Applying to Law School
Law schools rely heavily on undergraduate grades and scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in deciding whom to admit. Other considerations may include letters of recommendation, extra-curricular activities, distinctive experiences, and other background circumstances of particular applicants. Those who demonstrate excellence as undergraduate students, including through a rigorous course of study at Virginia Tech, are more likely to be admitted to law schools than applicants whose academic performance has been less distinguished. The standards for admission vary, of course, depending on the law school.
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website has many resources that are worth consulting throughout the application process. This website provides valuable information about applying to law school and is your portal for signing up for the LSAT and the Credential Assembly Service (CAS).
Where Should I Apply?
In general, applicants are encouraged to apply to a range of law schools. Factors to consider include the school's admission standards, reputation, special programs, location, and cost. The pre-law advisor/s may be able to assist you in choosing an appropriate range of schools given your particular circumstances and aspirations.
We recommend in particular that you utilize the search tools available free via LSAC's website. The search tools allow you to browse schools by name, location, admissions statistics, enrollment figures, finances, curriculum, faculty, and bar passage rates. You can also enter your GPA and LSAT score to see where you have the highest probability of being admitted.
You may also order or download catalogues and application materials from selected law schools that interest you. Links to law schools are available here.
How Many Schools Should I Apply To?
Most Virginia Tech students and alumni/ae apply to 5-9 schools. According to the LSAC, in 2012, about half of all law school applicants applied to five schools or fewer. That means about half of all applicants applied to more than five schools.
You may want to apply to a couple "reach" or "dream" schools, a few "realistic" choices, and at least one or two "safety" schools. The LSAC's admission profile grids may help you to identify schools within these categories. It helps to be flexible and to keep in mind that results of the application process may surprise you.
You can find more information about applying here.
Who Else Is Applying and Where Did They Go?
The University Pre-Law Advisors at Virginia Tech have prepared a handout with information on how many Virginia Tech students and alumni/ae have applied to law schools over the past few years, how many have been accepted by one or more law schools, where Virginia Tech degree holders have enrolled in law school, and related data. An electronic version of this handout is available here.
Will I Be Accepted?
Most law school admissions decisions are made by admissions officers or committees. These persons take into account a variety of factors in deciding how many offers to make each year and to whom. In most cases, LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs are weighted most heavily. Almost all schools make admissions decisions based on your highest LSAT score if you have taken this test more than once. In addition, personal statements, letters of recommendation, personal backgrounds and experiences (such as extracurricular activities, internships, and jobs held), criminal records, and other factors count significantly in the admissions process. At many law schools, the review process is 'wholistic,' in the sense that admissions officers or committee members review an applicant's entire file and make decisions on an 'all things considered' basis.
All law school will ask you to disclose your criminal record. A single violation of law (such as an alcohol offense) will not typically be a major concern. But a pattern of violations (e.g., multiple speeding tickets) or a more serious offense (e.g., grand larceny) may be grounds for denial of admission to a law school (and eventually to admission to a state's bar). In any case, as explained below, under Supplemental Statements, it is very important to read the application instructions carefully and to disclose all violations of law as requested in those instructions.
Absent unusual factors such as a serious criminal record, LSAC's admission profile grids, along with the websites of the schools to which you are applying, are the best single sources for predicting the likelihood of receiving offers of admission from law schools that interest you. If your LSAT score and GPA are both higher than the 75th percentile for a particular school based on data from a prior year's admissions decisions, there is a strong likelihood that you will be accepted in the first round of decisions. If your LSAT score and grade point average are both below the 25th percentile, then it is unlikely you will be offered admission to that school. If your LSAT score and GPA are near the means for a particular school, then whether you receive an offer of admission will likely depend on other factors such as those identified above. If your GPA is lower than the mean and your LSAT score is higher, or if your GPA is higher than the mean and your LSAT is lower, then your chances of admission are again difficult to predict and will depend on other factors. Keep in mind, however, that standards of admission vary from year to year. Thus data from past years enable only imperfect predictions of future patterns of admission decisions.
Some applicants who are not initially offered admission may be placed on a waitlist and considered for later admission. Waitlisted applicants could be admitted as early as April or as late as July or August. If you are waitlisted at your first-choice school, it may improve your chances of admission to notify the school of your continued interest and availability.
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is administered six times a year. Most students take the LSAT in the summer or fall of the year preceding their planned enrollment in law school. It is important to pay close attention to registration deadlines and to be well rested on the day of the LSAT.
Information on the LSAT, including test dates, how to register and registration deadlines, is available at the Law School Admission Council's website, www.lsac.org. Also available at this web site are information and forms for those who may qualify for a waiver of LSAC fees.
The LSAT has five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions, four of which are scored and one which is unscored. A 35-minute unscored writing sample concludes the test. While writing samples are not scored, law schools may use them to evaluate a candidate's potential. The unscored multiple-choice section is used to test out new question types or forms. The order of the sections, other than the writing sample, will vary. There are three multiple-choice question types on the LSAT: logical reasoning questions, analytical reasoning (logic games) questions, and reading comprehension questions. There will be at least two logical reasoning sections, at least one logic games section, and at least one reading comprehension section.
The best preparation for the LSAT, in addition to rigorous coursework and independent reading and analysis, is becoming familiar with the test format and taking official practice tests, which may be ordered from LSAC. Some free study materials are available here. Students are advised to take at least one official practice test under conditions approximating those of the actual test.
For students who desire some additional study materials, there are a variety of prep manuals and self-study guides available in libraries and bookstores. A few such guides can be found in Virginia Tech's library.
Additionally, there are a number of LSAT prep programs offered by private companies for a fee. Depending on the company, they provide either live classroom or on-line tutoring, or a combination thereof. These courses include but are not limited to: Blueprint, Kaplan, PowerScore, The Princeton Review, TestMasters, and 7Sage.
The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120-180. Test takers with on-line LSAC accounts will receive their scores electronically about three weeks after taking the test. If you are unhappy with your score, you may take the test again, provided you have time before applications are due. Repeat test takers may find that their scores increase but large score differences are unlikely. Law schools will receive all your scores, not just the most recent one. More information about the LSAT is available here.
The Credential Assembly Service
The LSAC's Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is a dossier service that compiles your LSAT score report, transcripts, recommendation letters and evaluations into one report that is sent to the law schools to which you are applying. A report must be purchased for each school to which you apply. More information about costs can be found below.
Participation in the CAS is required by almost all ABA-approved U.S. law schools. You should sign up for the CAS at least four weeks before any applications are due. It takes the service about two weeks for CAS to process transcripts and letters of recommendation. Once you register with the CAS, your account will remain active for five years.
Ideally, you should sign up for the CAS when you sign up to take the LSAT. The CAS also provides electronic application processing for all ABA-approved U.S. law schools. You are still responsible for application fees to individual schools. These fees are in addition to the CAS service fee and report fees.
The Personal Statement
Law school applications require an admissions essay in the form of a personal statement. Schools may also require or allow diversity statements and other addenda. The personal statement is your opportunity to tell law schools something about yourself in professional, well-written prose that will distinguish you from other applicants. Keep in mind that your essay will also serve as a writing sample. Thus it should be direct, concise, engaging, and well written grammatically. You do not need to have climbed Mount Everest to have something interesting to say about yourself. Think about your life, what you have accomplished, your experiences, things you have learned (whether about the outside world or yourself), your interests, your hobbies, your convictions, what motivates you, your distinctive personality traits, and the like. Then create a list of possible topics. Review your list and choose the topic that conveys your personality or identity in ways that go beyond what other application materials include. Make sure to check with the school's parameters for essay length. Then draft and revise your essay. At some point, share it with family members, friends, instructors (especially those you've asked to write letters for you), and others who know you well. The pre-law advisors and other career counselors can also help at this stage. Then revise your draft until it is polished.
Schools may also give you an opportunity to write a diversity statement that chronicles how you will contribute to diversity at the school. In addition, you may be able to attach a brief addendum explaining any weaknesses in your application, such as low grades one semester, a leave of absence, or the like.
If you have been arrested, charged, arrested, or convicted of a criminal offense, almost all law schools require you to provide details about the offense in a supplemental statement. It is very important to disclose fully all offenses that the instructions for each application require you to disclose. If in doubt, disclose! Failure to make full disclosure of your criminal record may be grounds for revocation of an offer of admission, revocation of a scholarship, and even non-admission to a state's bar after you complete law school.
Many schools will require that you submit letters of recommendation in support of your application. The number of letters required may vary by school. In most cases, letters of recommendation can be submitted to schools through the CAS. Be sure to check carefully each school's application requirements. Also, it is usually advisable to sign the waiver of access, making the letters confidential. Otherwise, those reading the letters might not treat them as seriously.
The strongest recommendation letters are from professors who know you well enough to write something specific about you. How well the letter writer knows you is more important than the status of the recommender. Thus a letter from a teaching assistant who knows you well may be more helpful than a letter from a senior faculty member who does not know you well. Recommendation letters from employers may also be useful, especially if they can write about your demonstration of skills important to succeeding in law school and in a legal career.
You should request letters from recommenders well in advance of application deadlines. When asking for a recommendation, remember to ask politely, provide the recommender with any information about yourself that may be helpful (e.g., a draft of your personal statement, your resume, an unofficial copy of your transcript), and give him or her instructions and a clear deadline for submitting the letter. It may be wise to make this deadline earlier than the application deadline. Give your recommenders adequate time to write their letters for you (e.g., two weeks or more, depending on the circumstances). If necessary and as appropriate, remind your letter writers of applicable deadlines. Finally, make sure to thank your letter writers for their help.
Recently, law schools have also begun to use an on-line evaluation tool available via the CAS. The tool allows recommenders to rate applicants across six categories: intellectual skill, personal qualities, integrity and honesty, communication, task management, and ability to work with others. The electronic evaluations are sometimes combined with letters of recommendation. More information about these evaluations can be found here. It is advisable to ask your recommenders whether or not they think it would be advantageous to do an on-line evaluation in your case.
The current cost to register for the LSAT as well as information about additional fees for late registration, test center or date changes, and refund information, can be found here.
Enrolling in the Credential Assembly Service requires an initial fee. After paying this basic registration fee, you will then need to pay another smaller fee each time you have CAS send your dossier to a law school to which you are applying. Current fee information can be found here. This is in addition to application fees required by the individual schools. Your CAS account will remain active for five years, and the initial fee to register covers this entire period.
Application fees for each law school can run anywhere from $0 to $100. Depending upon how many schools you choose to apply to, the total amount of fees can be significant. Some schools offer application fee waivers, which are worth investigating. Occasionally, law school representatives who visit Virginia Tech may distribute fee waivers at prelaw events. This is another good reason to attend these events. Check out the Events page for information on upcoming visits.
In conclusion, when budgeting for the law school application process, be sure to include the cost of the LSAT, including the cost of taking the test multiple times, should you choose to do so, the cost of enrolling in the CAS, the number of law schools you are applying to times the cost of each CAS report, and the cost of each school's application fee. This total application cost can be substantial and easily approach $500 or more. The LSAC does offer fee waivers for those who are absolutely unable to pay. You can find more information about the waiver here, which includes two LSAT tests, the CAS service, and four law school reports.