The LSAT is fast approaching. I know, I know, it’s actually over two and a half months away. And it might be hard to classify that as “fast approaching.” If you’ve only just begun studying, you still have plenty of time to master the test. You could even start a few weeks from now and, if you can put in the time, be able to fully prepare. But there’s one thing that, like doing your taxes and getting that lump checked out, you absolutely should not put off. And that’s signing up for the LSAT.
In the olden days of the test (i.e., a couple years ago), registering for the LSAT required less foresight. Even if you waited until six weeks before the test, you’d still be generally assured of getting a seat at a convenient location. Sometimes you could wait even longer.
But oh, how times have changed. Last year more people took the test than ever before, a record that may be again broken this year, or barring that, will at least be given a run for its money. A greater number of people signing up for the test means that testing centers fill up at a much quicker rate. Right now in major markets, such as New York and the Bay Area, lots of the best centers are already totally full. In fact, as of this writing there is currently nothing to be found on the entire island of Manhattan.
So you need to sign up now. Hopefully, there are still spots available at your center of choice. Should this turn out not to be the case, you’ll have to take something that’s farther away. But take Papa Colin’s advice and sign up anyway, even if you’re unsure as to whether or not you want to take the LSAT this time around. Here’s why. Three weeks before the LSAT is the deadline to postpone. If, at that point, you decide you won’t be ready, you can always change your test date for a fee, while maintaining a clean record (if you wait until after this point, you’ll get an “absent” in your file, which isn’t the worst thing, but also isn’t ideal). But there’s nothing to lose by signing up. However, imagine the opposite situation; not knowing if you’ll be ready, you don’t sign up now. But then after diligently studying for the test, you realize that you are ready and go to sign up, only to find all the spots are filled. The efforts of your studying were in vain, and all that’s left to do is to look into business school. Not a situation anyone should have to be in. Cover your bases, play it safe, and sign up now.
Now, it’s possible that you’ll have to sign up at a center that’s not particularly convenient for you, especially if you’re in a large metropolitan area (this is where testing centers tend to fill up the fastest). In fact, you are obliged to take a spot at any center within 100 miles before the Law School Admission Council will put you on a waiting list (more on that in a second). Just take whatever is most convenient from what they have to offer. Worst-case scenario, you have to wake up an hour or two earlier to make the drive. Which sucks, but it’s better than not taking the test at all.
But such a situation can most likely be prevented, so long as you have some time and patience. Here’s what you do: First, sign up for whatever location is most convenient. Then, start checking daily for open spots at your desired center(s). As people change their testing center or postpone their tests (as does happen), spots will open up. If you check back every day, you can probably snag one of them (you’ll have to pay a $36 fee for changing your testing center, but this is well worth it). During the fourth week before the LSAT, you should be checking multiple times per day if you haven’t been able to catch anything by then. The postponement deadline is September 19th (three weeks before the test), so as that day approaches, more and more people will be pulling out, freeing up seats for you to take. Bear in mind that there are a lot of people trying to do the exact same thing, so you have to be fastidious about checking. If you’re at work, maybe have your LSAC account in window that you can toggle to every five or ten minutes, and just keep F5ing the bastard. Once a spot opens up you can snag it and just have to pay the test center change fee.
A note on waitlists
If you go to sign up for the LSAT, but all centers within the100-mile radius are filled, you can be put on a waitlist. You are waitlisted for a specific center, but this means very little. Rather than waiting for an open spot at that center, LSAC will put you in the first spot that opens anywhere within a 100 mile radius of your center of choice. So waiting for everything to fill up so you can get on a waitlist for a specific center is really not a smart move, as you’re not so much on a waitlist for the center, as you are for its blast-radius.
A note on standby
After September 19th, you’re pretty much stuck wherever you’ve been ultimately assigned. There is no more switching allowed. Your best bet is to just bite the bullet and take the center you end up with, however inconvenient it might be. If, however, the center to which you’re assigned is totally unacceptable, and you absolutely won’t be able to take it there, there is one final option. When you’re registered for the LSAT, you can actually show up to any location in the US and take it on standby. If there are open seats, you can go ahead and take the LSAT, no questions asked. Going on stand-by generally does work, as it’s almost assured that at least some people won’t show up. But the consequences are pretty gigantic if it doesn’t work, which while not likely, is definitely possible. Even more possible is that other people will have the same idea as you and will also be on standby. So if you go with this option (and it should really be your last resort), get to the testing center early so you can have priority over others with the same plan.
But for the time being, in most markets there are still many good spots open. So sign up right this instant, and hopefully none of this will matter.