Law School: Deciding Where to Apply
After you’ve settled on your LSAT date and started your prep, you need to start selecting the schools to which you will apply. This is important for two reasons:
- It lets you think about what you consider important in a law school.
- It will give you an idea of where your LSAT score should be.
Deciding on which schools to apply to is just as important as thinking about why you want to become a lawyer. It’s not only about applying to schools of a certain caliber, or only picking schools in a certain state or region. Your law school list should be filled with institutions that you have researched thoroughly, that you know will fulfill your academic needs, and that you know will make you happy for all three years you are there (even through the grueling and stressful times).
How will picking law schools help me figure out where my LSAT score should be?
As you research law schools, you will be not only learn about their academic environments, professors, locations, and student body. You will also be able to find out about their admissions policies—specifically the GPA and LSAT score ranges that they prefer when admitting students. Resources like LSAC’s Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools will give you these numerical ranges, broken down into percentiles (25th and 75th). In order to be truly competitive at a school, your GPA and LSAT numbers should be at or above the 75th percentile. Knowing these numbers will make it easier for you to know where you should be aiming with your LSAT score, and how much you need to raise it (if at all).
Take a hands-on approach to the selection process, and spend as much time picking schools as they will spend picking you.
The following steps will help you master the process:
1. CREATE A ROUGH LIST
After you’ve thought about what you want in a school, the next step is to create your initial “long list” of schools you are considering. You will need to use a number of resources for this first list, including LSAC’s Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, and a rankings list (typically the U.S. News and World Report law school rankings).
Using your answers from the questions above, start creating a list of schools that meet your criteria for any or all of the following aspects:
- Geographic preferences (if any)
- School size and social environment
- Academic environment
- Career and legal specialty preferences
- Financial requirements and needs
- Career aspirations and personal goals
- Work opportunities during school and post-graduation
- Personal skill sets
Starting from the top aspect (geography) and working your way down the list will allow you to narrow down schools based on your own preferences, ensuring that you adhere to your ultimate, must-have needs.
2. GET DOWN TO SPECIFICS
Once you have created a rough list (usually anywhere from 20-25 schools, depending on geographic location and your numerical indicators), it is time to pare your choices down further. This will require investigation and research into each of the potential schools.
You should now consider the following:
- What type of learning environment do you prefer?
- What do you want to focus on or specialize in?
- Where do you want to work during school and post-graduation?
This will allow you to shorten your list based on two very important fields: Academics and future career plans. A huge part of selecting a school is not only focusing on the three years you will spend studying the law, but also on the many years after school, when you will start, build, and focus on a career. The school you attend needs to be a launching pad for your future career aspirations.
3. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Now that you are armed with the knowledge of what you are looking for, you need to research each school and see which ones can provide you with the closest match to what you need. 8
You will be able to get information about each school from a variety of sources:
- A school’s print and online material
- Alumni of the school (which you can often contact by reaching out to local alumni associations)
- LSAC Law Forums (held year-round by LSAC in major cities around the country)
- College campus visits by law school representatives (which typically happen in the fall)
4. NARROW DOWN THE LIST
It is now time to narrow down the list to the schools to which you will apply. You may be able to do this very easily based on the information you have already gathered. However, if you are still having trouble paring the list down, there are still a few things you can do to help you choose between schools.
- Speak to alumni (and also to current students)
- Visit the school (this is most beneficial if done during the school year)
5. MAKE THE FINAL DECISIONS
Once all the information has been gathered, it is time to make the final decisions. Most candidates end up applying to 5-7 schools, although many end up sending applications to as many as 10, 12, or even 15 schools.
Your final list should look like this:
- A few “definite” schools — These are the schools where you are almost sure to get in, based on numbers, credentials, and selectivity. Your numbers should fall at or above the 75th percentile for GPA and LSAT.
- A number of “likely” schools — These are the schools where your numbers fall within the 50th to 75th percentiles (or above) for the numerical indicators, and where you feel fairly confident in your ability to gain acceptance, provided the “soft” aspects of the application (personal statement, résumé) are also well done. The bulk of your list should consist of “likely” schools.
- A few “maybe” schools — These are the polar opposite of the “definite” schools. Here, your numerical credentials are much closer to the 25th percentile (or slightly below), and you do not feel very confident about your admissions chances. “Maybe schools” form part of the final application list in order to avoid missing out on a potential opportunity. Every year, unlikely candidates are offered admission to schools where their credentials did not give them a strong chance of admittance— why miss out on the possibility by not applying?