There are five components to applying to law school:
NOTE: In some instances additional information might be required. For example, some law schools may also require interviews, some may require resumes be included, and some may require the completion of a Dean’s or College Certification Form.
The information on the website is an overview of the process. You are urged to make an appointment with the pre-law advisor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to learn more about the process of applying to law school.
Although no one factor is usually the sole basis for an admission decision, law schools tend to base their admissions decisions heavily on a combination of the LSAT score and the undergraduate GPA, with the former carrying slightly more weight. Your personal statement and letters of recommendation will also be taken into consideration, as well as how “well rounded” you are, particularly when the school is making a decision between equally qualified candidates. All ABA schools publish statistics on admissions that you should consult in determining where to apply.
The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is designed to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school: the reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others.
The test consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions. Four of the five sections contribute to the score. These sections include one reading comprehension section, one analytical reasoning section, and two logical reasoning sections. The unscored section, commonly referred to as the variable section, typically is used to test out new questions or forms. The placement of this section in the exam will vary from session to session and you will not know which section is unscored. A 35-minute writing sample is also administered as part of the test. The writing sample is not included in your score, but copies are sent to all law schools to which you apply.
The test is administered four times a year – always the second Monday in June, the very end of September or the very beginning of October, the first Saturday in December, and in early February. The June and September/October exams are usually the suggested dates for first time takers to be competitive in the admissions cycle. The December exam will still give you plenty of time to get your applications in by regular admission deadlines, but is too late for Early Admissions deadlines. The February exam is usually considered too late to apply to most competitive schools.
The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120 (none right) to 180 (perfect score). The average score of everyone taking the test in recent years has been around a 151. Aiming to score at least a 160 will make you a much more competitive applicant.
There are numerous resources on-line, practice books available in local bookstores, and commercial prep companies that can assist you. The important thing to remember is that the LSAT is a skills test and not a core subject-based test. Therefore, unlike cramming for an exam in a particular subject, you should be devoting an adequate amount of time to studying for this exam by practicing the typical problems that appear on this exam. Many successful applicants devote up to three months to properly prepare for the LSAT and they have started thinking about the test years before, preparing by taking courses such as Logic and by taking practice tests early.
The LSDAS is the Law School Data Assembly Service which provides a means of centralizing and standardizing undergraduate academic records. All applicants to ABA law schools need to register with LSDAS. LSDAS prepares a report on every student and sends it to each law school they apply to. This report includes:
TranscriptsYou should request a transcript from all schools that you have attended. Your transcripts must be sent directly to LSDAS from the institutions, as transcripts sent from the applicant themselves will not be accepted. Transcripts must be requested by using the specific LSAC request form that you can access from your LSDAS account. You should print this form and send it to every school from which you are requesting a transcript.
The Undergraduate Academic SummaryIn addition to actually including all academic transcripts in your reports, LSDAS will compile an academic summary of all undergraduate coursework you have done using a standardized system no matter what system your undergraduate institutions may use. This will also include a standardized compiled GPA of all undergraduate coursework. This academic summary and GPA will not include any work done after the completion of your first bachelor’s degree.
LSAT Score ReportYour score report will show your most recent test results along with the results of any tests since 2002, including absences or cancellations. An average score is also calculated and reported when you have more than one reportable score. Your writing samples from all reported tests will also be included in this section.
Letter of Recommendation ServiceThe LSDAS Letter of Recommendation service is optional unless a particular law school to which you are applying requires it. However, use of this service is probably the most convenient way to handle your letters of recommendation and many law schools do require or prefer this method. You can visit the LOR section of the LSAC website to determine the preference of each school you are interested in.
Students are sometimes surprised to learn that the law school personal statement is not the place where you should talk about why you want to go to law school in the generic sense. Law schools are not interested in hearing: “I’ve wanted to go to law school for as long as I can remember,” or “I want to go to law school because I'm a good reader and writer,” or even “I want to go to law school because I'm good at debating and everyone says I'll make a good lawyer.” A law school personal statement focused on any of the generic reasons why people think that you would make a good lawyer is generally not a good law school personal statement. Law schools are also not interested in reading that you want to go to law school for any oversimplified reason such as “wanting to help people.” Law schools are generally looking for a story that is personal to you and your experiences and that highlights why you would be a good fit for law school or for the legal profession.
Some people take the route of talking about a legal, political, or legislative course, internship, program or experience that led them down this path and how they have pursued it ever since. If you’ve had this type of direct experience this may make a great personal statement for you; however, if you have never had any type of legal experience it’s best not to force it. Your personal statement should not talk about something that is not supported at all by the rest of your application packet. You want to stay away from the path to law school statement if you've never done anything legal or if your application doesn't support the assertion that this is a particular path you have been traveling (by previous degree/work experience).
Commonly, students without legal experience write the “Characteristic Statement.” This allows you the opportunity to talk about a personal experience, a life experience, a major volunteer project, a study abroad opportunity, an internship, or anything that moves you. The experience does not have to have anything to do with law school or the practice of law, but the important consideration is that you either gained something from the experience (for example, leadership skills and experience) or you learned something (in terms of perseverance, or overcoming adversity, or dealing with diversity, humanity, or world issues) and it's that characteristic that you think would make you a good fit for law school or for the legal field in general. If there is something in particular that interests you in a school, leave room to devote a few sentences about why that school is a good fit for you.
Students often consider using their personal statements to explain away weaknesses in the application file. Be careful of using your personal statement for this. You want your personal statement to be your opportunity to shine, and not something that focuses on a negative aspect. You would be better served by including an addendum to discuss glaring issues rather than using your personal statement for that purpose. Addendums are useful if there is an explanation for a particularly weak semester, or a problem with an LSAT score, or a disciplinary report. But be cautious, an addendum will not be helpful if you just want to point out, for example, that you are aware that your GPA is low, but you have no good reason for it. The pre-law advisor is available to help you write a strong personal statement and answer questions about whether an addendum is a good choice for you.
Please see the Pre Law Advisors Handout: Writing a Personal Statement for Law School [PDF]
For more information on writing a personal statement for law school please visit the following:
Please see the Letter of Recommendation subsection under the LSDAS Reports for information about submitting your letters of recommendation. Exactly how many letters you will need is something that varies from one to three depending on what school you are applying to. Please be sure that you look up the requirements for each individual school that you are interested in.
A big part of securing letters of recommendations is determining who would be the best person to write them. Law schools generally prefer that the bulk of your letters of recommendation are strong academic references, as opposed to outside letters. For these type of academic letters you want to be looking for professors who taught you in smaller courses (versus large lectures), professor who taught you in upper level courses, and professors who taught you in courses that allowed your analytic, writing, or research abilities to shine. For further discussion about who might be good choices for you to request letters of recommendation from, please make an appointment with the pre-law advisor.
Once you have determined who you will ask, you want to put together an information packet for each person you are asking to write a letter. Exactly what each professor expects you to include is something that may vary and you should definitely speak with each one about. Generally most professors request the LSDAS letter of recommendation form, a resume that particularly highlights your academic history and achievements, and a copy of your personal statement. Some may request other items and some may require you to enclose a stamped and addressed envelope, again this is something you should speak with each individual recommender about.
There are now multiple ways to submit the actual application form. There is the physical paper form, the online form directly from a school’s website, or the online form through LSDAS. Many schools now direct online applicants from their own website directly to the LSDAS online application section. Please be sure to view the LSDAS applications tab and look up what the application preferences are for all the schools you are considering applying to.
This is a complicated topic and you will want to consult with the pre-law advisor to discuss where to apply. Often students fail to gain admission to law school because they applied to the “wrong” schools. Here are some relevant considerations:
How Can I Learn About Schools?The best way to start is by visiting the individual websites of the schools you are interested in and requesting that they send you more information. Also, take advantage of the fact that most law schools have Open Houses where you are encouraged to come visit their camp Open Houses where you are encouraged to come visit their campus. Students should also take advantage of events like the LSAC Forum in Chicago and on-campus events featuring speakers from var have Open Houses where you are encouraged to come visit their campus. Students should also take advantage of events like the LSAC Forum in Chicago and on-campus events featuring speakers from various schools. The pre-law advisor is also available to assist you.
Do Law Schools Differ in Terms of Their Curriculum and Specialized Areas?Law schools provide a general education. The curriculum is fairly standard at all ABA accredited law schools. Students do have electives in their second and third years of law school, as well as opportunities to pursue particular areas of study. Although most law students typically gain specialized experience through work and internships done during law school, more and more schools are beginning to highlight their ability to prepare students for a career in a specific area by offering Certifications and Specializations.
Although Certifications and Specializations can definitely be great options for people who know exactly what field of law they want to practice in, it is not necessary to have them. Most schools also offer joint degree programs where students can simultaneously purse the JD and a master’s degree in another field, the most common of these being the JD/MBA. Keep in mind that the best approach is to be open to your future. A general program in law school will allow you to pursue any legal area that interests you, and you may even find yourself pursuing a career in a legal field you had never previously considered.
Should I Attend a School in a Particular Location?All ABA accredited law schools provide a general legal education, and graduates are eligible to sit for the bar exam in any state. Law schools do somewhat focus on the law in the state in which the school is located, but since the law is fairly uniform, this should not effect your ability to pass the bar exam in another state. In some instances it does make sense to attend school in the state or region where you plan to live. You will make contacts while attending law school and it may be easier to find jobs upon graduation if you are already in the locale in which you are looking for jobs.
What Schools are Likely to Admit me?You should be realistic. Law schools provide information on the LSAT scores and GPAs of students admitted to their school. The bulk of your applications should be sent to what are considered your “Competitive Schools.” These are schools where you generally fall right in line with the median numbers of admitted applicants.
A smart applicant will also be sure to apply to a couple of “Safety Schools.” These are schools where you generally fall above the median numbers of admitted applicants, making it likely that you will get a favorable admissions decision.
On occasion, a school might admit an applicant whose combined LSAT score and GPA are slightly lower than is normally accepted, particularly when an applicant’s file demonstrates outstanding promise and potential in other ways. For that reason, students are encouraged to apply to one or two “Dream Schools.” These are schools where you are a bit under the normal numbers for that particular school, but looking at your package as a whole, you may have a chance. Making sure that your applications realistically cover all three areas is the best way to make sure that all of your bases are covered.
What about Financial Assistance?
The cost of attending law school can vary greatly from around $10,000 to $37,000 just for tuition alone. Scholarships are available from law schools and can also vary widely from a few thousand dollars a year to full tuition. The thing to keep in mind is that law school scholarships are mainly merit based versus need based, so your scholarship offers will likely be higher at your “safety schools” and may be little to none at a “dream school.” The remaining bulk of law school costs are usually covered by loans. Students can take up to the authorized graduate study amount from the government for education loans, and some students may still need to take out private loans to cover the total estimated cost of attendance if needed. The amount of debt you are willing to take out for law school is something you should think long and hard about.