSAT, will now have the opportunity to review their canceled score and restore that canceled score to their record if they choose.” This is aimed primarily at current cycle applicants without an on-the-record LSAT score who wouldn’t otherwise have a score to submit to law schools (because of the March cancelation and likely April cancelation). It might also benefit those who have a recorded score but were hoping to boost it with a retake. The idea is that you’ll have a chance to see your canceled score and decide whether to revive it so that you can apply this cycle with that score. Applicants affected by this policy will receive an email from LSAC with their canceled score(s), and be provided an opportunity to, basically, uncancel it if they’d like.

Should you restore (uncancel)? Only if (1) you are dead set on applying this cycle (even though it’s very late in the season), and (2) think that canceled score is good enough to make you a competitive applicant for both admission and scholarship at the schools you want to attend. The primary downside of this option is that you would be applying super late in the cycle, which alone diminishes your chances of admission and scholarship. Let’s be frank: this is a policy primarily for the law schools, so they can boost their application numbers. There are a limited number of candidates for whom this makes sense, all other things considered.

If you were already planning to apply in a future admissions cycle, and have a canceled score, you might see a slightly different benefit. If your canceled score turns out to be higher than you thought it was when you canceled it, this could eliminate the need to retake the test. If you don’t like the score, you don’t have to restore it.

Should I take the GRE instead?

Roughly 25% of ABA-approved law schools now accept the GRE, and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) recently announced an at-home testing option for those affected by COVID-19 cancellations. But there’s obviously more to this decision than just those two factors. Read more here about how to decide between the two exams.

Will law schools take into account how the pandemic has impacted test prep and might impact test experiences going forward?

I am certain they will. Remember that the admissions process is never just a numbers game, even as the LSAT and GPA weigh heavily in decision-making. Admissions committees really do engage in holistic reviews of applications, taking into account all the many factors that have gone into shaping applicants and their experiences, perspectives, and so on. Without question, the pandemic and the challenges it is presenting to all of us will play a role in the admissions process from here on out.

Are law schools extending their application deadlines?

Many application deadlines had passed before the anti-COVID19 measures went into effect, and are therefore not impacted by the epidemic. For those with late March or April deadlines, I expect to see most extending those dates either with a blanket deadline-change or on a case-by-case basis. If your ability to complete your application has been negatively affected by the current crisis, you should absolutely reach out to the particular law schools to ask about their own accommodations for late submissions. This includes those of you who were counting on applying with a March LSAT.

Are law schools extending their seat deposit deadlines?

If you’ve already been admitted to one or more law schools and are still trying to decide which offer to accept, you may face a more difficult situation with regard to the seat deposit deadlines. The earliest of these are coming up in April. I have not heard of any law schools issuing global extensions of these deadlines, but admissions officials are always open to considering extensions on a case-by-case basis. If there are specific reasons your decision has been impacted by the crisis (apart from inability to visit schools—see below), then definitely contact the schools to inquire about their flexibility.

How can I make a decision when I can’t visit the law schools?

It’s of course true that law school visits are critical to the decision-making process. Getting that “feel” for a school can be so important to your experience over the subsequent three years. Now that visits to most schools are impossible, how do you research that “feel”? Many schools are offering virtual tours, and making faculty and current students available for video chats. You can also ask admissions offices to put you in touch with current students, especially those that match your interests or background in ways that might make their perspectives particularly useful to you. If you’d like to speak to UMass alums who are either current students or recent grads of particular law schools, you can find them through the search functions on LinkedIn or through the UMass Amherst Lawyer-Alum Network group, also on LinkedIn. (If you’re having difficulty doing so, please email me for assistance.) And you can also still reach out directly to Career/Placement offices at individual law schools, and to faculty—all should be available via email and/or phone.

But don’t expect law schools to extend their seat deposit deadlines just because you haven’t had a chance to visit. Since that situation won’t change before you need to deposit, an extension wouldn’t help too much.

My spring or summer internship has been cancelled—how will this affect my application?

First, remember that law-related internships are not the make or break of a law school application. In fact, admissions committees are not generally too concerned with whether you’ve completed such an internship or job—rather, they’re interested in learning more about whatever you’ve done, and what you’ve gotten out of it. So if your summer internship in a law office has been cancelled, don’t worry about it having an impact on your application. Instead, pursue whatever opportunities are still available to you and are meaningful to you. That might mean finding an ad hoc job to replace some of your lost income, or volunteering to help folks more seriously impacted by the epidemic, or caring for family members. Whatever it is, it will add to the overall portrait you’ll be able to present to the admissions committees.

But law-related internship or job opportunities are important for helping you decide whether a legal career is right for you. If a Summer 2020 internship was going to be the thing that helped you decide whether to apply in Fall 2020, you might want to consider pushing back your application to the following cycle. There are no downsides whatsoever to working for some period of time between college and law school, and for those of you who really aren’t sure yet whether this is the right path, a post-grad law-related job could help you decide. You could also pursue an academic year internship in a local law office or legal organization—and perhaps even earn credits for that internship.

One or more of my Spring 2020 classes is being converted to Pass/Fail—will that count against me in the law school admissions process?

No. Again, the law school admissions committees are looking at the whole picture, not just one grade or set of grades. What’s more, they welcome addenda explaining anomalies in your academic record. A brief explanation of the circumstances will suffice to allay any concerns they might have. This is true whether you’re applying this year or several years from now with perhaps an odd-looking Spring 2020. And of course, a large number of applicants in the future will have odd-looking Spring 2020 semesters on their transcripts—almost all undergraduate institutions are offering some form of alternative grading for this semester. (Indeed, many if not most law schools are doing the same.)

UPDATE 3/31/20: LSAC has announced the following: “LSAC will place a letter in the CAS report of every applicant enrolled during Spring 2020, to remind law schools going forward that the semester was one in which many schools changed their grading systems in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.” This should help especially future year applicants, as Spring 2020 hopefully fades into a distant memory.

Is the UMass Amherst Pre-Law Advising Office still open?

Of course!! If you’re a UMass Amherst student or alum, I’ll never stop being here for you, even if “here” is in some virtual space. Email me with any questions or to make an appointment for a phone/Zoom meeting.