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What Are the Requirements to Get into Law School?

by Steve Eggleston 22nd February 2019

This last year, over 60,000 students applied to enter America’s law schools, according to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). This is the largest percentage increase (8%) in nearly a decade of undergrads sending application packages to the 205 institutions approved as ABA-accredited law schools and the 32 which are not (many of the latter being night law programs for lower income, working, or older applicants).  Of those total applicants, a strong majority (55-60%) were accepted at one or more of the total 207 law schools operating in America, proving that there is an ascertainable and highly-achievable criteria for admission.

Postgraduate doctorate:

Going to law school is going to postgraduate school to obtain your Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. For all practical purposes, it is the process of obtaining a PhD, which is its academic equivalent. That means it is perceived as a higher, nobler calling in the world of academia and in society in general. For those who get into law school and graduate, a Juris Doctorate is a mantle that can be worn proudly for the rest of your life.

Undergraduate degree:

The sine qua non of getting into any postgraduate program is having successfully obtained a four-year (or equivalent) undergraduate degree from an American university or approved foreign school. Some postgraduate programs require very specific undergraduate studies for entry. For example, many medical schools require prospective students to have successfully completed classes in calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry. That is not the case for law school. A pre-law program can be anything, though it helps to be proficient in writing, analysis, government, and history. 

Preferred Undergraduate major:

Virtually all universities offer a pre-law program. Traditionally it was believed that studies in political science, government and American history gave the applicant an advantage; but today the advantage is modest (if any). Because of the intense training in logic, applicants majoring in the hard sciences, engineering, and math have proven to do especially well on the law school admissions tests and in law school itself. But whether this translates to the practice of law is another thing. The best advice perhaps is to study what you love and do your best to excel. 

Admissions Tests:

Nearly all law school applicants take the LSAT, which is the official Law School Admission Test for the United States, Canada, and an increasing number of other countries worldwide. The LSAT is a standardized half-day test currently given at designated test centers (there are hundred nationally and internationally) five or six times per year by the Law SchoolAdmission Council to over 100,000 takers. Though most people take it once, it can be taken up to a dozen times. The average score is 150, testing principally reading comprehension, analysis, and logic (with the writing portion unscored).  Needless to say, a higher LSAT improves your chances of getting into most law schools (note: night lawschools are far less selective, relying on attrition as the screeningmechanism).

Undergraduate Grade Point Average: The importance of doing very well in your undergraduate courses goes without saying. The more prestigious the law school, the more important your undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) will be. Taken together, your UGPA and LSAT score are the two most significant factors in getting accepted into any ABA-accredited post-graduate legal program. Which is not to say that you can’t get in with lower scores. You can, because some programs don’t lead to licensure (only advanced degrees like an LLM or SJD), and because other factors are also considered. In fact, a growing number of law schools are beginning to accept GRE scores from the Graduate Records Examination, including the elite Harvard Law program.

Letters of Recommendation:

They always mean less than UGPA, LSAT, or GRE, but letters of recommendation (LOR) can be impactful. Let’s face it, LORs from top politicians, powerful corporate executives, renowned academics, and famous alums from the same school who happen to fund various wings at the university…cannot be denied. But getting serious, this is not available to most of us. Law school admissions want to see several LORs from seemingly accomplished and reputable people. Glowing academic recommendations from your favorite college professor(s) are a good place to start. Then employers and social enterprises or charities where you worked or volunteered go far when they rave over your character and good qualities. All in all, of course, get the very best that you can get.

Personal Statement:

Many law schools ask for a personal statement that answers a specifically posed question, which can be as simple as, “Why do you want to attend our law school program?” or more basically, “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” The importance of answering the specific question posed cannot be over-emphasized, because a fits-all answer is not what they want to see. What they want to see is beautifully-written, perfectly-edited essay of your character, passion, perseverance, and qualities that show you are well-suited to graduate and represent the school in the legal profession with dignity and pride. So this is the opportunity to really lay out your personal story and why you are passionate about the calling of the law. And given the volatility of the times, there is plenty to say no matter where you fall on matters of politics and society.

Extracurricular activities:

There are several places in the application package where you can include statements about your extracurricular activities, from the application form to your personal statement. In close cases where the admissions team has to make a call between one student or another, this is where you can catch someone’s eye and stand out. Thinking ahead and working for charities, causes, and socially redeeming endeavors for which you are passionate can also bleed onto other aspects of the process. Helping to register voters, volunteering to feed the homeless on holidays, doing research for public interest groups, being a Big Brother or Big Sister to the less advantaged – all can tip the scales in your favor.

Pitfalls to Avoid:

Another way to view the law school application process is to view it from the vantage point of the common pitfalls to avoid. Because 60,000+ application packages arrive at law school admissions offices every year, there are certain things that correlate with being rejected. First and foremost is choosing the wrong school given your own record (grades, LSAT, accomplishments). Highly selective schools that demand the top in everything plus a LOR from the Governor are not the place to apply if you lack these essentials. Go online and/or visit the campuses that interest you and learn what a particular school is looking for; then select the school that best matches up with what you have to offer. When you find that school, hone in on your personal story… because while inadequate grades and admissions scores may get you rejected personal statements can redeem you and put you back in contention.

Tuition:

Without tuition it does not matter where you get accepted. For some applicants this is not a problem. They have wealthy parents or college funds set aside or can apply for the slew of student loans that exist in the educational loan world. There are also a huge array of grants, scholarships, and work programs out there, both public and private. But these cannot be assessed at the last minute. Think of them early and do what needs to be done to enhance your chances of success. That said, never let tuition stop you from applying, as the chance of finding a solution increases exponentially once you are admitted.

Final Analysis:

In the final analysis, the requirements for law school admission are simple and straightforward: the best grades, the best admissions test scores, and the best personal statements achieve the best results. But for all the close calls that exist each year, there is something called the sixth sense in the admissions process. Which means that you might want to use yours as well. Take all these factors into account, and then use your sixth sense (or in tuition) to pick the school that’s meant for you.

Steve Eggleston - author at Eduvenio

By Steve Eggleston

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