Applying to Law School Admissions FAQ
How can I prepare for the LSAT?
Everyone can practice and be trained to understand and beat the LSAT; however, various learning styles necessitate different methods of preparation. Some students learn most effectively with books, while others benefit from the kind of personal interaction that comes with a live course. In deciding what works best for you, begin by considering your particular learning style.
If you decide to prepare with books exclusively, make sure to go over the concepts consistently and thoroughly, and don't forget practice tests! A strong conceptual foundation should be complimented by practical experience to ensure a solid overall LSAT performance.
If you choose to take a prep course, be sure to take advantage of the instructor's knowledge and expertise—don't hesitate to ask questions! That is one of the best ways to ensure that you are becoming fluent with the concepts covered, and are getting the most out of each lesson.
One thing holds true for all methods of preparation, though—careful, consistent study over a prolonged period of time is the best option when it comes to preparing for the LSAT.
When should I take the LSAT?
You should take the LSAT no later than the summer or fall of the year in which you intend to apply, a full year (or more) before you intend to begin law school. If you're still in school, It's best to take the LSAT the summer before your senior year at college, so that you can spend your senior year acing your classes and preparing your law school applications instead of studying for and worrying about the LSAT. If you decide to wait until the summer after your senior year, that's okay; it will not affect you positively or negatively in the eyes of admissions committees as long as you spend that year between college and law school in a productive capacity.
Although some LSAT test dates are certainly more advantageous than others due to their timing in the admissions cycle, one rule holds true: You should take the LSAT on the earliest date when you feel you are completely prepared. Taking the LSAT early gives you ample time to sit for the LSAT again at a later date if you decide to cancel your score or retake the test. The LSAT is now offered almost monthly, giving students plenty of opportunities for a retake. Just keep in mind the limits on retakes as there are guidelines for the number of times you can take LSAT within a year, every five years, and in your lifetime.
What should I do if I'm not happy with my LSAT score?
First, understand that every single person that takes the LSAT feels unsure and unhappy with their performance immediately upon completing the test. This does not mean you did poorly; more than likely it is the exhaustive after-effects of having prepared for months for a four-hour test on which your law future rests. However, if you are certain you did not perform well, there are things you can do.
If you're worried about how multiple scores will look on your LSAT score report, take a moment to read the answer to the question "How do law schools see multiple LSAT scores?"
You have two options if you are unhappy with your performance on the LSAT: cancel the score (and then retake the test) or keep your score (and potentially retake the test).
If you decide to cancel your score, you must be familiar with the following:
You only have six calendar days after the test to submit a written score cancellation notice to LSAC;
You will never know what your score was.
You may ask yourself, "If I can't see the score, then how do I know I should cancel it?" That's a very good question. To make that determination, first start by objectively analyzing how you feel about your overall test performance. Perhaps you felt completely lost and you guessed on all the logic games, or you know that you did not understand well over half the logical reasoning questions. Come up with a best-possible and a worst-possible score scenario, and decide if you're willing to live with the results of a "worst-possible scenario" score.
What happens if you decide to cancel your score? As per LSAC.org:
If you cancel your score, you will not receive a score or copy of your answer sheet. You will receive written notification of a score cancellation and, if you took a disclosed test, you will receive a copy of the test questions and the credited responses for the scored sections as well. Law school reports will reflect that your score was canceled at your request; this advises the law schools that you were exposed to test questions. There are no refunds for canceled scores. Valid score cancellation requests are irreversible and cannot be rescinded.
Schools will not look negatively at a single cancelled score—however, when multiple cancelled scores appear on a student's score report without a good explanation (and schools will require an explanation for multiple cancelled scores), then it can potentially count negatively against the student's application.
Think carefully about retaking the LSAT. On the day of the test, were you fully prepared? Did the test go exactly as planned? Were there no extenuating circumstances either personally or at the testing center? If the answer to all three questions is "yes", then retaking the test might be a risky move. There is no guarantee that circumstances will improve to the point where you will achieve a significant score increase, and you run the risk of actually achieving a lower score. However, if test or preparation conditions were adverse and you feel that with more preparation and study you will certainly increase your score, then study, prepare, and retake the LSAT a second time.
When you decide to retake the test is entirely up to you and when you feel the most prepared to retake it. Just be sure to check with the admission departments of all of the schools where you intend to apply for any applicable dates and deadlines.
How do law schools see multiple LSAT scores?
One of the most common questions we are asked regarding law school admissions is, "Should I take the LSAT again, and if I do, how will law schools interpret my scores?" In order to help you better understand your options, we have researched LSAC policy, as well as that of top law schools, and spoken with many admissions counselors regarding these issues. Check our Free Help Article for the full details.
How is the LSAT score used in the law school admissions process?
Much like the SAT is used in college admissions, the LSAT is used as a standardized measure in law school admissions. Why? Because the only across-the-board numerical indicator that law schools have when comparing applicants is the LSAT. Law schools have no way of knowing how one major in one college stacks up in difficulty to the same major in another college, or how a 4.0 GPA from one school compares to a 4.0 GPA from another. When it comes to the LSAT, they know that everyone was given the same level of difficulty and very similar questions. This makes the LSAT is the single most important number on your application, even more important than your undergraduate GPA. In fact, some schools weigh your LSAT 4 or 5 times more than your undergraduate GPA—which means that a three-and-a-half hour test can weigh much more than four years of college!
Use this information to your advantage. Think of it this way—even if your GPA is below the median for the school of your choice, you can significantly improve your chances by thoroughly preparing for the LSAT and scoring in a high percentile. And, if your GPA is well above the median for your dream school, you can make yourself a virtual shoe-in by getting a high LSAT score and making sure everything else in your application is well taken care of. No matter which category you fall into, you can play the LSAT score game to your advantage.
How do law schools use the LSAT writing sample?
If the school looks at your writing sample at all, it will be for one of two things: (1) to see how well you can develop an argument; and/or (2) to compare your writing style to that in your admissions essay(s). This is why it's important for you to take the LSAT writing sample seriously, and treat it like a very valid representation of your writing abilities
For some law school applicants, particularly those that have been out of school for a while, the writing sample might be a rather difficult part of the LSAT. This happens for a variety of reasons:
- The LSAT writing sample gives you 35 minutes to write a cohesive, logical essay arguing in favor or against one of two equally good options (which, depending on how long you've been out of school, may seem like an impossible task—"A full essay in 35 minutes or less? That's madness!")
- The LSAT writing sample is the dark horse when it comes to understanding its role in LSAT scores and law school admissions—and you know this, which can affect how you approach it.
So how is the LSAT writing sample used? It varies from school to school. Admissions committees do read it, and although they're not looking for a polished final product, they are interested in seeing how you logically develop an idea under time constraints (a situation very similar to the myriad tests you will take in law school).
A logical follow-up question would be, "Does the LSAT writing sample affect my LSAT score?" No, it does not. Your LSAT score is determined by your answers to the questions on the LSAT, and your essay does not affect it in the least.
Applying to Law School
What should I consider when choosing which law schools to apply to?
Choosing a law school to apply to or to attend is a difficult decision. When considering a law school, you must examine a variety of factors, including the effect a law school can have on your career, anticipated costs, academic environment, and the social environment at the school and surrounding city. Below we briefly review each of these factors.
The legal field is competitive, and the law school you attend can have a profound effect on your career. Not all law schools are the same, of course, so when researching career options, consider the following:
National vs. Regional Law Schools
National law schools have reputations that carry weight outside of the region the school is located in and give graduates more options nationwide for employment. Stanford graduates, for example, can just as easily obtain a job in New York City as in San Francisco.
Regional law schools typically are composed of students from the region the law school is located in and their network of potential employers is limited to that region. Once you move outside the region, the network of potential employers drops off dramatically.
In order to better understand the difference between national and regional schools, take a look at the following comparison:
Yale University, a national school, has graduates working across the United States. For example, the following regions each have a large percentage of Yale graduates: Middle Atlantic (32%), Pacific (22%), and South Atlantic (17%).
On the other hand, the University of Florida, a regional school, has the majority of their graduates (88%) working in the South Atlantic region where the school is located.
Many schools offer specialties that allow students to focus on one specific area of law in their second and third years of law school. These specialties include: environmental law, tax law, healthcare law, maritime law, intellectual property, and trial advocacy.
Students who are unsure of whether or not they want to focus on a specific area of law will probably not need to focus on the specialties offered at each law school, but if you know that you definitely would like to focus on one area of law, specialties offered at certain schools can be a very important factor in your decision. Consider the following scenario: Miranda, a nurse, knows that she would like to focus on healthcare law after law school, and she has been accepted to a variety of law schools including Notre Dame and the University of Houston. Most people would say that Notre Dame is the superior choice, but if Miranda wants to focus on healthcare law, the University of Houston may be the better choice for her because the University of Houston has one of the best regarded healthcare law programs in the nation whereas Notre Dame does not offer a specialization in healthcare law.
Job Opportunities after Graduation
Where you go to law school can have a significant impact on your employment immediately following law school. Law school graduates have varying levels of success in finding employment after graduation, and this is typically caused by two things: how helpful and effective each school's career placement office is, and the alumni network in place. A career placement office helps students in finding summer job opportunities with law firms and also helps students get in touch with firms seeking recent law graduates. In addition to the career placement office, the alumni network at your school is an important tool. Many law schools have alumni networks that hold conferences for alumni, mixers, and help in placing recent graduates. For more information on the career placement office at your law school and the alumni network in place, contact the school and also consult with former students regarding each service's effectiveness.
Going to law school is not an inexpensive endeavor in most cases. In fact, the cost of tuition alone can range from $12,000 to nearly $70,000 a year. Here are some important facts to keep in mind when looking at the costs associated with each law school:
- Almost all public schools give in-state students a significant break in cost of tuition.
- Almost all law schools either limit or forbid working while in law school; therefore, all expenses will likely be covered by your savings, loans, or scholarships (if you are lucky!).
- Living costs while in school will greatly be affected by where the school is located. For example, choosing to attend law school at NYU, where room and board costs are around $24,000 a year according to US News, will be much more expensive than attending law school in Nashville, TN at Vanderbilt, which will cost around $16,000 a year.
- Scholarships are very hard to come by, and few cover all expenses.
- The more debt you accrue in law school, the more likely that you will be forced into a pursuing a legal career in order to pay back your loans. This can be an especially important factor if you discover after several years that you do not wish to continue being a lawyer.
Law school can bring out the competitive side of many people. There is nothing wrong with a little competitiveness, but when it becomes treacherous, it's a problem. For example, some students have been known to go as far as hiding or stealing previously administered exams available in the school's library. On the other hand, the atmosphere at some law schools is far more supportive, and students can be very helpful to their fellow students by sharing notes, outlines, and former exams. To find out whether the law school you are considering is known for bringing out the best or worst in people, ask current and former students.
What type of social and geographical atmosphere makes you comfortable? Would you prefer a smaller school in a more rural area? Or would you like a larger school in a more urban setting? Do you love warm weather and humidity, or do you prefer crisp days and short summers? Different students have different preferences, and you should take those into account when considering each school. After all, you will spend three years in the environment of your choosing, so you should choose wisely.
Whether or not you think you are ready to make the transition to living where a law school is located, go visit the school first. While visiting the school, look into the following areas:
- What is the nightlife like? If you are used to being out at clubs or bars until the sun comes up, make sure the city allows it. Some students are surprised to find out that not only does the city their school is located in not have many bars, but the bars they do have close at midnight.
- How close are you to the nearest sports venues, museums, or performing arts venues? Whatever your interests are, you will need to get away from the law library occasionally (yes, it's true!).
- What sort of extracurricular activities does your school offer? Making friends can be difficult while in class; a great way to meet other people is through extracurricular activities. (Note — larger law schools typically offer more extracurricular activities than smaller schools)
- As mentioned previously, the cost of living can be quite high in some cities. Make sure to check out available to housing and their costs.
There are a variety of ways to look into the various points raised about choosing a law school, including contacting the school, contacting former students, posting on pre-law message boards, visiting the school's website, and visiting the school and surrounding city. You can also check The ABA 509 Report, a great tool implemented by the ABA that allows the public to view information about accredited law schools such as LSAT and GPA scores, demographics, transfers, scholarship offers, and even estimated living expenses.
What is the difference between national, regional, and local law schools?
A national school will generally have an applicant population and a student body that draws almost indistinguishably from the nation as a whole and will have many international students as well. A regional school is likely to have a population that is primarily from the geographic region of its location, though many regional schools have students from all over the country; a number of regional schools draw heavily from a particular geographical area, yet graduates may find jobs all over the country. Generally speaking, a local school is drawing primarily on applicants who either come from or want to practice in the proximate area in which the school is located.
What does this mean for you? Generally speaking it means that when you are selecting which law schools to apply to, think location, location, location. It is universally assumed that the higher a law school is ranked, the more "national" it can be considered. For example, many would argue that obtaining a degree from a top 5-ranked "national" law school in the Northeast wouldn't really hurt your chances of getting a job with a law firm in California; in that case, the ranking of the school would take precedence over the location of the school itself. However, even when considering applying to and then attending a "national" law school, and particularly when applying to a "regional" or "local" law school, be careful to consider some of the following points:
- How many of the school's alumni stay and practice in the area after graduation? A strong alumni network is important when starting a law career not only for employment possibilities, but also for referrals. If the bulk of the school's alumni stay in the city or region where the school is located, perhaps you should think seriously about whether you could live there, too.
- It may seem silly, but consider the weather. Are you someone who cannot bear icy cold winters? Then perhaps you should stay way from the Northeast. Do you absolutely need sun and surf to be happy? Maybe a school in California, Florida, or Hawaii is best for you.
- Call the Admissions Office of the school or schools you are interested in, and ask which firms most often interview on campus. If you're dead-set on working for a particular firm, or working for a firm that specializes in a specific field, then make sure that the law school or schools you are considering are included in that firm's or specialty's recruiting rounds.
- Is the law school attached to an institution of higher learning? Over 90% of ABA-approved law schools are part of a larger university. This can mean a greater diversity in students, student ages, and academic/extracurricular offerings. Consider if this is important to you.
- Don't rely solely on rankings. Rankings take years to build, and smaller, lower-ranked institutions with great law schools are often overlooked because the do not "rank high enough." Look past the numbers (much like you want your admissions officer to do!) and see what other tangibles and intangibles each school offers—you will be pleasantly surprised.
Many times, it is not the ranking or "national" nature of the institution but what the school offers that makes the difference. Be careful not to guide yourself by rankings, but rather by where you believe you will be the happiest, where you will get the education you want, and where your employment hopes will be most likely fulfilled.
What is the difference between part-time and full-time J.D. programs?
In addition to traditional three-year, full-time J.D. programs, many law schools offer part-time degree programs as well. For those students interested in law school but not ready, willing, or able to make legal education their exclusive focus for three years, part-time programs can provide a valuable option. For students who are considering both, below is a brief overview of the two types of programs.
The typical full-time program at most American Bar Association-accredited law schools requires 12 - 15 credit hours earned for each of six semesters, meaning that most full-time students complete their legal studies in three years. The ABA does not permit full-time students to work more than 20 hours per week while attending law school, and some schools don't allow full-time students to work at all. These prohibitions do not extend to summers, during which many students enter legal internships, and some schools do offer summer courses.
At schools where part-time programs are available, classes are often offered during evenings and weekends and can take longer to complete than standard, full-time programs. Many part-time programs require students to take summer classes as well, but these programs do not generally place a cap on the number of hours students are allowed to work during their legal studies. The average course load for a part-time program is between 8 and 11 credit hours per semester.
A common concern for law students is the financing of their legal education, and the two types of programs offer different benefits and constraints. Full time programs limit the hours that students are allowed to work, and at some schools law students aren't permitted to work at all during the school year. For students who are not able to pay for law school, or to secure sufficient financial aid, part-time programs offer the option of working while pursuing one's degree. While part-time programs can provide greater flexibility, however, they can also cost more overall. Because they take longer to complete, this can also mean entry into the legal field one year later. Another important consideration for those seeking aid is that law schools tend to set aside a larger portion of their grant and scholarship funds for full-time students.
- The Academic Experience
Many students contemplating a part-time legal education have concerns about the comparability to a full-time program. Because the majority of opportunities in law school are based on academic performance, part time students may miss out on certain resume-building activities, such as law review, if employment interferes with their schooling. Further, programs may provide more limited course selection for evening and weekend classes. On the other hand, professors who teach in part-time programs and those who teach in full-time programs are typically drawn from the same pool. At Georgetown, for example, law professors are rotated between full- and part-time programs, so the quality of any given class is likely to be comparable.
- Opportunities after Graduation
Where employment opportunities are concerned, there are potential advantages associated with both program types. Part-time programs take place over a longer span, and require fewer credit hours per semester, leaving more time to research, network, and interview. On the other hand, the summers off during a full-time program are typically used for legal internships, which allow students to gain experience while demonstrating their abilities to potential employers. For many full-time students, the legal internship between 2nd and 3rd year can lead to full-time employment with a firm after graduation.
Schools that offer Part-Time J.D. Programs
The following is a partial list of law schools that offer part-time programs:
American University (Washington)
Brooklyn Law School
Case Western Reserve University
Catholic University of America
George Mason University
George Washington University
Georgia State University
Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-Kent)
Lewis and Clark College (Northwestern)
Louisiana State University—Baton Rouge
Loyola Law School
Loyola University Chicago
Rutgers State University—Camden
Rutgers State University—Newark
Seton Hall University
Southern Methodist University
St. John's University
St. Louis University
Temple University (Beasley)
University of Connecticut
University of Denver (Sturm)
University of Houston
University of Louisville (Brandeis)
University of Maryland
University of Miami
University of Missouri—Columbia
University of Nevada--Las Vegas
University of San Diego
University of the Pacific (McGeorge)
University of Wisconsin—Madison
Washington University in St. Louis
When is the best time to apply to law school? Do I need to apply early?
There's a lot of buzz about applying early. Everywhere you look online blasts the same ideals: apply as early as you can, apply today! Apply yesterday! If you don't all hope is lost. To be honest, having your applications ready to go on day one is not a bad idea. But, that's for reasons wholly unrelated to whether or not it improves your admissions chances.
First of all, getting things done sooner rather than later gives you breathing room. Who knows what might happen a week from now that will prevent you from getting that application finished? If you have the time now, use it. Secondly, it's a great way to spend that anxiety-ridden period between taking the LSAT and getting the results. You no longer have control over your score, so why not focus on something you can take control of? But on to the question at hand. Does applying early actually have any effect on whether or not you'll gain admissions to a given law school?
Applying earlier is much more important if you're gunning for the top 14 law schools and far less important if you're not. Controlling for a variety of other factors we might expect to affect admissions outcomes, T14 applicants, on the whole, see about a 34% increased chance of admission for each earlier month they apply. September application vs. October application, for example. The effect outside the T14 is statistically insignificant when considering the rest of the T100 law schools as a whole.
Even for schools where applying earlier gives an advantage, applicants should make sure their applications are the best they can be before hitting â€œsendâ€� on them. In other words, rushing through an application and doing a poor job with it in order to get yourself a boost by applying earlier is not a good strategy. While this analysis can control for factors such as LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs, it cannot control the overall quality of the application. Law schools take all components into consideration, like the personal statement and recommendations. The last thing you want to do is send an application with a poorly written personal statement because you wanted to get it in earlier.
Another important point regards LSAT retakes. Some test takers may consider foregoing a retake in order to get their application in earlier. Our recommendation is not to do that. An earlier application might give you a boost, but that boost is often offset by as little as one extra point on the LSAT. So, if you know that you can improve your LSAT score and still get your application in for the cycle, then you should absolutely do that.
No matter what, make sure the application you send is your best. Don't skimp on any part of the application to get it in earlier! Be sure to also do your research and check with the admissions offices of the schools where you are applying for any applicable dates and deadlines.
What is the CAS and how does it work with law school admissions?
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is the gatekeeper of many important documents for law school applicants. The CAS is a service provided by LSAC, the producers of the LSAT, and almost all ABA-approved law schools require the use of CAS reports in the admissions process. No school that uses the CAS will consider an applicant until their CAS report is complete.
The CAS is required by law schools because it standardizes much of the information relevant to making admission decisions. Without such standardization, schools would have to sift through a colossal amount of disorganized information. For applicants, the CAS is a helpful tool in the admissions process. If an applicant is able to use all of the services included with registering for the CAS, the amount of work put into submitting applications is dramatically reduced.
What is in a CAS report?
An CAS report has multiple components:
How to Register
Applicants can register for the CAS by visiting the Law School Admissions Council's website or calling the LSAC at 215-968-1001.
- Find the current CAS fees and packages at: LSAT & CAS Fees and Refunds.
- Fee waivers may be available for extreme cases of need.
One Final Note
The amount of time for the CAS to process and make available each individual component of the report varies, and they have been known to take one to three months for some applicants. Therefore, it is very important for applicants to get their documents into the CAS as early as possible in order to avoid any delays in the application process.
What's the difference between early action and early decision?
Aside from regular admissions, there are two other types of admissions which both get confused and get confusing: Early Action and Early Decision. Both have earlier deadlines than Regular Decision applications, each has pros and cons, and both should be considered carefully before applications are sent out.
Early Decision is the stricter of the early application options. Early Decision applications are the first applications reviewed during a law school's rolling admissions process. When submitting an application via Early Decision, there are a few points to consider:
- If you are accepted at a school via Early Decision, the decision is binding, and you must withdraw all applications from all other law schools immediately. This means, among other things, that you need to be pretty sure that the school you're applying to is your dream school and that you are comfortable with all or nearly all aspects of it.
- If you are denied admissions after applying Early Decision, you will not be able to apply to the same school for Regular Decision. You can only apply to a school once during an admissions cycle.
- If you know you will need financial aid to attend law school, think very, very carefully about applying Early Decision. If admitted you will have to attend the school, regardless of whatever financial aid they may (or may not) offer you, and you will not have a chance to review any financial aid offers potentially made to you by any other schools.
- You have five possible admissions results when applying Early Decision: Admit, Deny, Defer, Held, and Waitlist. Make sure you understand what each of them means.
1. Admit: If you are admitted via Early Decision by a school, that decision is binding, and you must immediately withdraw all other applications from all other schools.
2. Deny: If you are denied admissions by a school when applying Early Decision, you will not be able to apply to that school via Regular Decision in the same admissions cycle.
3. Defer: If you are deferred, your application will be moved to the rest of the pool in the regular admissions cycle and will be re-reviewed then.
4. Held: Being 'Held' is very similar to being deferred—your application is transferred over the regular applicant pool and will be reconsidered then. For both deferrals and helds, if you are admitted during the regular admissions cycle you are no longer bound to accept the offer of admission, and you do not need to withdraw any other applications you may have in the works.
5. Waitlist: If you are waitlisted after applying Early Decision (as is an option with Georgetown Law School), you are basically put on the same waitlist that you would be placed on if you applied Regular Decision and were waitlisted. However, being waitlisted during Early Decision decisions also means (much like when you are deferred or held) that you are no longer bound to accept the school's offer of admission, even if you are taken off the waitlist and offered a spot in a school's incoming class.
Sound confusing? You bet. That's exactly why you need to be very aware of what you're getting yourself into when applying Early Decision.
Early Action is a more lenient version of Early Decision. The decision is non-binding, and thus is slightly more financial aid-friendly. You have three possible results: Admit, Deny, or Held/Deferred. These mean the same as with Early Decision. However, the con to this nicer admissions possibility is the reply dates—even though they are non-binding, you will still need to submit a response much earlier than Regular Decision, which may affect your decision-making options.
Not all schools offer Early Action or Early Decision, and some offer it for only certain programs and not for others. Make sure to read your applications carefully and call the admissions office of each school to clarify any questions.
Why are all law school applications different? Why shouldn't I submit the same application for multiple schools?
Just like you have different reasons for wanting to attend different law schools, different law schools look for different things in their applicants. Every law school has a particular mission that is unique unto itself, and it tailors its application to fit the profile of the applicants they seek. The questions on each application have gone through a painstaking process to get there, and should be answered whenever possible.
The one thing you can do to lighten the load when it comes to filling out applications is using LSAC's web-based application service—through it you can input all your biographical information once and then have it automatically inserted into all applications you do through LSAC. However, a word of caution: be sure to (1) read all applications before submitting them to make sure that your information has been inserted correctly, and (2) note if there are any "Supplemental" or "Additional" sections for the applications you complete on LSAC, to ensure that you have completed every application fully and completely. For more information on LSAC's web-based application service, click here.
How important are the "soft" elements of my application (résumé, recommendations, personal statement, etc.)? Aren't law schools just interested in my GPA/LSAT combination?
The "soft" elements of your application are extremely important, particularly if you're like the majority of law school applicants and your numerical stats (LSAT and GPA) fall below the school's 75th percentile and/or you've got a high GPA/low LSAT or low GPA/high LSAT numerical combination. When you're not a near-certainty for admission based on your numbers, but a school is still interested in you for potential admission, then those "soft" elements become very important. They are what will separate you from the rest of the "maybes" and will turn you into a "yes".
Yes, law schools care a great deal about undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores, particularly LSAT scores. Those are the standard predictors of how a student will do in law school. Nonetheless, you would be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring or lackadaisically dealing with the other elements of your application because you don't think they will be looked at. Even if you are a definite candidate for admission, take the time to polish all those "soft" elements, if nothing else to further convince the admissions committee that you are the full package, down to the smallest detail. After all, a lawyer's work is in the details—what kind of precedent would you be setting if you didn't treat your admissions application like the most important brief of your life?
Why is the personal statement so important, and how can I write a great one?
Schools place a premium on the personal statement because it's the one thing on your application that deals with the essence of the law profession: writing. Law school admissions committees want the opportunity to examine your writing and determine the degree of efficacy with which you can create and develop logical ideas while also reaching out and connecting with an audience. In addition, law schools are interested in knowing what you value personally, professionally, morally, and intellectually, and the personal statement is the place to see that. It presents a "human" aspect to your law school application that can be found nowhere else and, in certain situations, can be the deciding factor between a denial or waitlist, and an acceptance.
There is no one way to tell someone how to write a great personal statement, since everyone has a different writing style and story to tell, but there are a few rules you can follow that will ensure that you are at least keeping within what makes the Admissions Committee happy:
- Steer clear of "gimmicky" essays, i.e., colored or patterned paper, computer graphics, attached photos of you as a toddler, video or DVD essays, or statements written in the form of an LSAT logical reasoning question. The admissions committee wants to read a clear, well-written, well-though-out statement that demonstrates you are a serious candidate for a JD from their school.
- Don't write a two-paragraph, one-page, double-spaced essay. Give the Admissions Committee something to read and get to know you with. You can't really get to know someone in 250 words or less. On the other hand, don't ramble on for 10 single-spaced, 8pt font pages. Respect your audience, and show them that you understand how important their time is by writing a 2-3 page personal statement with default margins in 12pt font that can be read cohesively in a minimal amount of time.
- If you don't know how to use a "big" or "fancy" word, or the way you have it in your essay sounds strange, take it out. A big vocabulary is only impressive when it is used correctly.
- Grammar. Spelling. Punctuation. These are a few of Admissions Committees' favorite things.
Present your best side. Don't use the personal statement to gripe about something that you thought was bad or unfair; if you must, then also take the time to talk about how that negative experience allowed you to grow as a person and allowed you to see things in a different perspective.
- Don't let your personal statement be a regurgitation of your résumé. The Admissions Committee has your résumé in front of them; they don't need to see it again in a longer format. Use the personal statement to anecdotally show them who the person who did all those things and had all those accomplishments is.
- Most importantly, don't play it safe. Write about something that touched you, something you can be passionate about, something that you know embodies you and what you believe in, even if it seems a little unorthodox. Don't let a fear of being a little too "out there" keep you from wowing the Admissions Committee or leaving an indelible mark in their minds. After all, it's better to be "that guy who juggles fire" or "that girl with the 3 show dogs" than "that kid that wrote the essay about their European backpacking tripâ€¦no, not that oneâ€¦or that oneâ€¦not that one, eitherâ€¦".
What should I do if the law school I'm applying to asks that I write my personal statement on a particular topic?
Then write it on that topic. Remember that you would be completely ignoring the wishes of the Admissions Committee if you deviate from the application instructions, even if you write an absolutely fantastic essay on something else. A huge part of being a lawyer is knowing and following the rule of the law; what kind of message are you sending if you don't even follow the rules of your law school application?
Can I have someone else write my personal statement?
The answer to this question is an emphatic "No." Admissions Committees throw out (and, in many cases, blacklist with the LSAC and the ABA) applicants who brazenly and blatantly use someone else to write or otherwise plagiarize their personal statements. Why risk it? However, it is perfectly acceptable to have others read, offer suggestions, and help you edit and streamline your statement. The statement needs to come directly from your hand, but help with crafting it is completely unobjectionable.
When should I use an addendum, and how do they affect my application?
The most important part of addendums is understanding what they are and how they are used. Addendums are used to explain problems or gaps in your application. As such, you should not use your personal statement as an addendum. Use the personal statement exactly for what it's meant for—presenting a great or unusual quality about you, your beliefs, and your experiences in an excellent, positive light. Use addendums to offer explanations for inconsistencies in your application.
Many schools will give you the space you need to explain any negative aspects of you application; if they do, and you have things you'd like to explain, then use the space to explain the whys, whens, and hows of the situation. If the application does not include space to explain the negatives, then include a separate sheet (marking it clearly with your name and any other information necessary to label it as part of your application). Keep it brief and strictly factual. The addendum is not meant to invoke pity, but rather to simply explain a situation—the more to-the-point your explanation is, the better.
How many recommendation letters should I get, and when should I ask for them?
You should get as many recommendation letters as the schools require. They may ask for one, two, or three letters; there is no "industry standard". Start looking at your applications in advance to determine how many letters you need to get, and start asking for them as early as you can.
Admissions Committees aren't impressed by names, titles, or accomplishments—they are impressed by heartfelt, radiant endorsements from people that have taught you, known you, or worked with you, and can unwaveringly testify (with concrete, anecdotal examples) that you will be an exceptional addition to their school. If you're still in school, ask professors with whom you had actual rapport, who you know will give you glowing reviews. Don't go for the big-name professor who doesn't know your name but won the Nobel Prize. If you've been out of school for a while and working, ask your immediate supervisor (who knows you, has worked with you, and can give a first-hand account of who you are), and not the owner of the company who can't pick you out in a crowd.
Ask your recommenders what they will write, and offer to help them with examples. The most important thing is to give your reviewers plenty of time to write and send their letters; don't let your applications sit in admissions limbo because of a missing recommendation.
Be involved in requesting and obtaining your letters—a fantastic commendation can sometimes be what sways an admissions decision.
Should I use the LSAC Letter of Recommendation Service?
Access to LSAC's Letter of Recommendation (LOR) service is included in Credential Assembly Service (CAS) registration. This service allows you to manage your letters of recommendation through your LSAC.org account.
If you use LSAC's LOR service, your references will only need to submit their letters of recommendation once to LSAC—even if you intend to include these letters in every one of your law school applications. LSAC will make copies of each reference's original letter to include in your law school reports.
You get to assign which letters you want each law school to receive. If you change your mind early enough in the application process, you can reassign your letters through your LSAC.org account.
Most ABA-approved law schools accept LSAC's LOR service. However, unless a law school states that you must use this service, you may choose not to use it. If your school requires or recommends that you use the LSAC LOR service, then it is best that you use it. A word of caution: the LSAC LOR service can take a while to process and distribute recommendations to each of the schools that need it, so make sure to give yourself and your recommenders ample time to get everything in, processed, and sent out. As per CAS, it takes approximately two weeks to process a letter of recommendation from the time it is received. To read more about the LSAC LOR service, click here.
The Admissions Decision
When will I hear about an admissions decision?
Many schools practice rolling admissions which, for applicants, translates into: the earlier you get your application in, the sooner you'll hear back. This also means that there is no "set" timetable for when you will hear back from the law schools you apply to, but there are certain date ranges when you will definitely hear about a decision if you haven't heard from a certain school:
- Early Decision or Early Action applicants will get an admissions decision anywhere from mid-December to early January.
- Regular Admissions applicants will get an admissions decision by mid-May or earlier.
- Waitlisted applicants will get an admissions decision usually by mid-summer.
What should I do if I'm waitlisted or if my application is held?
If you are waitlisted or held, and you know that the school is one that you would definitely like to attend, there are a number of things you can do:
- Send a LOCI, or Letter of Continued Interest. In this letter, reiterate the specific reasons why you want to attend XYZ school, and enthusiastically state that XYZ school is your top choice. This should be sent shortly after receiving notification of your waitlist or held status.
- Send an updated resume or update letter. However, this should only be sent if you've gotten a new job, changed your contact information or address, or won a new scholarship or fellowship.
- Be very careful with LOCIs and updates. Do not become "that person" that sends in a letter every week, or calls the admissions office every other day. The idea behind the LOCI and update is to keep the admissions office informed of changes in your application and let the Admissions Committee know (when they open your file during waitlist deliberations) that you are still very much interested in attending their school. Occasional, reasonable updates are good—weekly emails are not.
- Be kind to other applicants on the waitlist. If you decide to accept a seat at another university, drop a note or call the admissions office of the university that waitlisted you and let them know they can release your spot—that might allow someone else to get a seat in a school they might not have otherwise been accepted to. After all, you'd want everyone else to do that for you, right?
If you are rejected, you can always petition for reconsideration by the admissions committee, but the success rate for this approach is minimal without some significant change or addition to the application. If you are committed to attending a particular school that didn't accept your first application, you might consider reapplying the following year—just be sure that you've improved on your original application as much as possible, perhaps with more work experience, new recommendations, or, better yet, a higher LSAT score.
Consider Retaking the LSAT
The two most important facets of your application are your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score. For many law school applicants, it's a bit too late to significantly alter one's GPA, but you may still be able to retake the LSAT to improve your score. Law schools look at a student's highest score, so if you got waitlisted or rejected the first time around, retaking the LSAT might be the best way to strengthen your application.
What is involved in deferring law school?
Many law school applicants have heard of deferring, but few know anything about the practice. In order to make applicants more aware of this process, we have outlined exactly what deferring is, how it works, and what you should know about it.
What is Deferring?
Deferring is a process by which accepted law school applicants can delay matriculation to a law school for a year or longer, without having to reapply when they are ready to begin taking courses. By deferring admission to a law school, applicants effectively accept the admissions offer, delay their first year of classes, and guarantee that their space is held for them until the following year.
How Deferring Works
The typical process of receiving a deferment is outlined below:
1. You must be accepted for admission at the law school in question. Note: your admissions offer must still be valid at the time of your deferment request. For example, if the deposit deadline to hold your seat passes and you have neither paid the deposit nor made a deferment request, the option to defer or even enroll is typically no longer valid.
2. While holding a valid admission offer from the school, you make a formal written request for deferment to the school's admissions office. This request must include a valid reason for deferment, such as sickness, personal issues, employment commitments, delays to a degree currently in progress, or financial constraints.
3. Your request for a deferment is not automatically granted by the school, and your request can be rejected. If the request is rejected you have two choices: either enroll for the upcoming semester, or relinquish your hold on a seat and reapply when you are ready to start school. If your deferment request is granted, you must typically take the following steps:
- Make a non-refundable seat deposit. This deposit usually ranges from $300-$1000.
- Pay a non-refundable processing fee (this varies somewhat by school).
- Sign an agreement stating that you will not enroll at another law school, accept a deferment offer from another law school, or apply to another law school.
- Students who are granted a deferral request will typically be allowed to defer for only one year; very few schools allow longer deferments.
- Students who are accepted off of a waitlist typically do not have the option to request a deferment.
- Receiving a deferment is rare in most cases; in fact, some schools offer only 5 to 10 deferments per year.
- Accepting a deferment and then applying to another school or enrolling at another law school is looked upon as unethical and can cause serious problems during your State Bar review and inquiry.
- If you choose to defer for a year or more, make productive use of the time off. Focus on something that will help clarify your legal career goals. For example, if you are interested in environmental law but are not unsure as to whether you would enjoy it as a long-term career, get a job related to environmental law in order to clarify your objectives in law school.
- If you know that you are going to attempt deferment to pursue further work experience, hold off on applying until you are actually ready to attend school. An applicant who has some post-graduate work experience is generally viewed as more stable and worldly than a graduating senior, thereby giving the working applicant a better chance of admission.