Your background undoubtedly plays a role in the law school admissions process. This might come from somewhat dubious "legacy" admissions decisions where last names and alumni donations can overcome lackluster scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). But it's also evident in the inspiring stories of applicants like Que Newbill, who drew strength from his challenging upbringing, rising from homelessness to law school.
Before the 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. However, some schools are pushing back on the importance of law school rankings -- in 2022, Harvard and Yale removed themselves from the nation's most well-known list.
The American Bar Association (ABA) recently approved accredited law schools to use GRE scores instead of the LSAT in J.D. admissions. So if you're still deciding between law school and another graduate school (or a dual degree like a JD/MBA), you might consider taking the GRE instead of the LSAT.
You'll want to utilize test preparation resources for the LSAT or any other standardized test, especially since these exams test how you think rather than what you know.
While you're still pre-law, you might consider avoiding undergraduate courses that could lower 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.
You can also take advantage of the LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS), which allows J.D. applicants to compile all their application materials once and send them to multiple schools.
Law School Admissions: Beyond the Numbers
In addition to your GPA and LSAT scores, most law schools typically require the following with your law school application:
- Personal statement or writing sample
- Official transcripts from your undergraduate institution
- Letters of recommendation
- Application fees
A good rule of thumb is to submit as much information as allowed, including optional elements, 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 asks for your personal statement to be 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 those who follow 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 test scores, your personal statement can carry a lot of weight. It shows your ability to write persuasively and is the best window into your personality and potential as an attorney. 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 attend a specific law school and what experiences demonstrate your potential in the legal profession.
Consider the character and fitness qualities that make for effective attorneys, such as:
- A strong work ethic
- Communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Time management skills
But don't just list your attributes — use your personal statement as an opportunity to tell your story. Share an anecdote from your life or studies and show the admissions committee instead of telling them.
What Happens After Your Application is Submitted?
The law school application process can feel elaborate, so you'll probably feel relieved when the process is over. However, that just begins the next phase of anxiously awaiting responses.
J.D. program admissions are often made on a rolling basis, so response times differ depending on when an application was submitted. If you submitted an application in the fall, you could get a response from the admissions office by December. However, you could also hear back within a few weeks of classes if you submit your application in June. On the upside, this enrollment type means there's no hard application deadline.
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. 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 can better understand your likelihood of getting a seat.
Law School Admissions and Beyond
Getting through the admissions process is just the first step down the road of legal education. As you work towards a law degree, turn to FindLaw for Law Students for helpful resources and advice from attorneys who've been through it all.