The answer to this question will vary from person to person, but, in general, not much matters apart from your LSAT and GPA.
(Before I go on, let me point out that I totally realize that what I’m saying here contradicts what most admissions people at most schools will tell you. They want you to believe that they only ask for your LSAT and your GPA as a formality. But the fact just don’t bear that out . . .)
The sad truth about the legal profession is that most people involved with it are obsessed with prestige and ranking, and this includes most admissions officials at most schools. It also includes the people those officials report to.
Every law school wants an admissions class with the best possible statistical profile, for two reasons: first, they assume that better numbers mean better students; second, the law schools themselves are ranked by magazines like U.S. News and World Report, and two things that influence those rankings are the LSAT scores and GPAs of people who attend the school.
You may be thinking that this kind of an admissions process seems awfully one-dimensional and unfair. You’re right, it is. You may think that a numbers-based admissions system will tend to overlook people with skills that can’t be quantified as easily. You’re right, it does.
The world of law school admissions is a bit more numbers-dependent than the world of undergrad admissions. That’s because most undergrad institutions are trying to build diverse communities of enthusiastic learners.
But most law schools don’t care that much about diversity and enthusiasm. The study and practice of law is serious business, and serious business is driven by numbers. So your numbers count. Your enthusiasm and unique perspective on classroom discussions are irrelevant unless they somehow drive up your LSAT score or your undergraduate GPA (and they don’t do that).
I’m sorry to be harsh, but it’s important to understand this very well before you commit your life to the law: law school admissions is driven more by your scores and grades than by anything else, for almost everyone.
Now, this doesn’t mean that there’s absolutely nothing else that will impact your chances of being admitted. Your race and gender might impact things, but even those kinds of issues will only impact the kinds of numbers you need to have–they don’t make the numbers irrelevant.
In other words, everyone who applies to law school has a race and gender, and most law schools have a rough quota system that indicates a certain number of people from your race and gender should be admitted to that school. When you apply, your scores and grades are compared to the scores and grades of other applicants of your race and gender, and whoever has the more impressive numbers in that group tends to get in.
Sometimes people who have truly led extraordinary lives will get into a law school largely on the strength of that experience. It’s been known to happen. But for these types of experiences to matter, they have to be either truly unique or highly relevant to the study of law. Having studied art history in Europe for a semester abroad probably won’t set you apart when you apply to Harvard Law.
A school might also, theoretically, be more willing to cut you some slack on your numbers if you use your application to profess a strong interest in some area of the law that a particular school is known for. So that might help a little, but it probably won’t help a ton, because all the other people who are strongly interested in that area of the law will gravitate toward the same program, and some of those people will probably have some impressive numbers.
So what are we to do?
This whole state of affairs might sound a little depressing if your LSAT and GPA aren’t where you want them to be.
But if you think about it, it’s actually a good thing. If your LSAT score and your GPA are the most important elements of your application, then all you have to do is focus all your energies on getting those two numbers as high as you can, and your admissions chances at most schools will improve significantly.
Of those two numbers, the easiest one to raise for most people will be the LSAT, since it’s a one-shot deal (to change your GPA significantly you’ll have to outweigh years of accumulated grades).
Of course, I offer my own LSAT video course, which is designed to help people raise their scores significantly as efficiently as possible, but you can also raise your score through other methods, like self-prepping.
So, in a nutshell:
– Numbers are really important in law school admissions.
– Your LSAT score is probably easier to raise than you think.
– The rest of your application shouldn’t be ignored, but your primary concern should be raising your numbers as much as possible.