Must-Know Facts for Starting Your Law School Application
The law school application process is primarily evaluated simply on your numbers: your LSAT (law school admissions test) and your GPA (which may be slightly weighted based on the school you attended), which are the only factors that will definitely be considered in weighing your law school application.
The other factors that most frequently have some impact on admissions are your personal statement, work experience,/leadership, diversity, and letters of recommendation. Here, I'll break down each component of the law school application and explain what you'll need to know.
The core of any application to Law School boils down to your numbers: your LSAT score and your GPA. The exact way in which schools weigh these two numbers varies, but broadly speaking, the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) is a standardized test and is considered the more important of these two numbers. Because of this, you should consider taking an LSAT prep course or enlisting a private LSAT tutor to help you prepare. Practice tests are also a great way to prepare for the LSAT.
What this means is that you should base your initial list of schools on these two numbers. The 25th percentile, median, and 75th percentile LSAT scores and GPAs are reported for all ABA-accredited law schools; as a general rule, your sweet spot for application will be to schools where you fall between the 25th and 75th percentile for both numbers. If your GPA is a little low, a high LSAT score will often help make up for it (note: a high GPA is less likely to make up for a low LSAT score).
If you don’t like the schools you’re a strong candidate for, you may want to consider retaking the LSAT. Be aware, however, that not all schools treat multiple LSAT scores the same way. In brief: some schools will always take the highest score, some will take the most recent (even if it’s lower), some will take the higher score only if the scores are sufficiently different, and some will average the scores. So depending on the list of schools you’re looking at, retaking the test may not be much help. The law school admissions offices will always tell you what their current policy on multiple LSAT scores is. These policies change frequently, so don’t assume it will be the same from year to year. Always check with the admissions officers.
It’s important to note that, for the majority of law school applications at the majority of schools, factors beyond the two numbers (LSAT (law school admission test and GPA) never really come into play. Law school admissions is almost entirely numbers driven.
That said, here are a few considerations on the most common additional factors in the law school admissions process:
# Personal Statement
Every law school asks for one, and a strong personal statement can demonstrate writing skills, drive, your motivation for going to law school, and, often, something interesting or compelling that you'd like to share with the admissions committee about your background.
There’s a ton of advice to give on crafting a strong personal statement (which you’ll be able to find in other articles on the site), but briefly speaking, much sure your personal statement is a succinct, focused narrative that highlights one or more of the characteristics that make you an appealing candidate for law school. Respect any word limits (generally, you want to stick to 500 to 600 words) and try to avoid trite, predictable opening statements such as “I first knew I wanted to be a lawyer when…” (An essay about you realizing why you wanted to be a lawyer is fine; you just want to make sure it doesn’t open like so many personal statements already do).
# Work Experience/ Leadership
Did you do more than just take classes in college? Have you had real world experience since graduating? Both of these can make a candidate more appealing to law schools. Talking about work experience you had while in college can give context to your GPA (a 3.7 from someone who worked 20 hours a week may be more impressive to some schools than a slightly higher GPA from someone who didn’t work as much). Similarly, major leadership roles in college show something about what matters to you as a person (and thus give the schools some insight into you as a candidate), and show that you are able to maintain academic excellence and pursue your passions at the same time.
Post-college work experience is important for candidates who’ve graduated from college; you want to show law schools what you’ve done since college, and, with luck, you’ll be able to connect that work experience with your desire to practice law.
Even if schools don’t specifically ask for a resume, that’s often the best way to show both these facets of your application.
Like all institutions of higher learning, law schools value a multiplicity of perspectives. Make sure to highlight any factors (such as race, sexual orientation, gender identification, economic diversity, or an uncommon cultural or religious heritage) that might allow you to bring a different perspective to your law school experience. Many law schools have a specific optional question that directly addresses diversity. Remember that law school admissions committees are looking to bring in a diverse and well-rounded class of law students each year and sharing information that may allow you to stand out can work to your benefit.
# Letters of Recommendation
In my experience, the real pitfall with recommendations is that you want to avoid having poor ones. In other words, they are more likely to hurt if they are bad than to help if they are good. So here’s the key advice for recommendations:
1. Make sure the writer really knows you. It’s far better to get a strong recommendation from someone who know you well than a decent recommendation from someone famous who doesn’t really know you.
2. Make sure the writer wants to do it. I always advise asking for the letter in person, with language like, “Would you feel comfortable writing me a strong letter of recommendation.” If the potential recommender hesitates, you might want to look elsewhere.
3. Always get at least one from a professor. Law school is a difficult academic undertaking. Schools want academic recommenders. If you’ve been out of college for more than a few years, you can probably get away without an academic recommender, though.
4. Make life easy for your recommenders. Prepare all the paperwork they’ll need. Have their questions answered in advance. And give them plenty of time (at least a month) to write the recommendation. Finally, for you academic recommenders, give them a sample of the work you did when you were in their class to remind them of the quality of your academic output.
In the final analysis, what matters most for your applications are your numbers (GPA and test scores). But make sure everything else is on point; these other application materials and factors--letters of recommendation, personal statement, diversity and work experience/leadership--can play a role in the admissions committee decisions, and will sometimes be the deciding factor between two very similar candidates for one of the last spots in a top law school class.
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