Law school enrollments go up and down, but admissions to top law schools is always competitive. If you want to get into the law school of your choice, you stand a much better chance if you plan well in advance. Your LSAT score and GPA are of paramount importance, but remember that you will likely be competing with applicants who have similar numbers. That means that at some point in the process, admissions committees start looking at additional factors. Here is what you need to know.
1. Work Like a Dog for a High LSAT Score and GPA
Hands down, your LSAT score is the biggest factor in putting you in the running for the law school of your choice. You are not going to get into a top school without a top LSAT score, no matter your GPA or your other accomplishments.
Median LSAT scores are more closely tied to school rankings than are median GPAs. This is because grades vary from school to school, and some undergrad majors are harder than others. You need a GPA acceptable to the school, but your grades are never going to offset a ho-hum LSAT score. However, an excellent LSAT score can help compensate for a less than stellar GPA. This is because the LSAT score is a standard measurement for all applicants.
Here’s some examples of LSAT scores, GPAs and number of applications from schools with various rankings from the U.S. News & World Report Law School Rankings for 2017.
|2017 Ranking (U.S. News & World Report)||School||Median LSAT||Median GPA||Acceptance Rate||Law School Applications|
|25 (tied with two others)||George Washington University||165||3.71||40%||11,615|
|50 (tied with two others)||University of California Hastings||159||3.5||43%||5,382|
|100 (tied with two others)||Michigan State College of Law||154||3.46||47%||2,279|
|144 (tied with five others)||University of the Pacific||151||3.15||73%||2,020|
We Recommend: Do everything you can to get a good LSAT score. Take a class, take practice exams and take it seriously. If your score is in the 150s, unless you are happy with a lower tier law school, you should retake the LSAT. Generally, schools only consider the highest score.
One more thing you should know: Scholarships are heavily based on LSAT scores.
2. Consider How a Law School Admissions Committee Will View Your Undergrad School
You can major in anything in order to apply to law school, but it will be helpful to you if your major teaches and demands critical thought and good writing skills.
Your undergrad school does matter, so if you are set on going to law school, consider that a 3.8 GPA from Yale is going to be looked on much more favorably that a 3.8 from your local community college.
We Recommend: Choose the best undergrad school you can get into and can afford that offers a good program for your major. Keep in mind that you may decide to not even go to law school at some point during your college career so law school should not be your only consideration.
3. Show Off Your Leadership Qualities on Your Law School Application
Once a law school admissions committee has seen that you have achieved an LSAT and GPA that are above the median for your school (at least one of them should be), they start looking at your experience. Admissions committees are particularly on the lookout for proof of leadership qualities. Leadership and management skills gained through work experience and internships can only help. Graduate degrees in other fields (such as business) are also an asset.
If you are going to law school directly after college and have little or no work experience, extracurricular activities often count just as much. This could be anything from organizing political action or participating in student government to leading an athletic team to victory. Whatever you choose as your undergrad extracurricular activities, look for ways to take on leadership positions.
We Recommend: Start your extracurricular activities early in your college career, so you don’t appear to be participating in your senior year solely for the purpose of law school applications.
Find out how important various types of experiences are to the school you want to attend and act accordingly. The weight different schools give work experience and extracurricular activities varies widely. Some schools pay little attention unless your experience is truly outstanding, while Northwestern considers work experience a major factor in admission.
4. Make Your Voice Heard in Your Personal Statement
Your personal statement or essay is not going to get you into a top law school if your LSAT score or GPA are low, but it can make a difference in setting you apart when you are competing with applicants with similar numbers. Schools want to know what kind of background you will bring to class discussions; they are looking for a diverse student body.
We recommend: Use your own voice and try to convey what is important to you: your dreams, your accomplishments and experiences that have formed you. Be sure to explain why you, yourself, want to go to law school. Make it personal and avoid boilerplate statements. Select one or two topics instead of just reiterating experiences you have already included in your application. This is an opportunity to tell more and go deeper.
Your personal statement needs to be coherent and grammatical. The admissions committee wants to know you can write. If you do a stunningly bad job on this, it can sink you, but you need not spend an inordinate amount of time creating a piece of literature.
5. Don’t Overly Stress Law School Recommendations
Though schools ask for recommendations, they are rarely given much weight, because they all tend to be positive and a bit vague. A school will give more weight to a recommendation from a college professor or an employer, someone who is familiar with your work, than one from family or friends. Recommendations are more powerful when your professor or work supervisor can give very specific examples of times you demonstrated leadership ability. A recommendation from a public figure is not going to count for much unless they know you very well and can give specific examples.
We Recommend: Though the school may require a variety of recommendations, get recommendations from your professors first. Ask them to be specific about why they think you would excel in law school and eventually as a lawyer. And don’t wait until the last minute to ask for recommendations.
6. Ignite Your Law School Interview
Schools use various methods for interviewing including in-person, video and even Skype. For schools that interview, it is an important part of the application process. They will ask you about any weaknesses in your application such as a somewhat low GPA and gaps between school or jobs. They will also ask you general open questions such as “Tell me about yourself,” and, of course, “Why do you want to go to law school?” But these questions barely scratch the surface.
We Recommend: You must prepare for law school interviews. Many schools offer information about their interviews on their websites. For example, see Harvard Law School’s List of Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer. At the bottom of the page are helpful related links. Even if you don’t intend to apply to Harvard, you can find some very good information on their website.
Enlist friends or family to help you practice your interview so you are prepared for the real thing. During the actual interview, your demeanor should be open and relaxed; your replies should be honest and brief.
7. Learn All About Your Chosen Law Schools
It’s critical that you understand the requirements of law schools you want to attend so you can start as early as possible to meet them.
- How your undergrad university and your major will appear to law school admission committees, but study something in which you are truly interested
- How many people are applying to the schools you are interested in and schools’ acceptance rates
- Law school rankings. Some highly ranked schools have much higher acceptance rates than others. New York University and Cornell are examples of schools that have higher acceptance rates than schools with similar rankings.
- Check into your chosen law schools’ requirements and how they weigh each factor in the application process.
- LSAT score
- Work experience, graduate degree, extracurricular activities, leadership roles
- Personal statement
- Any other pieces on the applications for your desired schools
8. Apply for Law School Admission Early
There are more spaces available early in the admissions cycle than later. This can make the difference between getting into the law school of your dreams and settling for second choice.
9. Plan Your Law School Applications in Advance
As soon as you think you might want to go to law school, start planning for it. To sum up some of the time-sensitive actions you want to take that have already been discussed:
- Consider your undergrad school and how it will play to admissions committees.
- Jump into extracurricular activities and take leadership roles throughout college.
- Take the LSAT early and intensely prepare for it.
- Solicit your recommendations well in advance.
- Get your law school applications in early.
For further reading, you can check out the Law School Admission Council’s guide. LawSchoolHQ also maintains a few additional resources to check out including the latest Law School GPA & LSAT requirements.