The LSAT and GPA
The LSAT, along with the GPA, are by far the most important elements of your profile. The good news (and bad news) about the GPA is that it’s usually outside of your control – you got the grades you got, and now you have to calibrate your admissions process based on those grades. Of course, if you’re still in college, make sure to keep up top grades in as many rigorous (and letter-graded) courses through your senior spring.
A lower GPA requires a higher LSAT score to be competitive at top schools. Make sure you have a realistic assessment of what kind of LSAT score you need to get into the schools you want to given your GPA. LSAC has a very helpful tool for helping gauge your chances based on your numbers:
A few (but growing) number of schools are also accepting the GRE. If the LSAT is really not coming to you (after prolonged study) and you are comfortable with a considerably winnowed pool of eligible schools, this is something to consider.
Your personal resume
Think of the resume as a chance to tell your store – succinctly. Too often, people think that a longer resume is more impressive than a shorter one. The inverse is actually true. If you have been out of college for fewer than five years, stick to one page. If you’re more than five years our, two pages is acceptable. Focus on highlighting your key experiences, creating a readable narrative with a clear timeline, and emphasize research and writing skills. Harvard’s OCS publishes a good guide to get you started: https://ocs.fas.harvard.edu/files/ocs/files/hes-resume-cover-letter-guide.pdf.
Don’t list things just to make your resume appear longer. When you are editing your content, think about what lines on your resume show skill development, accomplishments and leadership. Be sure to use action verbs and to focus on goals delivered/projects executed and led.
The personal statement
Aside from the GPA, this is a close contender with the resume for the most important component of your application. The Personal Statement is your one chance to show the law school admissions committee that you are more than just numbers. Yes, your LSAT test score and GPA are extremely important, but most law schools do review holistically (like the undergraduate application process).
Remember that law schools admit students with a range of scores, so your essay can make a big difference. If you’re applying to a law school and you fall at the lower end of their admissions statistics (<25th percentile), the personal statement offers you a chance to really stand out.
Above all else, the personal statement should answer the following questions:
- Why is law school the missing puzzle piece of your life? How does it complete you?
- What makes you stand out from all of the other applicants?
- Why is this law school the place for me?
To help answer these key questions, some things to consider include:
- What past experiences have impacted you?
- What has made you decide to apply to law school now?
- What do you hope to do in the future, and why is law school essential for your goals?
- Why is this law school the right one for you?
If you have statements in your essay like “throughout this experience, I learned the value of perseverance,” edit your essay to show your reader how you learned to persevere. Descriptive anecdotes are key to a successful essay.
Personal statements can take two main forms. The first more closely resembles a college admissions essay – these essays are very literary, full of rich anecdotes, compelling stories, and vivid adjectives. The alternative approach is to be more didactic, and to answer the questions on the preceding slides more directly. Either approach works and neither is preferable at the law school level! If a student chooses the more literary route, they still need to answer the three fundamental questions: 1) Why law school? 2) Why me? 3) Why this law school?
The (Truly Optional) Diversity Statement
The “diversity essay” provides you an opportunity to share how you are different than the average candidate and to explain how you would bring diversity to the incoming class. The decision about whether to write this essay is an important one – it is not merely another opportunity to demonstrate writing skills. Think critically about how you would contribute to a diverse law school community. In very, very few circumstances do I recommend this essay, and will only recommend a student write it if they have a story in mind. Ultimately, this essay is high risk/low to medium reward. Above all, we do not want to risk coming off as off-putting or non-critical about diversity or adversity. If you have something unique about your background (and it does not have to be a traditional category of race or ethnicity – it could be economic diversity, diversity of experience, etc.), you may as well take the opportunity to share that with the admissions committee. However, this is absolutely not an opportunity to show the admissions committee that you are a strong writer – that is what the personal statement is for. If the admissions committee perceives that you have treated the subject lightly, or have not seriously engaged with questions of diversity and inclusion, this can reason a serious red flag about a candidate’s judgment and character.
You’re better off having a strong personal statement and no optional diversity essay than one that feels contrived. For example, I once had a high-income, white student want to write about both of his parents being doctors and him wanting to be a lawyer, hence diversity. I suggested not writing about this, for it could have come off as a failure to recognize one’s very real socioeconomic and racial privilege.
The “Why Us?” essay asks why you have chosen to apply a specific law school. This is the place to show that you have thought closely about your school selection and that you are a great fit for their program. Make sure you check the specific supplemental requirements of each law school way in advance of the submission deadline. Well-written and compelling essays can only strengthen your application.
To approach this essay, I have students research the following categories:
- Faculty and courses of interest
- Research opportunities/research centers
- Extra-curricular activities
- On-campus experience (if applicable)/Facilities
- Inspirational Alumni
- How the university sees itself
Letters of recommendation
Your recommendations are crucial because they are the only component of your application that is contributed by a second-party. When choosing recommenders, consider the following:
Does this person really know my work?
It is important to have recommenders who can evaluate you as a student, who can speak to your academic prowess. Unless you have been out of school for many years, make sure you have at least one, and ideally two, professors. Law school is largely a prestige game – try and solicit letters from the highest impact people, who still know you. You can submit an optional third professional reference if you have one.
Can this recommender express him or herself effectively?
You want to be sure that the person writing your recommendation can advocate for you. A recommendation that is riddled with typos, or that lacks a cogent message won’t make a compelling case for you.
Give your recommenders a firm deadline and share the date on which you would like to submit your application. Do not request a letter of recommendation without attaching a personal statement draft and a resume. Don’t be afraid to check in and remind them. Furthermore, the thing you want to vary in letters of recommendation is subjects, not writing quality. Talk to your letter writers about speaking to different topics – for instance, personal character, writing skill, leadership capacity, etc.
You are required to submit a transcript in your law school application. Order transcripts early. You don’t want to be biting your nails waiting for your academic records to show up. You usually must submit a transcript for all institutions attending – this is especially relevant for students who transferred colleges, or who studied abroad. Schools have different rules about submitting study abroad transcripts, and students should check the websites of the schools they are applying to.
A note on your academic record:
The transcript is particularly relevant in cases where there was an upward trend or one weak academic semester that can be explained by extenuating circumstances. In these situations, the transcript can shed light on those circumstances, but ultimately, the overall GPA is most heavily considered.
- If you have a substantiated reason (illness, for example) to explain or defend poor academic performance during an undergraduate semester, you should add an addenda to your application.
- Law schools understand and take into consideration divisional norms in GPAs. For instance, engineering applicants tend to have lower GPAs. Your choice of undergraduate major will not be weighed against you.