How to Get Into Law School: Your Complete Guide

“You want answers?”
“I think I’m entitled to them.”
“You want answers?”
“I want the truth!”

Be honest. When you read that, did you hear Jack Nicholson’s voice in your head? That’s a powerful scene in the legal thriller A Few Good Men. Hollywood sure has done a terrific job of depicting the practice of law as glamorous and exciting!

But how realistic is this? Could a scene like that ever unfold in an actual courtroom?

I know you want to learn how to get into law school. But before you take the plunge, let’s talk about the realities of practicing law.

This post is your complete guide to how to get into law school. We’ll cover everything from determining whether law school is right for you to completing your law school applications.

Ready? Let’s get started.


How to Get Into Law School: What We’ll Cover

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Determine Whether Law School is Right for You

Do you know what lawyers really do?

Real lawyers spend most of their time reading, researching, and writing legal documents. Contrary to their depiction in popular movies and TV shows, lawyers spend very little time battling in court or grilling witnesses.

One of the best things you can do before applying to law school is work at a law firm. The work experience won’t necessarily help you get into law school, but it will give you insight into the daily work of an attorney. How else will you know whether that type of work appeals to you?

If you already have a career, or if you cannot get a job at a law firm, the next best thing is to talk to practicing lawyers. Make sure you are comfortable with the hours they work, the type of work they do, and the legal employment market before you apply to law school.

Do you know how much money real lawyers make?

Many people are attracted to law school by the prospect of earning lots of money. To be sure, there are attorneys who become wealthy through the practice of law, but most do not. If you think law school is a golden ticket to riches, you need to research the employment data more carefully.

According to the National Association for Law Placement, first-year attorneys who graduated from law school in 2014 earned, on average, about $77,000. That’s a decent salary, right?

But what you may not realize is that relatively few first-year attorneys actually earn a salary near $77,000. Instead, the salary data for first-year attorneys is bimodal. That means there are two main groups of first-year attorneys:

  1. A small percentage of first-year attorneys earn much more than average, but the competition is fierce, and the jobs are extremely stressful.
  2. A much larger percentage of first-year attorneys fall on the lower side of the salary average, earning between $40,000 and $65,000.

The fact is most first-year attorneys earn a modest salary. But if you expand the analysis from first-year earnings to lifetime earnings, things look up for attorneys: The ABA Journal reports that law school graduates typically earn $1 million more than college grads. In other words, law school only makes sense as a long-term investment.

Do you know how much law school costs?

Law school tuition is insanely high. According to U.S. News and World Report, students at the top 10 law schools pay, on average, more than $60,000 per year in tuition and fees, and that doesn’t even include living expenses. Multiply those costs by three years, and the price tag for a legal education runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How does anyone finance that kind of cost? There are two primary sources of funding for law school expenses: merit-based aid and need-based aid.

Law school applicants with strong credentials receive merit-based aid, which consists of grants that don’t have to be repaid. However, law schools provide most need-based aid in the form of federally subsidized loans, which must be repaid. As a result, law students can rack up a substantial amount of debt. For example, students who take on debt to attend Columbia Law School typically graduate owing more than $260,000!

So…is law school right for you?

In 2012, notorious law professor Paul Campos published a book titled Don’t Go to Law School (Unless), which warns students about the “law school scam.” The contents of his book are summarized in a flowchart on Above the Law. Take a look at that flowchart to make sure law school is right for you.

If you have read all the advice above, considered all the numbers, and you still want to go to law school, keep reading to learn more about how to get into law school.

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Apply to Law School

Understanding law school admissions

Before you can attend law school, you must earn an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. But you are not required to major in any particular field of study or take any prerequisite courses. Some students apply to law school during their senior year of college, while others pursue graduate degrees or careers prior to law school.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is an organization that facilitates the admission process in two ways:

  1. LSAC administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
  2. LSAC processes law school applications through its Credential Assembly Service.

Here are the basic steps to apply to law school:

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Law school admission committees use two primary metrics to evaluate applicants:

  1. undergraduate GPA and
  2. LSAT score.

Your GPA and getting into law school

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Law school admission committees focus on undergraduate GPA because it is viewed as an indicator of your potential to excel in law school. Once your transcripts have been submitted, LSAC will calculate your undergraduate GPA by aggregating all the college grades you earned prior to the receipt of your first bachelor degree.

In some circumstances, LSAC’s aggregate GPA can differ from the GPA reported by your degree-granting institution. For example, if you took a high school class at a community college for college credit (i.e., a dual-credit class), the grade for that class will count toward your undergraduate GPA. Also, if you ever re-took a college class for a better grade, your university probably doesn’t include the lower grade in your GPA calculation, but LSAC will.

On the other hand, LSAC’s GPA calculation will not include any grades you earned after the receipt of your first bachelor degree. That means you cannot inflate your GPA by taking additional classes after you graduate from college. Many applicants are disappointed to learn that their graduate school grades will not count toward their GPA for law school admission.

If you are still in college, and you are certain you want to attend law school, you should strive to maximize your GPA. I hate to steer you away from difficult courses, which are often the most interesting and valuable, but law school admission committees value high GPAs more than they value challenging coursework. The importance of maintaining a high undergraduate GPA is underscored by the fact that you cannot change your GPA once you graduate from college.

Your LSAT score and getting into law school

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But what if you already graduated from college? In that case, there is nothing you can do to change your GPA. What you can do is get serious about LSAT prep. After all, your LSAT score is the most important metric law schools will use to evaluate your application.

It might seem odd for law schools to prioritize your LSAT score over your GPA. You spend four years earning a college GPA and only four hours taking the LSAT. But your GPA can be misleading because some undergraduate programs are more rigorous than others. In contrast, the LSAT is standardized, so admission committees rely on LSAT scores to objectively compare applicants. Learn more about the LSAT and how to study for the LSAT with our Complete LSAT Study Guide.

Therefore, you should devote a significant amount of time and effort to preparing for the LSAT. The LSAT is not an exam that rewards last-minute studying. You’ll need to dedicate at least three months to LSAT prep. And even then, many students find that they need more time to maximize their scores. If you have significant time commitments like a full-time job or demanding course load, you should plan to study for at least six months.

A common mistake is applying to law school with a low LSAT score. What constitutes a low LSAT score? You’re unlikely to be admitted to a good law school with an LSAT score under 160. Some law schools accept students with low LSAT scores, but the job placement for graduates of those schools is generally poor, and applicants with low LSAT scores do not receive merit-based aid. Only the top 20% of test takers earn a 160 or higher, which means many applicants must take the LSAT several times to achieve a high score.

The bottom line is you should not rush the LSAT prep process. Take as much time as you need to earn a high score. It’s better to postpone law school for a year (or more) than to apply with a low LSAT score.

Now that you understand the admission process, let’s delve into the most important topic for getting into law school: how to improve your LSAT score.

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Prep for the LSAT

There are basically three ways to prep for the LSAT:

  1. Take an organized class.
  2. Hire a private tutor.
  3. Purchase the materials, and study on your own.

Each of these methods has benefits and drawbacks, and the best approach is often a combination of the three.

LSAT Courses

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Many test prep companies offer LSAT courses. An organized course can give you a good overview of the LSAT and the skills you will need to improve your score.

Some students benefit from the structure and accountability that go along with a course. However, the structure of the course can also be a drawback. The pace of the course is fixed, so the instructor cannot slow down when you’re confused or speed up when you already understand the material. Also, LSAT courses tend to be quite expensive.

Private tutors

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If you’re looking for a more efficient method, a private tutor can tailor the lessons to your needs. But private tutors are also expensive, and the total cost will quickly exceed the cost of a course if you meet with the tutor regularly. Plus, it can be difficult to evaluate the quality of private tutors in advance, and your options will be limited unless you live in a large city.

Self study

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Finally, many LSAT students purchase materials and study on their own. LSAC has made that possible by bundling 10 practice tests in an inexpensive PrepTest book. You can learn a lot about the LSAT by taking and reviewing 20 to 30 published PrepTests. Although this method of study is the cheapest, it’s also the least efficient. Without the help of an LSAT expert, you will spend a lot of time figuring out the tricks and patterns we already know.

In addition to the official PrepTests published by LSAC, you will also find numerous strategy guides for the LSAT. A vast majority of LSAT strategy guides are complete junk. There are only two companies that produce LSAT strategy books worth purchasing:

  • PowerScore’s LSAT Bible Trilogy includes three separate strategy books (one for each type of section on the LSAT), and these books have a terrific reputation, particularly the Logic Games Bible.
  • Another company, Manhattan Prep, publishes a high-quality set of study materials; in particular, the LSAT Reading Comprehension book is quite helpful.

Magoosh offers a low-cost solution for online LSAT prep. Our product features dozens of video lessons to help you learn an effective strategy for the exam. We also provide hundreds of practice questions to improve your test-taking skills.

A combined approach to studying for the LSAT

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So, what combination of study methods is right for you?

If you have no experience with the LSAT, and you tend to struggle with standardized exams, you should include as many of the options as you can afford. A course will provide a solid background; a tutor will fill in the gaps; and you can hone your skills with your purchased materials.

Alternatively, if you are unfamiliar with the LSAT, but you have a history of performing well on standardized exams, you can probably skip the course and go straight to your own materials. Then, you can supplement with a tutor if you hit a plateau.

There is also a third type of test taker who is already familiar with the LSAT. Perhaps you took a prep course. Or maybe you’ve taken the LSAT once or twice and read a strategy book. In that case, your best bet is a private tutor who can help you figure out your weaknesses.

Magoosh’s online LSAT prep is suitable for all students at any stage of the process. Our lessons are flexible. You can watch them all, or you can focus on the ones that address your weaknesses. We also offer tons of practice questions to help you hone your skills, and our LSAT experts are prepared to answer any questions you have.

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Choose a Range of Law Schools

Now that you have an LSAT score, or at least some idea about your potential score, you can start to narrow down a list of schools you will apply to.

Because the admission process is so competitive, you should apply to a wide range of schools. LSAC processes your application through its Credential Assembly Service, so it is easy to apply to multiple schools. For most students, I recommend applying to 15 law schools. If you select your range of schools strategically, you will decrease your chance of striking out, and you will improve your bargaining position when it comes to scholarships.

Your range of schools should include about five reach schools, five target schools, and five safety schools. A reach school is one for which your GPA, LSAT score, or both are below the medians for admitted students. A target school will have median GPA and LSAT score very close to yours, and safety schools are those for which your numbers are greater than the medians.

Determining a law school’s median numbers is fairly easy. Most law schools post that information on their admission website. Those numbers also factor into the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. GPA and LSAT score data are available on the U.S. News website, but there is a subscription fee for the full content. Employment statistics are also factored into the U.S. News law school rankings, so these rankings are particularly relevant to law school applicants.

You should also consider your resources and goals when choosing your range of schools. Every applicant is different, but there are three major themes:

  1. Some applicants have geographic limitations.
  2. Others are dealing with financial constraints.
  3. And those in the last group have particular career goals.

Geographical limitations

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Many people apply to law school after starting families or careers. For this type of applicant, geographic location might be non-negotiable.

If you fall into this category, a majority of your applications should go to schools in your geographic area. Because there are few law schools in many areas of the country, you might not be able to find 15 law schools in your area. In that case, apply to all of the schools in your area that you would consider attending.

It may not be obvious to you, but even if you have a geographic limitation, you should consider applying to a few schools outside your area. If you receive scholarship offers from schools in other areas, you might be able to leverage those into scholarship offers from schools in your area.

Financial constraints

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Applicants with serious financial constraints should apply to a wide range of schools in several geographic locations.

For these applicants, scholarship negotiation is crucial. The end goal is not getting into law school. The end goal is receiving a number of scholarship offers so you can choose a package suitable to your financial constraints. I advise many applicants to turn down high-ranking law schools in favor of scholarship offers at lower-ranking schools.

Specific career goals

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Finally, there is a group of applicants who have particular career goals. Having a specific career goal is good, but it means you have additional research to do. Some employers (e.g., prestigious law firms) recruit applicants exclusively from top law schools. Students looking to work at these firms must be conscious of the law school rankings. On the other hand, small firms and public interest organizations use very different hiring processes, as do federal courts and government agencies.

If you want to work for a specific employer, check out the profiles of the attorneys who work there. What kinds of law schools did they go to? You might also consider reaching out to those attorneys and asking for advice. Does that employer recruit from certain law schools?

Once you have selected a range of law schools, the next step is to complete the application. The following section discusses the law school application process.

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Complete Your Law School Applications

LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service will collect all your application documents and forward them to the law schools you choose. You should register for this service about a year before you intend to begin law school.

Letters of recommendation

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After you register for LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service, you should begin formulating a list of professors and supervisors who might be willing to write letters of recommendation for you.

These letters can take a while to write, and you can’t count on your recommenders to work with a sense of urgency. Giving your recommenders a long timeframe allows them to gather more information about your goals and write stronger letters on your behalf.

In addition, LSAC can take up to a few weeks to process your recommendation letters. Ask your recommenders to have the letters completed at least a month before you intend to apply.

Your resume and personal statement

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During the fall before you intend to start law school, you should draft an updated resume. Your resume should list your degrees, academic awards, and work experience.

You should also begin drafting a personal statement. The personal statement is your only chance to “speak” directly to the admission committees.

The applications of most law schools allow to write your personal statement on any topic. But you should double check the specific prompt for each of your applications. A few law schools ask you to address something specific. Typically, you must limit your personal statement to two pages, but it’s a good idea to write three pages and then edit out the weakest parts of the draft.

Law school applications

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Start filling out applications as soon as they become available in the fall. The biographical data is fairly simple to compile.

Unlike colleges, however, law schools will also ask about your criminal history. It is important for you to fully disclose any arrests or criminal convictions in your past.

Your state bar association will conduct a background check when you apply for a license to practice law. Minor criminal issues will not necessarily preclude you from becoming an attorney, but serious criminal issues can be a problem. Furthermore, failure to disclose a criminal history in your law school application will be viewed as a serious breach of honesty. Even if your law school overlooks an omission in your disclosure, the bar association probably won’t. I’ll repeat it again: Fully disclose all arrests and convictions in your law school application.

When to submit your law school application

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You should submit your applications by November or December 1 at the latest. Technically, most applications are not due until the following year. However, law schools employ a rolling admission process, which means they start accepting students early in the process, long before the application deadline.

As law schools accept more students, the number of available spots decreases, and the competition for those posts becomes tougher. That means you have a better shot at admission if you apply early.

Early-decision applications

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Should you opt for an early decision? Take care before you commit to an early decision. Most early-decision programs are binding. When you apply for early decision, you have to sign an agreement promising to attend that school if you are admitted. Assuming you are admitted, you’ll be expected to withdraw all your other applications immediately. That seriously limits your ability to negotiate scholarships.

So why would anyone opt for early decision? Early-decision applications are submitted early, so you get the benefit of the rolling admission process.

In addition, many law schools are conscious of a statistic called yield. A law school’s yield is the percentage of admitted students who actually attend the school. If you are admitted to a law school and then choose not to attend, the school’s yield declines slightly. Since law schools seek to maximize yield, they might not offer admission to students who don’t seem committed to the school. Applying for early decision can demonstrate your commitment (since you can’t back out once you’ve been accepted). That might boost your chances of getting into a reach school.

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How to Get Into Law School, a Few More Thoughts

Applying to law school is a huge undertaking. If you are committed to getting into law school, you will spend a year of your life studying for the LSAT, researching law schools, and drafting application materials.

Almost any college graduate can get into law school. But not every college graduate should go to law school. Now that you’ve read this guide on how to get into law school, you are better equipped to decide if law school is right for you. And if you choose to apply, you have a plan to maximize your admission and scholarship offers.

Good luck! And if you need help prepping for the LSAT, check out Magoosh’s online LSAT prep.

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