Your background undoubtedly plays a role in the law school admissions process. This might come in the form of "legacy" admissions where last names and alumni donations can overcome subpar scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). But it could also be evident in inspiring stories of applicants like Que Newbill who drew strength from his challenging upbringing, rising from homelessness to law school.
However, before an admissions committee even gets to your background, they look at two metrics -- your undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores. These are determinative for the few students on the ends of the bell curve, narrowing or widening their options based on where they fall. Most applicants are within the bell, meaning that other elements of an application can affect the outcome.
Getting Through the Gates
Along with the ease of using two numeric values to compare applicants, law schools also rely on your GPA and LSAT scores because they account for one-fourth of a law school's official ranking. Because of the emphasis on these two measures, it's important to get them as high as you can.
For the LSAT, this means utilizing test preparation resources, especially since the exam tests how you think rather than what you know and is different from other tests you've taken before. It can also mean avoiding undergraduate courses that could bring down your GPA. That's not to say that you should avoid academic challenges, but if you're a journalism major, it may not be wise to delve into advanced molecular microbiology your senior year out of curiosity.
As a helpful guide, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the organization that manages applications for most law schools, has an online GPA and LSAT calculator. This tool lets you see the likelihood of getting into various law schools and can help you focus your law school search and save money on application fees.
Law School Admissions: Beyond the Numbers
In addition to your GPA and LSAT scores, most law schools typically require the following with your application:
- Personal statement;
- Undergraduate transcripts;
- Recommendation letters; and
- Application fees (of course).
A good rule of thumb is to submit as much information as allowed, even if it's only optional, because you want to use every avenue to show that you're prepared for law school. If a school requires two to three recommendation letters, shoot for three. If it limits a personal statement to two to four pages, fill up all four.
However, don't abuse this rule by submitting information not requested or allowed. This adds extra burdens on admissions committees and might give the appearance that you're seeking an unfair advantage over others following the rules. Go right up to the line, but don't cross it -- as any good lawyer will do.
Once an admissions committee gets past your GPA and LSAT, your personal statement can carry a lot of weight. It shows your ability to write persuasively and is also the best window into your personality and potential. Since these are inherently subjective, there's no established template, but there are good examples for your reference.
At the end of the day your statement should make a strong case about why you want to go to a specific law school and what experiences demonstrate your potential in the legal profession. Consider qualities that make for good attorneys, such as:
- A strong work ethic;
- The ability to problem solve;
- Time management; and
What Happens After Your Application is Submitted?
The steps in the application process are elaborate, so you'll probably breathe a sigh of relief when the process is over. However, that just begins the next phase of anxiously awaiting responses.
Many law schools operate on a rolling admissions basis, so their response times differ depending on when an application was submitted. If you submitted an application in the fall, you could get a response by December. However you could also hear back within a few weeks of classes for later submitted applications.
There's also the possibility of being waitlisted. This is kind of like law school purgatory -- you're not in, but you're also not out and you could be there for a while (gnashing your teeth). Law schools use waitlists when they are waiting to hear back from applicants who've been accepted before opening up their seats to those hanging in limbo. Some waitlists are ranked so you have a better idea of your likelihood of getting a seat.
Law School Admissions and Beyond
The legal profession is a complex field, but one that can be incredibly rewarding. Getting through the admissions process is just the first step down a road of important decision points. As you make those decisions, turn to FindLaw for Law Students for helpful resources and advice from attorneys who're ready to help.