Law School Applications 101: From College Academics to Final Submission
June 6, 2022
Law School Applications 101: From College Academics to Final Submission
Whether you are a college junior wondering what to do after graduation, or you’re a prospective JD candidate actively preparing for your law school applications, you’re here because you want a better grasp of law school applications 101. In this blog, we have outlined the steps that encompass the law school admissions process. This guide includes:
- Grades and LSAT
- School List
- Letters of Recommendation
- Legal Resumé
- Personal Statement
- Diversity Statement
Grades and LSAT
We have to start off our law school applications 101 guide with grades and LSAT because these are by far the most important components when it comes to JD admissions. You might be wondering if there’s a specific major that favors students. While it’s true that law schools have no strict restrictions when it comes to undergraduate majors for applicants, you need to make sure that you maintain a strong academic record and a high GPA regardless of major. Law schools generally want to see that you’ve taken a course load with a lot of reading and writing intensive classes and that you’ve performed well in them.
Next, we have the LSAT. While taking the LSAT only lasts a bit over two hours on a single day, LSAT prep takes much longer. Since the LSAT is one of the few quantitative components of your law school application, your score matters—a lot—because the scores are so easily comparable between applicants. This is one test you do not want to take lightly. So if you have your sights set on a top-tier law school, you need to make sure you spend enough time preparing to be on track for a solid score.
Once you’re confident in your knowledge of the material, don’t forget to take timed mock tests and create as much of a test-taking environment as possible. And finally, take the official test when you know you’re ready. You have to report all LSAT scores, so don’t show up unprepared. If you can get it out of the way in your first try, you’ll have more time to dedicate to the rest of your application and prepare a competitive and standout law school application.
Take a look at the average GPA and LSAT scores for the top schools to get a better sense of the numbers you should be aiming for.
Alongside standout numbers, here’s an important part of law school applications 101 - you must also demonstrate a passion outside the classroom. Typical extracurriculars for law students include debate team, model UN, pre-law society, and mock trial. However, in order to stand out from the rest of the competition, you should go out of your way to show leadership and initiative. Start your organization. Conduct research in a field of your interest. You can even find a job that will hone your skills in a topic of interest, even if it’s not directly connected to law. For example, if you want to work in real estate law, you could seek employment at a real estate firm. Such an experience would allow you to learn about what’s going on in the industry, which in turn can build your credibility as someone who’s interested in continuing work with real estate.
Your involvement and membership in organizations, especially when you hold a leadership role, should be relevant to your chosen career path and make you stand out as a candidate. Since law school involves a heavy dose of reading, writing, and advocacy, activities that help to develop and showcase these skills will aid you in your pursuit of a legal education and career. It's most important to choose extracurriculars for law school that you are passionate about and that interest you, and then devote your time and effort in order to achieve tangible results that you can put forth as credentials on your law school applications. At the end of the day, admission committees look at your commitment and your ability to make a difference.
Finding the right school is as important as the rest of your journey to getting that degree. Creating a reasonable and strategic school list is a defining stage, so you should definitely not wing it by picking school names out of a hat. Instead, take the time to research and make an informed decision. To find out which law schools to add to your list, you first need to know the kinds of numbers you need to get your foot in the door. Look up top schools in the US and make note of their locations, median LSAT scores, and acceptance rates to help narrow down your options based on your own numbers and preferred location.
It’s obviously important to know the different areas of study, joint degree programs, and practical opportunities offered at the top JD programs. When you apply to law school, you should have some idea of the career path you want to take kind of law you see yourself practicing. Choosing the right school can help you build connections at clinics, expand your world views and knowledge of a specific field of the law, and set yourself up for a promising career post-graduation.
The amount of options out there is overwhelming. But, it all starts with prioritizing what’s important to you. Once you narrow down the kind of law you want to practice, the location and housing options, along with what you value in alumni support and class size, you can make a balanced list of schools where you see yourself succeeding. Who knows, you might be surprised by what you gravitate toward!
Letters of Recommendation
Up next on our law school applications 101 guide: letters of recommendation. Start talking to your recommenders about your plans and choices early. Each law school has a set of recommendation requirements, as well as criteria for who should write the letter. Since institutions usually prefer academic references, picking an athletic mentor or job supervisor who knows you well isn’t the best strategy when planning your recommenders. Some schools accept up to four recommendations while others are okay with as few as one. Use your best judgment to read the instructions and decide how many are suitable—for example, although UMichigan accepts a minimum of one letter, it “encourages” three. This means that you should submit three unless you absolutely cannot. To stay on the safe side, you should aim to ask at least three recommenders for letters, and then use them according to the variation in requirements for the schools on your list.
Some schools also specify the content they are looking for in the law school recommendations. For example, Cornell would like your recommenders to talk in-depth about what makes you a stronger candidate in comparison to others. Virginia, on the other hand, wants letters that focus on whether you have the analytical and intellectual abilities needed for the rigorous law school environment, your reading and writing skills, alongside skills desirable in a lawyer, such as maturity and professionalism.
Who writes your law school recommendations depends on the school’s guidelines. Carefully pay attention to the language used by each program. Yale “strongly” (which is equivalent to a requirement in the application world) prefers that you choose a professor, preferably someone who’s worked with you on an individual basis. I know it might seem tempting to ask your job supervisor who can attest to your latest work ethic and skills, but if you fail to follow clearly laid out instructions, you could lose a chance at getting admitted.
Although the law school application submission window (September - February) is a long one, you should aim to apply as soon as possible, ideally by Halloween. With that date in mind, start talking to your recommenders as early as April or May before you apply, since they might get busy in the fall and not find the time to write a thoughtful letter.
Before meeting with your recommenders, read over the prompts for your schools once more—what do they want to know about you? Most law schools want the takeaway from letters to be based on your academic skills - law school involves endless reading, writing, and analyzing. So your law school recommendations should include details about your analytical skillset. Ideally, your recommenders should mention specific instances where you took on challenging course loads, actively participated in the classroom, took advantage of office hours, and also detail how you compare to other students applying to law schools or former students who have been accepted.
While you may have similar grades, extracurriculars, and LSAT score as the other applicants, your law school personal statement is a component of the law school applications 101 that should stand out as your chance to show JD programs your unique story. Take this opportunity to discuss your interests, your travels, or how your cultural identity made you the person who should be admitted. A strong personal statement combines a carefully chosen topic with well-crafted prose.
You’re going to have to write all the time while you’re in law school. Your personal statement gives law school admissions committees an idea of your writing style and how you would fare in a writing-intensive curriculum. As we’ve mentioned, the law school personal statement presents an opportunity for the program to get to know you better, and learn something about you that is not apparent from your transcript or resumé. It’s crucial that you highlight a story that is your own not your parents’ or your friends’—and one which helps admissions committees understand you beyond your LSAT score and your professional experience.
It might feel like a lot of pressure to find the perfect topic. How do you know what will set you apart? Which part of your identity do you talk about? Or, should you talk about your extracurriculars instead? The perfect topic won’t come to you immediately. Look at the prompts for the schools that interest you, and then try asking yourself a few questions. This can get you a handful of ideas that might be worth expanding upon.
Some questions you could ask yourself are:
- How has your upbringing shaped you? Has your geographical or cultural background made an integral contribution to the way you think or the career path you’ve chosen?
- What is the most unique or unusual thing about your family?
- Do you have any hobbies that most people don’t? What have they taught you?
- What has been your proudest non-academic achievement?
- Where do you excel?
- What is your dream career?
- What kind of law do you wish to pursue?
- What current issues are you most passionate about?
- If you weren’t going to law school, what would you be doing?
- When did you first know you wanted to become a lawyer?
- How did your extracurriculars shape your decision to apply to law school?
- What kind of jobs have you worked? Which has been the most memorable or meaningful?
- Did a significant event impact your decision to become a lawyer?
- What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced?
When it comes to JD applications, it is important that you format your resumé in a manner that can help you stand out in the admissions process. Many schools will ask for your legal resumé, and it’s important to make sure your document makes a strong impression. Some schools have very detailed instructions for what content they would like to see in your resumé. UChicago, for example, wants you to put how many hours a week and weeks per year you spent at any particular position. Make sure you read and follow instructions.
Stick to traditional formatting. Your font should be simple, such as Times New Roman or Arial and the font size should be between the 11-12 point range. Unless your accomplishment is incredibly important such as placing at the Olympics or winning the Intel Science Competition, leave high school in the past. Admissions officers are much more interested in your recent experiences. Having experience working at a law firm is great, but it isn’t necessary. List any work-related experiences you have that might be beneficial to the admissions committee. For example, if you worked as a teacher, mention the age range or grades you taught, which classes you prepared, etc.
Up next on law school applications 101 - the diversity statement. The law school diversity statement allows you to expand on a quality that makes you different from other applicants. Unless otherwise stated, the statement is not just for racial or ethnic minorities. Although racial and ethnic identities are a significant component of diversity, the term is far more expansive. You should use the diversity statement as an opportunity to tell the admissions committee something unique about yourself, what makes you tick, or experiences that have shaped your worldview. This could include your background as well as any unique extracurricular activities, exceptional experiences, and honors and awards that make you stand out from the rest of the pack. Successful examples include family circumstances such as adoption, or unusual hobbies and accomplishments such as competitive weightlifting.
Finally, we come to law school interviews. Not all institutions offer law school interviews. In fact, minus a few exceptions, it’s rare for a school beyond the top 20 to offer interviews. Some of the most well-regarded schools around the country invite all students to interview, some send invitations depending on the limited number of interview slots, and some invite only the top candidates. Interviews may be conducted in-person, online (via video calling tools such as Skype or Zoom), or over the phone with an alumni or admissions committee member.
Admissions committees want to know about you and your plans. Let’s take a look at some of the more common questions that you might encounter:
- Why do you want to become a lawyer?
- Why are you interested in our school?
- What kind of law interests you the most?
- What is your dream job in law?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
- How would you contribute to your class?
- What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
- Tell me about an experience you had in an internship, or job that makes you proud.
- How do you spend your free time?
- What’s one thing that you might be scared of or hesitant about in law school?
- What has been your biggest challenge so far?
- What kind of law student do you expect to be?
- If you had a chance to have dinner with anyone alive or dead, whom would you choose?
- Share a book that influenced you or a book you’re currently reading.
- Explain your journey from your previous career to law.
- What excites you the most about moving to this city?
- Tell us more about a particularly meaningful extracurricular activity.
- What would you tell the US President?
- What was the best part about your summer job last year?
- What kind of student do you expect to be?
Questions in your law school interviews might focus on your time management skills, leadership capabilities, or your undergraduate experience. You might also be asked about your thoughts on a current event or different components mentioned in your application, such as your musical career or junior year internship.
Hopefully, you now have a better grasp of law school applications 101. Sure, you’ve got work to do. But if you take it one step at a time, you should be able to have it all under control and give yourself a great shot. And if you need further support, feel free to contact us so that we can connect you with our team of Former Admissions Officers and graduates from top law schools in the country. You’ve got this!