Top Questions to Ask for Law School Applicants
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions from students considering applying to law school. If you have questions you’d like answered in future FAQ’s, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Questions about timing:
When should I start thinking about law school?
If you’re just starting to think about law school in the fall (or later) of the year you want to apply, we recommend you wait until the following admissions cycle. While you may be able to submit application materials by the deadline, the better question to ask is “will I be submitting my personal best application”? Those who submit their best apps, tend to do so having considered their plans carefully, and 9 out of 10 times, that tends to correlate positively with stronger results, a better ROI, and when you put all of it together, a happier camper at the end of the day. Rushing may give you a temporary sense of “I did something productive” but you’re just fooling yourself. Don’t fall into that trap.
Completing law school and working in the legal profession requires a substantial commitment in time and work, and therefore, the decision to pursue this path should be done with thorough research and lots of deliberation. Graduating from college without a concrete plan can be terrifying, and worse, can produce feelings of envy or inadequacy if some of your friends and peers seem to have job offers, or entry to an illustrious graduate school, and a clearer sense of direction to boot. But here’s a neat trick: flash forward maybe ten or fifteen years. And take a hard look at all the people who seem to be crushing it: fulfilling careers, fulfilling personal lives, the place anyone is hoping to be. How many of those folks graduated with crisp, cemented plans straight out of college, and how many took a few years to develop and formulate that plan? The cool, inspiring answer is that it’s a jumbled mix. Plenty of BOTH pools ultimately make it into that winner’s circle. If you’re thinking about it correctly, that fact alone should alleviate a lot of the stress of needing to “seem like” you have the next steps figured out.
Be thoughtful, and intentional, and reflective. THAT is what all of those “winners” have in common. The correct (if frustrating) answer here, therefore, is that it depends on the person. For some, it can begin before college, for others, that sense of destiny can occur over a decade after graduation. Put a different way, the correct time is when you’ve considered it from all angles, have introspected like a mofo, and have a convincing argument that comes from within, and not from without.
When should I apply to law school?
Every law school admissions committee is different in how, and how often, they review applications. For the best chance of admission, you’ll want to apply as early as possible in the admissions cycle. Most schools release their applications in September, although some wait until later in the fall.
Let’s repeat a concept from above: a STRONG application is more important than the TIMING of submission. A strong application will always beat a weak and early submission. But, if the strength is held constant, applying early is better than late. So, if you’re really aiming for the stars, get your application into the best shape possible, AND apply early. That takes planning, and discipline. But guess what: the folks who get in are doing exactly that. And they’re doing it really, really well. Get after it!
If you find yourself needing to re-apply, it is certainly possible, but you’ve just introduced a big hurdle of needing to demonstrate why the “2nd you” is light years ahead of, better than, different from the “1st you.” Doable, yes. Easy? No. Updated soft components can help, you’ll also need something more tangible, like new work experience or a better LSAT score. Keep in mind that some schools have a maximum number of times you can apply – Harvard caps it at three.
But like, nail it the first time out, know what I mean?
Should I take time off between college and law school?
Law schools don’t rate this as much as, say, business schools, but in our experience coaching hundreds of law school applicants successfully to their target programs, this is an excellent idea. Work experience is valued by both law schools (including Harvard Law School, for example) and legal employers. Working in law can be tough, so full-time experience in a professional environment helps you develop the baseline skills and know-how that you need to succeed as an attorney.
Something happens when you “have a real job” and “participate in human society on your own.” You develop something. Savvy. Independence. Awareness. Setbacks. Frustrations. Reality. That ‘seasoning’ reads on an application, and can amplify a school’s confidence that your reasons for pursuing law are mature, well-considered, solid. Applicants in college can absolutely convey all that convincingly, but it takes a special applicant, and a special argument.
Questions about the general application process:
If I’m planning on applying to law school, what should my college major be?
Unlike medical school, there are no prerequisite classes you need to take before you can apply to law school, so you can major in anything. Many pre-law students mistakenly think that they have to major in Political Science or similar majors, but successful law students and lawyers have majored in all kinds of subjects (i.e., Philosophy, Biology, Theater, etc).
The major won’t matter that much. Your grades will. STEM majors may be concerned about this, since they tend to have lower GPAs. However, STEM majors are valued by law schools because they know that such majors require rigor, admitting STEM majors adds academic diversity to their student body, and it is increasingly relevant to areas of law beyond patents. However, LSAC doesn’t have an official GPA “curve” for STEM majors, so as with many things, how much law schools will take your STEM major into consideration when looking at your GPA will vary from school to school.
Let your grades do the talking, not so much your choice of major.
What are the components of a law school application?
Let’s think in terms of Hard and Soft. There are two “hard” numbers in your application that law schools pay special attention to: your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score (for now anyway!). For the LSAT, most law schools will focus only on your highest score (though if there’s a big jump in points, you may want to write a quick addendum explaining why). However, you’ll want to check each school’s website, as some schools, especially the highest-ranked ones, average your LSAT scores instead.
In addition to your GPA and LSAT, there are “soft” components to your application: your personal statement (and usually more writing, like a diversity statement, a “why x law school” statement, optional essays, and any addenda, depending on each law school’s application) and your letters of recommendation.
Statements and letters of recommendation will be covered in more depth in later FAQ, but for personal statements especially, it’s important to pay careful attention to each school’s prompt(s). And to then develop a sharp, focused, thoughtful response that shows that you’re laser focused on responding to what’s asked of you, but also, speaking from a confident, genuine, self-assured place that does not seem at all to be “an attempt to say what you think the school wants to see.” Law School admissions are much to smart for that. Getting that balance is an art form. The admissions consultants at Admit Advantage can help you figure out how to navigate all that, in case you’re looking for high-touch guidance on your apps.
Which parts of my application are most important to law schools?
For better or worse, the two most important factors of your law school application are your undergraduate GPA and LSAT score. While ‘work’ (jobs, etc.) will be taken into consideration by admissions, it’s not factored into the official GPA that LSAC calculates. That means that beginnig with your undergrad, earning good grades is the single most important thing to focus on if you’re considering about law school. After all, you can take the LSAT again, but you can’t re-do your college years.
Why do admissions committees care so much about these two factors? First, numbers are an easy way to pre-sort applications. When admissions officials are dealing with thousands of applications, they need a systematic way to focus their attention. This is an easy filter, because they still end up with way more contenders than seats. Second, law schools are always mindful of the (once?) almighty U.S. News rankings, which unfortunately weigh admitted students’ GPA and LSAT score heavily. No law school wants to drop in the rankings.
That said, don’t be fooled into believing that the rest of your application doesn’t matter. If anything, this is where you need those other components more than ever, to edge out the folks who––like you––have the ‘hard parts’ covered.
Are you screwed if you don’t have the grades or LSAT? No. There are plenty of law schools, and plenty of folks who end up with absolutely lustrous careers and lives EVEN IF (gasp!) they don’t attend the T14 programs. So, okay, you didn’t scorch your college grades, and you end up deciding on law school later on, and you don’t absolutely SLAY your LSAT. Find out how you can maximize your potential under those circumstances, see what that looks like and make a call about whether that path feels like a good one. For many folks, it is, and they find themselves swimming in a pool of happiness years down the road.