How to Get Into Law School: Your Complete Guide

law school building

Serious about getting into law school? You’re in the right place! This post is your complete guide to how to get into law school. We’ll take a look at each step you need to cover to make your law school dreams come true: figuring out whether law school is the right path for you, completing undergrad, taking the LSAT, selecting law schools, and—yep—even applying to them!

Ready? Let’s get started.


 

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

  1. Determine Whether Law School is Right for You
  2. Get Your Bachelor’s Degree
  3. Take the LSAT
  4. Choose a Range of Law Schools
  5. Complete Your Law School Applications
  6. How to Get Into Law School: A Few More Thoughts


 

1. 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. If you want to spend a lot of time in court, consider becoming a criminal attorney or practicing family law or bankruptcy law. To learn more, check out our post on the different types of law careers!

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 the legal profession 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 for this career path more carefully.

According to the National Association for Law Placement, first-year attorneys who graduated from law school earned, on average, about $95,000 in 2019 (source). That’s a decent salary, right?

But what you may not realize is that relatively few first-year attorneys actually earn a salary near $95,000. 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 $45,000 and $75,000.

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 (American Bar Association) 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 wildly 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 can go much higher—here’s looking at Columbia’s $74,995 tuition!)—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 $190,000!

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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Get Your Bachelor’s Degree

In the United States, before you can attend law school and get your juris doctor (J.D.), 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.

So what do law school admissions committees look at in undergraduate records when evaluating applicants? Primarily GPA. With LSAT scores, these are the primary metrics used to pick the next entering class.

Your GPA and Getting Into Law School

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 (the Law School Admissions Council) will calculate your undergraduate GPA by aggregating all the college grades you earned prior to the receipt of your first bachelor degree.

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.

If you’re not sure what your LSAC GPA would be, take a look at Magoosh’s LSAC-CAS GPA calculator to get an estimate!

Requirements for Getting into Law School

What other requirements for law school will you need to meet? Check with each school individually, but in general, you’ll need to submit:

However, with all of this in mind, the GPA/LSAT combo is still the most powerful in determining where you’ll get in.

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3. Take the LSAT

Your LSAT Score and Getting Into Law School

Your Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score is the most important metric law schools will use to evaluate your application.

So, how much time should you spend studying 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 a demanding course load, you should plan to study for at least six months.

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.

How to Prep for the LSAT

There are basically three ways to prep for the LSAT:

  1. Take an organized class/LSAT prep course.
  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.

Click to show the pros and cons of each prep option

 

Prep OptionProsCons
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.

  • 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.

  • LSAT courses tend to be quite expensive.
Private tutors
  • Generally an efficient method.

  • A private tutor can tailor the lessons to your needs.
  • Expensive; the total cost will quickly exceed the cost of a course if you meet with the tutor regularly.

  • It can be difficult to evaluate the quality of private tutors in advance.

  • Your options will be limited unless you live in a large city.
Self study
  • Comparatively cheap.

  • Official materials are available; LSAC has made that possible by bundling 10 practice tests in an inexpensive PrepTest book.

  • There are numerous strategy guides for the LSAT.


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.
  • Without the help of an LSAT expert, you will spend a lot of time figuring out the tricks and patterns we already know.

  • 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.

Which study method is right for me?

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. LSAT courses 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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4. 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?

 
Other factors may also influence your choices. For example, you should also consider class size and think about what sort of classroom environment works best for you. A law school with a larger 1L class may have a lot of big lecture classes. If you prefer greater contact with your professors, you may choose to consider law schools with a smaller class size. Where possible, it’s helpful to visit the campuses of law schools you’re considering, so you can get a sense of the school environment and the campus culture.

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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5. 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.

So what will you need before you can turn your law school applications in? Here’s the list:

  1. Letters of recommendation
  2. Your resume and personal statement
  3. The actual law school applications

For more on each of these pieces, check out Law School Requirements!

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

On the other hand, 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. Learn more in our post about how to apply to law school early decision!

Yield

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. For more information on applying early decision, check out our piece on the pros and cons of early decision applications!

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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; law school life isn’t for everyone. 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. (Check out our advice on getting into law school if you’re a candidate from an underrepresented minority and finding financial aid resources to pay for law school to help you boost your chance of acceptance!)

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

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Author

  • Kristin Fracchia

    Dr. Kristin Fracchia has over fifteen years of expertise in college and graduate school admissions and with a variety of standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, with several 99% scores. She had a PhD from the University of California, Irvine, an MA degree from The Catholic University, and BA degrees in Secondary Education and English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park. She was the recipient of the 2013 Excellence in Teaching Award and the Chancellor’s Club Fellowship from the University of California, Irvine. She’s worked as a high school teacher and university professor, as an independent college and graduate school admissions counselor, and as an expert tutor for standardized tests, helping hundreds of students gain acceptance into premier national and international institutions. She now develops accessible and effective edtech products for Magoosh. Her free online content and YouTube videos providing test prep and college admissions advice have received over 6 million views in over 125 countries. Kristin is an advocate for improving access to education: you can check out her TEDx talk on the topic. Follow Kristin on LinkedIn!

2 Responses to How to Get Into Law School: Your Complete Guide

  1. erika November 28, 2017 at 5:30 PM #

    Hello,

    I was wondering if some of this advice would differ for those who want to apply for a dual degree — i.e. JD/PhD. I’m interested in applying only to programs that offer a JD with a PhD in sociology (I have a scholarship for the sociology aspect, so I’m limited in that regard. Long story).

    How would the early decision option play out in this scenario? For example, say I was applying to Harvard’s JD/PhD program (I’m fully reaching, btw) and I chose to submit it as an early decision applicant. Now, if the law school accepts me, I am bound to accept the offer. But what if I get rejected from the sociology department, am I still obligated to accept the law school offer?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 30, 2017 at 3:21 PM #

      Hi Erika,

      The exact nuances of dual programs like this are inconsistent, so you will need to get in touch with the admissions people themselves. In cases I am familiar with, failure to get admitted to all parts of the degree can lead to a blanket rejection, but I do not think this is the case everywhere. Please contact their admissions departments and the individual departments to get the answer to this very important question. 🙂


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