By an IvyWise Law School Admissions Counselor
Applying to law school has many similarities to applying to undergrad, with some key differences. So, what are those differences? And what goes into a law school application? Learning about the components of the law school application can help you manage expectations about the process and be better prepared.
The first thing you should do once you have decided you want to apply to law school is to apply for an account with the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). You should think of the LSAC as a central repository — a bit like The Common App from undergrad, but not quite. When it comes time to apply to law schools, you will send all transcripts, letters of recommendation, and more to the LSAC — not the law school. The LSAC will then send it all your application materials to all to the law schools on your behalf.
GPA and Academics
The two most important elements of your law school application will be your grade point average (GPA) and your academics. Law schools treat your GPA as a measure of your work ethic, academic intelligence, and enthusiasm for your field of study. The higher your GPA, the better!
Once the LSAC receives all your undergraduate-level transcripts, including any college courses taken while in high school, they will recalculate your GPA. Your LSAC GPA may differ from the GPA reported on your undergraduate transcript because it will give you a boost for any A+. The LSAC will also use every college class you have ever taken, even if it was a community college course you took as concurrent enrollment in high school.
Sometimes, the LSAC GPA will go down if you took advantage of your college’s forgiveness or class retake program. Once it comes time for you to build your list of law schools you want to apply to, you should use your LSAC GPA as a reference against the median GPAs of the law schools on your list.
Interestingly, your major in college does not play a major role in your law school applications. It is a complete misconception that you need to apply as a pre-law or political science major. In fact, law schools want to enroll a diverse incoming class, and part of that diversity extends to the majors the incoming students have studied.
The legal field is very broad, and there are many areas of law that you can practice, including but not limited to: health law, tax law, corporate law, criminal law, consumer law, tech law, and more. So, applying to law school as a health major, business or accounting major, criminal justice major, marketing major, or computer science major is just as advantageous. The bottom line is that you should study what you are most passionate about because that will probably translate into a higher GPA!
Standardized Test Scores
The second most important aspect of your law school application will be your standardized test score. For law school applications, that means the LSAT. Some, but not all, law schools will also accept the GRE. To keep all your law school options open, you should really take the LSAT.
The LSAT is administered in two parts. The first part consists of several 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions. The sections include Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, and Logical Reasoning. Overall, there will be three scored sections and one unscored section so that the LSAC can validate new test questions for future use. The second part of the LSAT consists of a 35-minute, unscored LSAT writing sample. Although the writing sample is not scored, it is sent to each law school that you apply to as part of your LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS) Report.
Your LSAT score is based on the number of questions you answered correctly — your raw score. All test questions are weighted the same, meaning the total number of questions you get right is what matters for your score, not which questions you get wrong. There is no deduction for incorrect answers. To make it easier to compare scores earned across different LSAT administrations, your raw score is converted to an LSAT scale. The LSAT scale ranges from 120 to 180, with 120 being the lowest possible score and 180 being the highest possible score.
The LSAT is offered nine times per year, but this is the kind of exam that you want to ace in one, maybe two, tries. The higher the score you receive, the higher-ranked law schools you can target. Students usually prepare for the LSAT for months in advance with the help of a preparation class or tutoring. IvyWise offers excellent LSAT tutoring for those looking to get personalized, one-on-one support for this critically important exam.
Personal Statement and Optional Essays
Similar to undergraduate applications, your law school applications will require you to write a personal statement approximately two pages in length, although each school will have its own length requirements. And unlike undergrad, where you probably wrote one Common Application personal statement that went to every college, each law school will also have its own prompt, although they are often similar.
The personal statement is your chance to show a side of yourself that admissions officers cannot garner from your transcripts and resume. It is your opportunity to talk about your interests and goals, as well as shape your overall application. A lot of time and strategy goes into writing excellent law school personal statements, as they are your best way to get a competitive advantage in the admissions process.
Each law school will also have some optional or supplemental essay prompts. Now, even though they say they are optional, you really should take the extra time to write them. These prompts are excellent opportunities for you to demonstrate interest and knowledge about their law school. In fact, a common optional essay prompt is “Why do you want to attend X school?” which gives you the chance to demonstrate exactly what drew you to that particular law school and why you would be a good fit. Often, the optional essays are the deciding factor as to who gets a coveted spot in the incoming class.
Professional work experience, summer internships, and other resume-building experiences are more important in the law school application process than the undergraduate admissions process. Being involved in some student organizations in college is not enough. In fact, many law school applicants opt to work for a year or two after undergrad to enrich their resumes with full-time professional work experience.
While you do not necessarily need legal experience on your resume, it can certainly help. You could also home in on what type of law you want to practice and get more depth of experience in that practice area. For example, if you want to practice environmental law, you don’t necessarily need legal experience on your resume. But having work experience in the environmental justice sector, such as a non-profit or doing policy work, would also help you bolster your law school applications. Essentially, you want law school admissions committees to look at your resume and have no doubt you want to attend law school and/or practice a particular area of law.
Letters of Recommendation
Just like with undergraduate applications, you will need two letters of recommendation to apply to law school. One of your letters of recommendation will be from a faculty member, and the other will either be from a professional reference or another professor. Letters of recommendation add other voices to your application and allow the admissions committee to see you from another perspective.
Interview and Demonstrated Interest
Roughly half of the top 20 law schools will have an interview component to the application. Other than that, an interview is not common. At some of the elite schools, the interview is by invitation only. At others, it is a requirement. If you are given the invitation to interview, you should take it. The interview is a chance for an admissions officer to get to know you better and on a deeper level than your personal statement could allow. Additionally, interviews are an excellent way to demonstrate an interest in a particular law program.
Demonstrating interest in a particular law school may help move the needle in your favor. There are many ways to demonstrate interest, including touring the school, signing up for email newsletters (and actually opening them!), attending open house events or shadow days, and chatting with admissions representatives. You can also demonstrate interest through your personal statement and “optional” essays. Remember, law schools are going to be more motivated to enroll highly qualified applicants who have demonstrated interest over those who haven’t.
Character and Fitness Questions
Finally, we have arrived at the last application component: the character and fitness questions. Every law school will ask you a series of questions regarding any prior arrests and other disciplinary actions taken against you, either by your college or by the government. You should read the questions carefully and provide honest and complete answers and explanations to any of these questions. If a law school or the board of bar examiners determines you were dishonest or not forthcoming in your law school application, it could result in you being expelled from law school or being denied admission to practice law by the bar.
If you must disclose a character and fitness issue, do not fret. Answering “yes” to any of the character and fitness questions does not mean you will automatically be rejected from law school. You will have the opportunity to write a short explanation, and, if needed, provide an addendum to your application with even more context. Each admissions committee will review your answers and decide your admissibility on a case-by-case basis.
Remember, not all character and fitness issues are the same. An applicant who had a noise violation in their dorm freshman year will be treated very differently than someone who has pled guilty to a misdemeanor. Either way, make sure you are completely honest. When in doubt, there are places you can turn to for advice, including your local board of bar examiners.
Applying to law school can be a lengthy and convoluted process, especially as you learn to navigate the LSAC portal and processes, like their GPA recalculation. Luckily, an IvyWise Law School Admissions Counselor can assist you with developing a list of schools to apply to, preparing your law school application, refining your resume, and crafting your personal statements and optional essays. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you gain admission to your top-choice law schools.