I attended a top 50 law school in the US with a scholarship and here are some tips and things I wish I had known prior to starting the law school application process:
- Work on obtaining the highest LSAT score possible.
Although now some law schools are not requiring the submission of an LSAT score in order to apply (and may accept the GRE), generally speaking the higher your LSAT score is, the higher your chances you will be accepted into a top-ranked school and offered a hefty scholarship. It is often unsaid that the LSAT is one of the most important parts of your law school application, and can make or break an admission decision. Even though I knew the LSAT was important at the time I applied to law school, I did not realize how my score would impact my scholarship awards.
First of all the good news is that you can take the LSAT multiple times and submit your highest score to law schools. Although the schools may be able to view all those scores, for admissions purposes, they will consider the highest submitted score in whether to admit or deny the applicant. If they do admit the applicant and they choose to attend, the law school will report the highest score to publications such as US News & World Report. It is therefore my opinion that it only helps applicants to take the LSAT as many times as they can to achieve the best score they can.
An average LSAT score for California applicants is a 158 (approximately the 70% percentile). It is incredibly rare to score a 175 or higher (around 0.5% of test-takers score in this rage). If you do score in the 170s range, you are then in a range of top 14 law schools. Depending on the median LSAT ranges for a particular law school, scoring in a range that is at least in the 75th percentile for that school will likely result in a decent scholarship award.
For example, I scored in the 87th percentile. I applied to law schools where my LSAT score was around the median for that school. Almost, if not all the schools admitted me and awarded me a scholarship. At schools where my LSAT score was in the 75th percentile, I received several half to full-tuition scholarships.
What else I found surprising was that after I received my admissions decisions, I would periodically receive updates about my scholarship award. One law school even, on its own volition, increased my scholarship by $5,000/year after admitting me two months prior. Another school gave me a $1,000 grant for my academic achievements.
My goal was to attend the best school for the lowest price possible. Law school tuition is insane and most programs are three years long. Excluding cost of living expenses, the average cost to attend law school for three years in the US is a whopping $130,000.
2. Scholarships are negotiable. (!!!!)
After you receive your admissions decisions, you can take a look at your scholarship awards. There are law schools that will actually negotiate with its admitted students and increase their scholarship awards. An important factor in negotiating would to have another scholarship offer from a similarly-competitive law school (for instance, if an applicant received $10,000/year to attend Duke University School of Law, ranked ~12 on US News & World Report), and also received $20,000/year to attend University of Virgina School of Law, Duke may be more inclined to negotiate with that student.)
After you have decided where you want to attend, do not hesistate to try and negotiate any scholarship you received! The worst they can do is say no.
3. GPA matters too.
Although not as important as your LSAT score, your GPA may also determine how attractive your application is to admissions committees. Some admissions officers may look at your numbers together (LSAT score + GPA) and some may consider the difficulty of your undergraduate program and the courses you took. This is all factored into a wholistic view of the application. When I applied to law school, my GPA was average at best, but that did not stop me from gaining admission to some of the best law schools in the country.
4. Tidy up your resume/CV.
As far as skills, law schools want to see that you have the transferrable skills necessary to become an attorney. Such skills may include: writing, analyzing, critical thinking, public speaking, advocacy, etc. Make sure you submit a resume that clearly showcases all the skills you’ve obtained so far, including in volunteer experience or internships. If you are applying to law school and have been working years out of undergrad, even better. Include your employment history and try to tie those skills to the practice of law.
5. Soft-Factors are also important to set yourself apart from other applicants.
What I mean by soft-factors is anything untangible about yourself that would be relevant for an admissions officers to know. For example, were you a teacher for Teach for America? Did you study abroad or volunteer in your local community? Have you performed any research? Have you overcome any adversity or challenges in your life that demonstrates your exceptional ability to persevere? Did you campaign for a politician? Did you start a small business? Did you tutor students part-time in undergrad? Include anything and everything about yourself to stand out.
Regarding the personal statement, which is a common application requirement, it is your chance to write about any experience or anything about yourself that shows your desire or ability to become an attorney. Similarly to undergrad, you have a chance to show the admissions officers why you would be a valuable asset to their law school or how you’d be an effective lawyer.
Another frequent myth I often hear is that if you didn’t major in the liberal arts, your chances of getting into a top law school are lower. That is very far from true. You don’t need to have majored in political science, history, or english to go to law school. In fact, having a hard-science background may prove to be a great advantage (think intellectual property and in-house counsel for tech start ups). Some attorney jobs require a degree in science to even apply.
6. Apply broadly.
Despite the numbers-game that applicants must play in this process, I would still encourage you to cast a wide net when deciding what schools to apply to. If you’ve always wanted to attend Columbia Law School, go for it! You never know what can happen. This process, although we think we have it figured out, is still somewhat of a crapshoot and can be random.
Good luck out there.