Law school admissions criteria

There are numerous criteria that law schools may consider when making admissions decisions. The primary factors for most, if not all, law schools are the applicant's score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and Grade Point Average (GPA). Law schools vary in the relative level of importance they place on these two criteria, though most seem to weight LSAT score more heavily.

Most law schools compute an Academic index for each applicant. This index is some combination of the applicant's GPA plus LSAT score. Note, however, that the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) recomputes everyone's GPA. For example, while SUNY Oswego will not count a failing grade if you re-take a course, LSDAS will. Therefore, in picking a law school (see handout), remember that the law schools may see a GPA for you that is different from what you see. Based solely on this index, the applicant is placed into one of three (3) categories:

1) The Automatic Accept Pile: Applicants in this pile are virtually assured of being admitted to the school. While the committee will look at the rest of the applicants' files, only unusual circumstances will cause an applicant to be rejected (i.e., conviction of murder, cheating on the LSAT, etc.).

2) The Automatic Reject Pile: Applicants in this pile are immediately rejected from the school. Unfortunately, the committee will not even look at the rest of the file.

3) The Middle Pile: Applicants in this pile can be either accepted to or rejected from the school, based on their indices plus everything else in the file. The academic index for each applicant is high enough to qualify the applicant for admission, but not high enough to guarantee acceptance. Thus, the admissions committee looks at everything else in the applicants' files. As to other criteria, a 1990 survey of law school admissions officers (DeLoggio, Loretta. 1992. DeLoggio Achievement Program) asked that they rank various criteria (other than LSAT and GPA) on a scale of 1 to 7.

The criteria are discussed below in order of importance, based on the averaged answers to the 1990 survey. Remember, these are ranked based on the average response, so law schools will differ in their respective ranking of the criteria.

1. Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) 
The LSAT is a standardized written examination that all those applying to law school are required to take.

"The LSAT seeks to measure not what you already know, but rather how well you might respond to training in law; so it goes after your basic skills and abilities along certain lines, testing all of the following: critical and accurate reading; dispassionate, flexible, intelligent inferential thinking; distinguishing fact from opinion, and the relevant from the irrelevant; stability under pressure; tolerance of ambiguity and of abstraction; quick adaptation to unfamiliar procedures and strange circumstances."

The exam consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions containing a total of approximately 100 questions. Your score is based upon your performance on four of those sections:

  • one reading comprehension section,
  • one analytical reasoning (a.k.a. "games") section, and
  • two logical reasoning sections.

There is a fifth "experimental" section which contains new questions which are being pretested for possible inclusion on future exams. Your score is not based on your performance on this fifth section, but you will not be told which section it is.

In addition, you are given 30 minutes to compose a writing sample which addresses a decision problem which is supplied for you. The writing sample does not count toward your LSAT score, but is provided to all law schools to which you apply.

2. Grade Point Average (GPA)

3. Personal statement

4. Letters of recommendation 
Letters of recommendation can be key to admission to a law school, especially if the admissions committee is unfamiliar with the applicant's undergraduate institution. Choose references who are closely familiar with your academic work. Law schools are most interested in your ability to handle the intellectual rigor of a legal education, so your professors are the best choice for recommendations. Along the same lines, a letter from an attorney or public official will not be of any use at all unless the letter clearly indicates a strong familiarity with and specific knowledge of your intellectual ability and work ethic. A short or form letter is of absolutely no value at all; it will be ignored. The same goes for graduates of the school. A letter from John Doe, esq. who graduated from Columbia Law School will not carry much weight with the Columbia admissions committee unless Mr. Doe can speak to your abilities to succeed in law school from first-hand knowledge.

Do no hesitate to ask potential references whether they are capable of writing such letters.

5. Undergraduate institution 
Undergraduate institutions have "reputations." In addition, people on the admissions committees may have heard of SUNY Oswego (NOT OSWEGO STATE UNIVERSITY)

6. Grade trends 
Many law schools pay attention for improvement in grades over the course of an applicant's college education. Also, if you had a semester in which your grade point average was uncharacteristically low, you should address any reasons for that in your application, perhaps in the personal statement. Be careful, however, not to whine, seem apologetic, come up with lame excuses, etc. If, however, there was a death or illness in your family in a semester or something else that caused your grades to be low, share that with the admissions committees.

7. Major and difficulty of courses 
While there is no undergraduate major which law schools prefer, a number of law schools will take into consideration majors and courses which they perceive to be relatively difficult. For example, a number of law schools will add points to an applicant's GPA if the applicant has taken a major perceived by admissions officials to be relatively difficult. Nevertheless, you should not choose a major because it "looks good" to law school admissions committees. You are much better off choosing a major that interests you. Such a major will allow you to earn the highest possible GPA and this will optimize your chances for acceptance.

8. Work experience and/or graduate degrees
Law schools will note any additional relevant training that an applicant has received. This includes work experience within a legal environment, such as a law firm or public defender's or prosecutor's office. The schools will also favorably note additional education and performance therein.

9. Writing skill 
This will be displayed most prominently in the personal statement and LSAT writing sample.

10. Extracurricular activities 
Extracurricular activity is of marginal importance -- at best -- to most law schools. In terms of such activities during your undergraduate experience, you should be involved in the organizations and activities which interest you because they will make your undergraduate years more enjoyable. The bonus is that law schools look favorably on those applicants who appear to be "well-rounded," having participated in activities outside of class.

Leadership positions in such organizations may also be indicative of qualities which will make you a good law student.

However, you must always keep in mind that your grades are much, much, much more important to your chances of admission than are your activities. You should not sacrifice your GPA by becoming overly involved in extracurricular activities.

There are at least two other characteristics of applicants that law schools consider when making admissions decisions.

  • Publicly funded universities bias their admissions decisions in favor of residents of the state in which the school resides. The amount of weight given to residency depends on the specific school, but it is generally weighted very heavily.
  • The demographic characteristics (race, gender, ethnicity, background, etc.) of the applicant may be considered. The weight of these factors varies across law schools.