Applying to law school isn’t just about LSAT and GPA. Law school admissions committees evaluate applications holistically—that is, they take into account every part of the applicant including the personal statement, supplemental essays, work experience, recommendations, and, the subject of this post, URM law school status.
What is “URM”? It refers to historically underrepresented minorities in the legal profession. Although who is considered a URM can differ based on the school, it’s widely accepted that this category includes those who identify as Black/African-American, Latinx/Hispanic, or Native American.
Why is URM status important? Since law schools care about creating a diverse student body and increasing the number of lawyers from historically underrepresented groups, an applicant who identifies as URM receives what amounts to a “boost” in their chances of admission.
The URM Boost in Law School Admission
Although official data from law schools regarding the effect of URM status on admissions is hard to come by, there’s overwhelming anecdotal support for the existence of this “URM boost” from Law School Numbers (a website collecting self-reported admission data from applicants) as well as from admissions consultants and former admissions deans.
The takeaway from these sources is that applicants who identify as URM in effect receive a boost to their chances of admission. In other words, at any given school, a URM applicant with a particular LSAT and GPA is likely to have a higher chance of admission than a non-URM applicant with similar numbers.
If you’re part of the URM group, this doesn’t mean that the numbers aren’t important for you. But it does mean that the LSAT and GPA medians published by law schools every year don’t represent the medians of URMs who were admitted to the school. If you identify as a URM, you shouldn’t be disheartened about your chances of admissions with an LSAT or GPA that’s below a school’s reported medians or their 25th percentiles. URM applicants regularly gain admission with LSAT or GPAs (or both) below law schools’ published 25th percentiles.
Exactly how many LSAT or GPA points is the URM boost worth? Only the law schools themselves will know for sure, but it may amount to as many as 10 LSAT points and as much as a 0.2 increase to GPA, depending on the school.
How do other admission factors affect a URM law school applicant?
As mentioned above, law school admissions isn’t just about LSAT, GPA, and URM status. Other factors can have a significant impact.
Many law schools have a binding early decision program under which you’d apply by a particular date early in the cycle (usually in October or November) and sign a contract agreeing to attend the school if admitted. What do you get in return for signing away your potential other law school options? Well, although schools don’t explicitly state this, when you apply ED you may receive a boost in your chances of admission. So if you know that a particular school is your number 1 choice and that you’d definitely attend if admitted regardless of whether they offer you scholarship money, applying under an early decision program could be a good decision.
Undergraduate School and Major
Not all undergraduate schools are the same when it comes to how GPAs are evaluated. Admissions committees will have access to the median undergrad GPA at your school and will be able to place your own GPA in context; a 3.8 at a school with extreme grade inflation isn’t quite as impressive as a 3.8 at a school without inflation.
This isn’t the whole story, however, since the overall selectiveness and competitiveness of your undergraduate school can also be taken into account. Strong performance at highly selective undergrads is likely to count for slightly more than a similar performance at less selective schools.
This applies to your choice of major, as well. Admissions committees know that math and science majors may have lower GPAs than other kinds of majors due to more difficult material or more classes graded to a strict curve.
Essays, Resumes, Letters of Recommendation
The written components of your application are also important to law school admissions committees. These include the personal statement, supplemental essays (such as a diversity statement or Why X school? statement), your resume, and letters of recommendation. If these parts of your application can come together to show that you’d be a great law student and future lawyer, they can make up for a lower LSAT or GPA.
Law schools are interested in crafting an interesting and diverse student body, so they’ll take into account the “soft factors” of an applicant. “Soft factors” refer to other aspects of your background besides URM status. These factors can include, among other things, military service, unique work, research or community service experience, significant accomplishment in athletics or the arts, and identity aspects other than URM status, such as having a disability.
Final Advice for URM Law School Applicants
If you’re part of the URM status group and thinking about law school, what you read in this blog shouldn’t change much about how you approach the law school application process. Make sure to study for the LSAT, aim for the highest GPA achievable for you (if you are still in school), and spend lots of time on your personal statement and other supplemental essays.
However, when it comes to deciding which law schools to apply to, you should keep in mind that the published LSAT and GPA medians are not necessarily the medians of the URM applicants who are admitted. So reach high and don’t assume that your numbers will disqualify you, even if your LSAT or GPA are below the median or the 25th percentile of a school.
For more tips and advice from law students and applicants who identify as URMs, check out the URM Law School Admission subreddit.