When it comes to pursuing one’s dreams, it is sometimes easier to envision the destination than it is to envision the hurdles that will be faced during the journey. Today, I am going to be taking a deep dive into some of the “hurdles” involved in the law school admissions process. Although I am by no means an expert, I have been through the admissions cycle once, decided to pursue admissions later due to personal circumstances, and I am currently studying to retake the LSAT. During my time as a law school applicant, I have scoured the web, taking in articles and videos from admissions officers, tutors, and consultants. Here is what I wish I knew when I began thinking about applying to law school.
How long is law school? Do I need to be pre-law? What is it like?
Note: I am not currently a law student, but here are some key details about law school:
- Most J.D. programs take 3 years. Although most programs are full-time, there are some universities (e.g. Georgetown University) that offer more flexible programs, such as an evening program that can be completed in 3-4 years. Many J.D. programs also offer dual-degree options, such as J.D./MBA.
- You do not need to be a pre-law major in undergrad. If pre-law is the major that is most appealing to you, that’s wonderful; however, if it’s not, you may be better off choosing a major that interests you, such as engineering, art, marketing, etc. A good GPA, though not the most important or sole factor in law school admissions, is important. Passion for a subject shines through, encouraging engagement and better performance.
- 1L students (first-year law students) typically have standard set of curriculum that is predetermined by the law school, with some programs offering the option to choose an elective in the first year. Most programs teach certain core classes in the first year, such as contracts, torts, and property, to name a few. In a student’s second and third year, there is more freedom to choose what classes to take.
- Law school is reading and writing intensive. Not only is there often quite a bit of material to read, the material tends to be dense. Unlike undergrad where final grades are often based on a mix of participation, homework assignments, papers, and exams, most law school final grades are based on one to two exams or a paper.
I still want to go to law school. What next?
Before applying to law school, it’s important to know the costs to do so:
- Credential Assembly Service ($195): a service required to take the LSAT and to apply to LSAC-member law schools.
- LSAT: $200
- Report Fee: CAS charges a $45 report fee for each law school applied to, excluding the cost of the school’s application fee. For example, let’s say School ABC’s application fee is $75. The total fee to apply to School ABC would be $120 ($75 app fee + $45 report fee).
Note: a student may potentially be eligible for an LSAC fee waiver here.
In order to apply to law school, you will need to take the LSAT (law school admissions test). The exam is 100-101 questions, 5 sections (Analytical Reasoning, Logical Reasoning x2, Reading Comprehension, and one unscored experimental section), and it is scored on a scale of 120-180. Your goal score will largely depend on the median LSAT score at your goal schools.
For example, let’s say you want to apply to School ABC. School ABC has a 25th percentile LSAT of 167, a 50th percentile of 169, and a 75th percentile of 170. In this case, the school’s median of 169 means that 50% of the admitted applicants for that particular school scored lower than 169, and 50% scored higher than 169. Overall, of all who take the LSAT worldwide, a 169 is around the 96th percentile- quite a high score! However, a different school may have an entirely different median. Ultimately, you’ll want to look into schools and determine which are your goal schools – this may be influenced by location, employment prospects (I highly recommend looking at every school’s employment report), cost of attendance, and more.
During COVID-19, the LSAT is being administered remotely and consists of three sections instead of five. It is currently unclear if the October 2020 LSAT and later test dates will be administered remotely.
Most law school applications open in early fall, with deadlines for more competitive schools closing early in the following year (such as February) and less competitive schools’ deadlines often closing at a later time, such as June.
The LSAT is a crucial part of a law school admissions application. Again, it is NOT the sole factor considered for admittance as schools tend to employ a holistic review process, but it is a very heavily weighed factor. It is important to give yourself enough time to study, whether that means taking a prep course, self-studying using books, or a mix of both. Students tend to spend anywhere from 3-12 months studying. Khan Academy offers 10 official, free LSAT tests and students may take a diagnostic exam. A diagnostic exam is a good starting point to figure out strengths, weaknesses, and the amount of improvement needed, depending on one’s goal score.
Other application components include letters of recommendation, transcripts, a resume, and a personal statement.
Personal Statement: As it sounds, a personal statement is supposed to be, well, personal. What can you write about that will tell the school who you are? Have you had an experience that is unique and important to your life? The maximum length of a personal statement will vary school to school. For example, UC Irvine Law School notes that a personal statement submitted to them may be maximum length is 500 words, whereas some law schools don’t have a limit. However, most schools tend to limit a personal statement to two pages. No matter the essay limit, it is important to check each school’s requirements and make sure that they are followed.
Letters of Recommendation (LOR): Schools vary in how many LORs they require, but many often require 2. Ideally, you will want a LOR from a professor and/or employer who is familiar with your work and can speak to how you are in school/work/etc.
Resume: Law schools typically will want an applicant to submit a resume.
January-June 2021: Sign up for CAS; study; work on application components, such as requesting letters of recommendation and writing a personal statement. Depending on LSAT progress, sign up for an LSAT test date.
Mid 2021: Take LSAT.
September-October 2021: Apply to law schools.
- Create a spreadsheet. Although it may at first sound like a bit of work, creating a spreadsheet of application deadlines, location, average cost of rent, etc. is a good way to organize what will likely be a long list of schools. I also recommend creating a spreadsheet of law school application fees to help track expenses and create a savings goal.
- Look into school employment reports. ABA accredited law schools are required to issue an annual employment report that details things such as employment, unemployment, and the size of firms their graduates placed at.
- Before applying to law school, look into what it is like to be an attorney. Although courtroom drama shows would love to have us believe that attorneys passionately make their case in court most days, it doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of what most attorneys do day-to-day. Familiarize yourself with the various fields of law, what attorneys commonly do most days, and then consider if that seems like a career that appeals to you.
- Be patient with yourself. Law school admissions is a stressful process, but it is important to remember that it may not always easily be a case of going from Point A to Point B. You may not get your goal LSAT score or get into your dream school, to name a couple of possibilities. Sometimes the process of law school admissions can feel all-consuming, but it is important to remember that your scores, admissions results, and journey are not a direct reflection of your identity or character as a person.
Applying to law school is an exciting journey, one filled with hope, cautious optimism, and plenty of learning experiences. Although the law school admissions process can be stressful, hopefully this information will help you better know what to expect so that you can plan ahead and reduce stress.