What Law Schools Look For
In determining who will be admitted, law school admissions committees try to predict how successful a given applicant will be academically. This prediction is centered a good deal on your GPA and LSAT numbers. But, numbers aren’t everything. Admissions committees look at the application as a whole, with numbers being only a part of that whole. Once you get past that first numbers "gate", all the rest of the application - recommendations, the personal statement, extracurricular activities, leadership activities, community service, etc. - completes the whole picture that you want the law school to have of you.
Clearly, there are a number of factors to consider when deciding where to apply. These include, for example, a realistic appraisal of your chances of admission; cost; prestige/reputation; size; location; specialty course offerings; student body; accessibility of faculty; variety of school-sponsored clinical (i.e. on-the-job) programs; and diversity of both faculty and student body.
This decision-making process involves a good bit of information gathering. In addition to the law school web sites, you should consult the ABA/LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools
. A copy is available at Career Services for reference purposes. It is also available from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) and can be ordered from their web site. Too, you will find it helpful to speak with some of the law school admissions deans who visit campus each fall. Take advantage of the alumni who have volunteered to provide career advising through the Alumni Careers Network (ACN), as well as those participating in panel presentations on-campus. Regardless of the exact means you use, you want to be well-informed about the schools you're considering even to the extent of visiting the schools, talking to students, sitting in on classes, and checking out the placement office. (Such a visit is more appropriate, of course, after having received your acceptance to that school. In fact, most schools have admitted students weekend programs).
The number of law schools to which you should apply depends on your chances of being accepted at the schools in which you are most interested. The average for Princeton students is 8-10. Your chances of acceptance are influenced by a number of variables. The most important? GPA and LSAT score. By using these two numbers and referring to the grids in the Official Guide to Law Schools you will have a good idea of your chances of being admitted to law schools that interest you. You might also find the Boston College Law School Locator
to be a quick guide for further looking at likely law schools. For example, if four out of five applicants with your GPA and LSAT score have been admitted to a given school in the past, it could be considered a "safety" school – a school to which you would be willing to matriculate. Be realistic about your chances of acceptance – admission to law school is highly competitive. After selecting a number of safety schools you may then add “slight stretch” schools where your numbers are just slightly lower than those offered admission. Finally, the “reach” schools that fall into the “I’ll never know unless I apply…”. Keep in mind that it becomes quite costly as the number of schools to which you apply adds up.
Under-represented applicants may find some GPA/LSAT admissions criteria misleading. Check with the PreLaw Advisor to obtain a more appropriate appraisal of the chances of admission to specific schools. In addition, many law schools have specialists who can be very helpful to applicants seeking admissions to their schools. (Under-represented admissions guidelines generally apply to African American, Hispanic and Native American candidates.)
Some final points to consider:
- Legal education tends to vary much less from school to school than undergraduate education; while elective courses may vary among schools, all offer the same core courses and teach them in very similar ways. Thus, you can get an excellent legal education at just about any ABA-approved school. Moreover, for this same reason, law school rankings make the differences in law schools seem more pronounced than they actually are. Such rankings primarily reflect the prestige of the school and often the academic ability of the students. Prestige, of course, can affect placement opportunities, and students should consider this. But students should also keep in mind that rankings change over time, especially for newer schools, and no two people will agree on exact rankings. In sum, attending a "top 5" school is not appropriate for some and not necessary for others.
- In selecting a school, remember that you will be spending three years of your life there. Listen to your "heart" as well as your head as to whether you feel comfortable about buying the environment/culture of the place as well as its so-called reputation.
- Public schools, especially in your home state, will be less expensive than private ones.
- The goal of all law schools is to provide general legal background. So, although you will have elective courses of your own choosing and although there may be special opportunities in subspecialties at certain schools, you will not graduate from law school as an expert in a certain subspecialty. Such expertise is gained through work experience.
- In terms of placement, most law schools have more employer and alumni contacts in their own geographic region than elsewhere. Consequently, attending a regionally prominent school in the geographic area where you plan to work may make job-hunting easier than attending a nationally prominent school located in another region.
- Don't overestimate your chances of admission. Be realistic in making your selection.