LEAD Fellowship Program

The Columbia Law School Leadership Experience Admission Deferral (LEAD) Fellowship Program is a special deferred admissions program pursuant to which qualified applicants are admitted to Columbia Law School following their junior or senior year of college with the understanding that they will defer matriculation for two years after graduating from college. 

It is further understood that during this two-year deferral period, applicants admitted via the LEAD Fellowship Program will be meaningfully employed on a full-time basis or will engage in a venture, partnership, fellowship, or graduate studies. 

In certain instances, some successful applicants who pursue a venture or project during the mandatory deferral period may be eligible to receive a funding grant to enable them to advance the undertaking.

Application Components 

The 2024 application opens on March 15, 2024 through LSAC.org. The regular application fee of $85 is waived for LEAD applicants.

In addition to the application form, you will need to submit the following components (see below FAQs for more information on each of the below points):

  • Three Required Essays
    • Why Law/Why LEAD?
    • What Makes You a Leader?
    • What Is Your Deferral Plan?
  • Optional Essay: What Is Your Project Plan?
  • Standardized Test Scores (GRE or LSAT)
  • Two Letters of Recommendation (up to three may be submitted)
  • Résumé
  • Dean’s Certification (if applicable)
  • Academic transcripts

Successful applicants who accept Columbia’s offer of a LEAD Fellowship are required to sign a LEAD contract and are bound to attend the Law School after their two-year deferral period. There are two versions of this contract; you may preview the contracts for applicants who are submitting a project plan/applying for a grant and the contract for applicants who are NOT submitting a project plan/applying for a grant.

2024 Admissions Dates (subject to change)

  • March 15: LEAD Program application opens
  • June 15: Financial Aid application deadline
  • June 15: LEAD Program application deadline
  • July 1: Deadline to submit standardized test scores
  • July: Application review and admissions interviews
  • By or before end of July: Admissions decisions released

Frequently Asked Questions

What are you looking for in LEAD Fellowship Program applicants? How do you evaluate LEAD applicants?

We are seeking applicants who are intellectually and academically exceptional, who have given measured consideration to their determination to seek a law degree, and who intend to devote themselves to meaningful undertakings during their mandatory two-year deferral period consistent the deferral plan and/or project plan they submit in connection with their application to the Law School via the LEAD Program. We evaluate all applicants on the basis of a thorough, holistic review of their application materials in accordance with our stated admissions philosophy and standards.

Who is eligible for admission to the LEAD Fellowship Program?

Current college undergraduates who:

  • are in their junior or senior year; 
  • have taken, and received a score for, the LSAT or GRE by July 1 of the year in which they are applying;
  • intend to engage in meaningful employment, pursue graduate studies, advance a structured mission, or launch an innovative venture in the public or private spheres prior to entering law school; and
  • complete and timely submit an application for admission and all related materials.

What sorts of undertakings potentially qualify for a LEAD funding grant?

A qualifying undertaking or activity may be any of

  • forming an organization or enterprise to advance a specified goal;
  • starting a business;
  • conceiving and pursuing a public service or philanthropic endeavor;
  • partnering with a nonprofit or commercial collaborator; or
  • any like project, venture, or activity.


What are the benefits and advantages of being admitted via the LEAD Program?

Successful LEAD applicants have the freedom to explore other opportunities and passions for two years after college secure in the knowledge that assured admission to Columbia Law School awaits them at the end of their mandatory deferral period.

LEAD Fellows are assigned a mentor through the Law School's Leadership Initiative and LEAD Fellows will have priority access to a variety of exciting and innovative leadership programs and lecture series at the Law School.

How do I apply to the LEAD Fellowship Program?

  • Register with LSAC.org and enroll in the Credential Assembly Service;
  • Take and receive a score for the LSAT or GRE by no later than July 1 of the year in which you are applying (if you choose to submit GRE scores, kindly instruct Educational Testing Services to forward to us all GRE scores from the past 5 years);
  • Complete and submit an Application (together with all related materials) through LSAC.org by June 15 of the year in which you are applying; and
  • Arrange to have your current spring-semester grades sent to us as soon as they become available.

Is there a fee to apply to the LEAD Fellowship Program?

No. The normal application fee of $85 is waived for LEAD applicants. 

When will I receive an admission decision?

Applicants will receive an admission decision (together with, if applicable, a financial aid determination) by or before the end of July. Applicants who receive a favorable admission decision shall have five (5) business days within which to accept their offer of admission by returning to us a signed copy of the LEAD Contract and submitting the nonrefundable seat deposit.

What are the components of the LEAD Fellowship Program Application?

All applicants must submit

  • a completed and signed Application Form
  • a résumé
  • three required essays
  • two academic/faculty letters of recommendation
  • an official undergraduate transcript
  • a Dean’s Certification, if applicable (sent directly by your college pre-law adviser)
  • any and all addenda required by the Character and Fitness section of the application

Applicants who wish to be considered for a LEAD Funding Grant must also submit a Project Plan essay.

In addition, applicants may submit

  • one additional letter of recommendation (non-academic only)
  • any additional addenda the applicant deems necessary or appropriate

Applicants may be invited to interview.

What are the three required LEAD Application essays?  How long should my essays be?

All applicants must submit double-spaced essays that address each of the following questions:

Please note: We anticipate that depending on your response to Question 1, your responses to Questions 2 and 3 should only require a paragraph or two. Bear in mind that, in addition to answering our questions, these essays also serve as examples of your writing. Accordingly, you should strive for relevance, cogency, succinctness, and redundancy avoidance.

1. Why Law/Why LEAD?

Tell us about why you wish to earn a law degree and why you wish to do so via the LEAD Fellowship Program. Your essay may include, for example, (i) your career aspirations and how the LEAD Program will help you achieve those aspirations, (ii) why the LEAD Program appeals to you, and (iii) what you may be able to contribute as a LEAD Fellow. Your essay should be no more than one to two pages in length.

2. What Makes You a Leader?

Tell us about your leadership experiences to date. Your essay may include brief descriptions of leadership roles you have undertaken or explain why the qualities you possess are those you believe leaders should exemplify. For example, you may describe a situation that allowed you to influence others for the greater good or to bring about meaningful enhancements to the lives of others or to an institution, organization, or circumstance.

3. What Is Your Deferral Plan?

Tell us what you plan to do during your two-year mandatory deferral period. It is expected that you will engage in significant and meaningful full-time employment, participate in a structured internship program, pursue graduate studies, advance a mission through organizations such as Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or a religious entity, or otherwise undertake an endeavor that requires ownership of and accountability for your duties and responsibilities.

What should I include in my LEAD project plan? How long should my project plan be?

Your LEAD project plan should include a description of your proposed venture or undertaking detailing how you intend to pursue and realize the objectives of that undertaking, including, specifically, how you intend to utilize and apply your LEAD funding grant.  You should also include a brief description of the other activities/employment in which you will be engaged during the two-year mandatory deferral period. The project plan may be whatever length you feel is appropriate or necessary, but we anticipate a document that is two to three pages in length. Please include an executive summary (one page or less) of your project plan.

What happens if my plans change? How do I update my LEAD deferral and/or project plan?

If your plans change, either prior to the commencement of your deferral period or over the course of the deferral period, please promptly notify the Office of Admissions and submit a revised and updated deferral and/or project plan setting forth your new deferral period plans and the reason for the change in your previously submitted plans. 

What are my obligations under the LEAD Contract?

Pursuant to the LEAD Contract you will commit to:

  • Matriculate at the Law School at the conclusion of your two-year mandatory deferral period, i.e., three years following admission as a junior or two years following admission as a senior;
  • Diligently pursue the undertaking(s) set forth in your LEAD deferral plan or LEAD project plan, as the case may be, and provide periodic written progress reports in accordance with the terms of your LEAD Contract;
  • Refrain from applying to other law schools; and
  • If applicable, repay in full your LEAD funding grant should you fail to comply with any of the terms of your LEAD Contract such that your offer of admission is rescinded.

What can I expect if I am asked to interview? May I request an interview?

Interviews are conducted virtually, usually via Zoom. You will be provided with instructions at the time you are invited to make an interview appointment. Interviews are by invitation only.

Are LEAD Fellows eligible for financial aid?

Candidates for admission who apply through the LEAD program are eligible to apply and be considered for financial aid.  Applicants will be evaluated on the same basis as are all other applicants to Columbia Law School. Candidates must submit the required financial aid materials by June 15 and will receive their financial aid determination, if applicable, along with their admission decision by or before the end of July.

* Please note that it is important to complete your application for financial aid by the suggested June 15 deadline, but in any event no later than July 15--before you are notified of acceptance--as you will be required to make a decision within [approximately five days] of the offer of admission. Submitting your financial aid documents at a later date could result in a delay of notice of an award, which will likely affect your ability to make an informed decision in the allotted time.

Is the LEAD Fellowship Program binding?

Yes. You are obligated to matriculate at the Law School in the event that you accept your offer of admission. We are seeking applicants who have thought very carefully about their decision to earn a law degree and who are committed to matriculating, albeit on a deferred basis.

If I am not admitted via the LEAD Fellowship Program, may I re-apply via the regular process?

Yes. All applicants who are not admitted via the LEAD program may re-apply, as either an Early Decision or Regular Decision applicant, during the regular admission cycle that begins on September 1 of each year.  Additionally, junior-year LEAD applicants who are not admitted via the LEAD program during the summer preceding their senior year may reapply under the LEAD program in the spring of their senior year. All reapplicants to the Law School are given full consideration without prejudice.

If I’m admitted to the LEAD Fellowship Program following my junior year, what happens if my grades drop during my senior year?

By offering you admission following your junior year, we hope to encourage you to challenge yourself and make the most of your senior year, both academically and extracurricularly, without undue concerns about grades. However, please be mindful that any unwarranted drop in rigor and/or achievement during your senior year could be cause for rescission of your admission offer.

I’m interested! How can I find out more about the LEAD Fellowship Program?

  • Consult with your pre-law adviser
  • Attend a LEAD Fellowship Program Online Information Session hosted by the Law School