This article covers what you need to know on how to get into a top law school.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS?
To get into a top law school, you have to beat the numbers game — the players with the highest GPA and LSAT win.
This article does a great job of explaining why numbers matter so much to law schools, but at the end of the day, the only thing that should matter to you as an individual applicant is that you need to get a high GPA and study like hell for the LSAT. Assuming that you’re already doing your best to get a high GPA, the bulk of this article will be dedicated to emphasizing the importance of the LSAT.
One popular law school admissions website explained that the LSAT is not only the dominant factor when considered against GPAs, but also that, “most commentators estimate that LSAT is nearly twice as important a factor as GPA in law school admission at top schools.” So, stop thinking about the LSAT as just another piece of your application — from here on out, all other things considered equal and not easily improved upon, the LSAT is your application:
“Let’s say you have a GPA that is acceptable to any law school, a 3.75. From there, your LSAT score is going to predict where you get in something close to 100% of the time, and a lot of the time, moving it up or down by just a couple points will make the difference.” — quoted from lawschooli’s, “5 Harsh Truths About Getting Into Lawschool.”
This exclusive focus on LSAT and GPA scores is slightly counter intuitive. Most students spend a disproportionate amount of energy on internships and extracurricular activities assuming that it is what law schools want them to do. As if they need to learn to act like lawyers before they start law school. This is due in large part to law schools advertising themselves as looking for the well-rounded applicant whose “soft-factors” shine, but one look at the admissions numbers for top law schools suggests otherwise.
While this may sound intimidating, it should actually provide you with some comfort, because unlike undergraduate admissions, which appear to be an unsolvable riddle, you know exactly what you need to do to get into a good law school.
This doesn’t mean don’t apply for internships and don’t engage in extracurricular activities; I would never advise that, and neither would any admissions officer. Often times, your extracurricular work changes you for the better and inspires your career goals. Therefore, my advice to you is to get involved in things you genuinely want to learn and experience, and not just because it will “look good” for law school.
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE FOR THE LSAT?
Now, if that last section was scary, I hope this part makes up for it. Doing well on the LSAT is 100% within your grasp. Yes, YOU! The person reading this article whom I have no way of knowing your educational background. I don’t know if you are a straight B student or top of your class, and I can still say this with some confidence because I know that it doesn’t take some innate ability to get a good score.
The LSAT is offered a few times a year, and to get a high score, you need to devote two to three months to a seriously intensive study schedule. Learning to do well on the LSAT is like learning a new instrument, you have to practice every day. This doesn’t mean you need to study all day every day, it only takes three to four hours a day to do well, but you need to be consistent. Don’t panic if your first diagnostic test score is low, or if you don’t see a drastic change in your second or third practice test. Improvement comes slowly but it will come. Not everyone is privileged with their time, money, and resources to dedicate this many hours to studying for a test outside of school, but for the people who do, the LSAT must take priority over any other activity. Time management is the biggest key here.
It’s also worth noting that the LSAT does not require preparation years in advance. The LSAT has nothing to do with the law or politics — it’s merely a (flawed) attempt to test your “logical reasoning” skills And if you score in the top percentile on the LSAT, law schools will be tripping over themselves to give you offers and scholarships. For students who don’t have the most competitive GPA, the LSAT is your hailmary chance to prove yourself. But it can also jeopardize four years of hard work it took to get a high GPA, which is why scoring high on the LSAT should be of utmost priority to any applicant.
SHOULD I STUDY ON MY OWN OR TAKE A CLASS?
Some people study on their own and do excellent on the LSAT, others don’t. It really comes down to personal preference, consistency, and the motivation to study hard up until the day of the test. If you think you can succeed by studying on your own, this is a great resource that includes a list of all the best books you should buy.
If you thrive more in a classroom environment, I highly recommend taking a registered course and not just finding a random private tutor. Blueprint is an excellent course and they offer discounts to students who receive the LSAC fee waiver. The Powerscore classes also have great reviews. Regardless of which class you register for, the onus is still on you to give it your 100%. You can’t just take a class and expect to get a high score, you need to devote your utmost mental energy to learning and mastering the lessons taught in each and every class.
DOES MY GPA MATTER?
Yes! Going to Princeton or studying a difficult major won’t change a 3.0 to a 4.0. The US News & World Report, THE authority on law school rankings, explained this quite candidly:
“Additional factors like undergraduate college and major will come into play later in the process when the committee is evaluating your individual application, but you should be aware that even in this subsequent, more individualized evaluation, having a notoriously difficult major, like engineering, will not be perceived as a valid justification for a significantly lower grade point average.”
This should comfort people coming from not-so prestigious undergraduate schools, and should be an incentive to get a high GPA no matter where you go, or what you study.
WHAT MAJOR SHOULD I MAJOR IN?
It practically doesn’t matter. This article shows how diverse the applicant pool typically is when it comes to undergraduate majors, and the biggest takeaway is that you probably shouldn’t be a pre-law major. That being said, I’ve heard that there is some leeway given to students who study difficult STEM majors. At the end of the day, study something you are passionate about and make sure to do well in your classes.
If you haven’t taken your LSAT yet, don’t worry about your personal statement. You can write this up later, and it’s not much different than personal statements you had to write to get into college with an added “why law school” twist. This blog post by a Yale admissions officer is filled with insightful tidbits, and you can find plenty of samples online. Make sure you get your statement proofread a thousand times — don’t be afraid to reach out to professors, friends in law school, and people whose judgement and writing you trust.
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
My only piece of advice regarding this is so obvious it is hardly worth saying but ask for letters from professors of yours that are really willing to go to bat for you. This means asking a professor whose class you aced AND trying to develop a relationship with a professor beyond just taking their class so they can learn a bit about what makes you unique as an applicant. Also, ask ahead of time. Professors are notoriously slow at writing these letters. It’s also perfectly normal for a professor to ask you to send a resume and brief blurb asking for more info about you so they can personalize the letter.
WHERE SHOULD I APPLY?
Once you’ve gotten your score back, this admissions calculator is a really easy way to measure which schools are within your range, and this one gives you a list of the top ten law schools you should apply to given your LSAT score and GPA. As a rule of thumb, you should apply to any school that you have a chance of getting into, even if you don’t want to attend, and here’s why:
- You might change your mind once you start getting offers.
- If your dream school is the University of Michigan, and you know for a fact that you would never go to law school in California, but your stats are very competitive for Berkeley, you should still apply to Berkeley because you might get a scholarship at Berkeley that you can use as a bargaining chip with Michigan.
Also, you should go through this page to determine whether or not you count as an Under Represented Minority “URM,” and are thus judged by slightly different standards. Finally, if you are eligible for a Pell grant, you can apply for the fee waiver on LSAC (the centralized law school admissions website) and this will make it cheaper to apply to law school.
SHOULD I TAKE A GAP YEAR?
Yes, without a doubt. Taking a year or two off between college and law school makes you a more diverse, accomplished, and attractive applicant. It will also make you objectively happier to find purpose outside of the confines of a school bell. Furthermore, your professional work experience will often inform your law school experience, and you’ll be a lot more interesting to talk to, which often translates to a lot more interesting to employ. Lastly, once you start law school, you’ll be placed on the assembly line towards professional life, so if there are any personal projects you want to get involved in, do it before you have thousands of dollars of debt limiting your creative potential.
If you want to go to law school to give back to your community in some way shape or form, and you still need some help after reading this, feel free to hit me up directly with any of your questions.