Applying to Law School
Applying to and attending law school demands time, money, and great effort. It is wise to explore and examine both the legal profession and the law school experience. Much has been written about the high levels of job dissatisfaction among lawyers. And the cost and rigors of law school are great. It is crucial for all applicants to evaluate the choice to go to law school, making certain that it is the right career path.
To decide if law school is the right path for you, students should:
- Intern in the legal field to gain a working knowledge of the profession. The legal profession is not an easy one – the work can be challenging and require long hours. It is important to know what the profession requires!
- Realistically evaluate your credentials – GPA, experience, and commitment. Do not unrealistically over-shoot your applications, and end up disappointed. Make sure you include schools whose standards you clearly meet.
- Be aware that the current job market for law school graduates is very tight.
- Read some of the books listed in the Resources section.
- Enroll in some law-related undergraduate courses to determine if you are truly interested in the content. Consider a minor in either Legal Studies or Criminal Justice Studies
- Sit in on some law school classes at USF or elsewhere.
Many students who, upon graduation, are unsure about their futures, believe that acquiring a law degree will guarantee them a future and a career. This is a common misperception. In fact the job market has become increasingly more challenging in recent years.
On the other hand, if you’ve made sure that law school is the right thing for you, and you find yourself sufficiently motivated and dedicated, then by all means, apply! We need more good lawyers!
The application process is time consuming and expensive. It is up to you to determine how much time and money you are willing to spend. For most students, it is not the number of applications that is important, but how many prudent applications are submitted. Generally, you want to apply to at least two sure bets, a few schools where your chances are fair, and possibly one or two far-fetched choices. This general guideline is especially advisable in a tight admissions market. Check the law school’s statistics on past years’ applicants and acceptances – this should give you a realistic assessment of your chances.
Visiting law schools while they are in session is another valuable tool for determining which school is for you. This is the only way for applicants to truly gauge how good a fit a particular school may be. While visiting schools, speak to current students involved in clubs or other activities that you would be interested in joining. Ask them their impression of the school and whether the programs you are interested in are truly as good as they seem on paper. Students always do better in an environment where they are comfortable, so this process should not be ignored.
Another important factor to take into account is financial aid. Law school can be very expensive; in fact, according to the NAPLA Handbook, the debt crisis confronting law school students is becoming the biggest crisis schools have ever faced. According to The New York Times, as of 2019, the average law school student graduated with over $160,000 of debt including both their undergraduate and law school debt. Grants and scholarships are available to ease this looming debt and should be researched by applicants thoroughly. However, these grants and scholarships rarely cover half of a student’s expenses. Schools allocate their financial aid awards based on different criteria – need, merit, or some combination thereof – and thus it is important to research each school’s aid policy.
Other important factors are: your particular legal field of interest; location (geography and size of the surrounding community); whether schools are public or private; housing options; financial aid availability; and the size of the school. The Places Rated Almanac (Prentice Hall) can be a good source of information for some of these questions.
While it may seem premature to worry about future employment, in a tight job market it is important for students to inquire about job placement. Some important questions to ask are: what type of work is being done by recent grads; are those jobs full-time or part-time; where are the grads working; what are their starting salaries? Obviously, asking these questions several years in advance will not give students a completely accurate picture of the future, but it can give students an idea of how the school is seen by potential employers.
General Prep for Law School
- Familiarize yourself with the Legal Profession and the Law School Experiences (see Resources)
- Take advantage of USF’s Law School
- Sit in on classes
- Talk to students
- Many law schools look favorably upon students who have interned with various law-related organizations. Internships offer the opportunity for related experience as well as course credit. Internships are a valuable resource not only for determining whether law school is for you, but they also offer excellent work experience. Law schools want some assurance that, after acceptance, students will not only finish the program but actually stay in the legal profession. Having work experience in the field is a great way of assuring schools that you are aware of the work and the commitment that it takes to be in law school and succeed in the profession. At least three internship courses that can provide a legal experience are offered at USF: Politics 396, Public Administration Internship provides placements in government agencies, such as the District Attorney’s Office. Politics 397, Fieldwork in Public Interest Organizations and Sociology 395, Fieldwork in Sociology both provide opportunities in non-profit, non-governmental organizations. All of these courses also satisfy the internship course requirement for both the Legal Studies and the Criminal Justice Studies minors, as well as the USF service learning requirement. These courses place students in various legal positions offering first-hand experience. These are to be unpaid positions; paid internships are frowned upon for these courses, although such internships may be pursued independently.
- While it is not important for students to major in a specific discipline to apply to law school, it is important to take courses that will improve your analytical, writing, and critical thinking skills. Take demanding courses – law school admissions officers review applicants’ transcripts for courses taken. They are interested not just in your GPA, but in how demanding your courses were during your undergraduate career.
Recommended Path for Applying to Law School
This plan is directed towards those students who plan to attend law school directly out of their undergraduate studies. But please note that some students are opting to take time off between their undergraduate studies and law school. This is certainly not necessary, but some students benefit from a “break” and from giving themselves some perspective on whether they want to pursue law school. It can also be a time for students to pursue a meaningful activity before going back to school, such as an additional internship or work experience. Otherwise, here’s a recommended path:
Freshman Year and Beyond
- Consider career options
- Volunteer / Work in professional law settings
- Meet, talk with, and shadow working legal professionals
- Explore other areas of interest
- Develop your study skills
- Hone your problem-solving abilities
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses
- Discover who you are as an individual
- Join one of the Pre-Law Student Groups on campus
- Investigate law schools, including which schools are test-optional, and which accept the GRE (some schools may accept the GMAT) instead of the LSAT
- Start familiarizing yourself with the LSAT (and or the GRE or GMAT)
- Begin to request recommendation letters from faculty, employers, and supervisors
- Attend Law School Forum (usually in November in Oakland or SF)
- Begin studying for the LSAT (and or the GRE or GMAT)
- Register for the LSAT (and or the GRE or GMAT)
- Look into various preparation courses and materials
Summer Before Senior Year
- Study for the LSAT (and or the GRE or GMAT)
- Create an LSAC online account
- Register for the Credential Assembly Service (CAS)
- Request undergraduate transcripts be sent to LSAC
- Begin writing a personal statement
- Take practice LSATs (or GREs or GMATs, depending on the school)
- If possible, and you plan to take the LSAT, take the June LSAT exam so students avoid having to take the LSAT during the semester
- If possible, taking the June LSAT exam is recommended so students avoid having to take the LSAT during the semester
- Further investigate law school choices
- Write a draft resume, emphasizing law-related experience
- Take the LSAT, GRE and or GMAT, depending on the school’s requirements
- While there is a LSAT test date offered in December, we recommend that you take the October exam. For many schools, December is too late!
- Write Personal Statement
- Finalize resume
- Request Letters of Recommendation
- Compile a list of law schools to apply to
- Meet with a Pre-law Advisor to discuss your personal statement and choice of schools
- Research financial aid options
- The LSAT is offered 4 times a year: June, October, December and February. Unless you plan to take a year off after graduation, it’s strongly recommended that you take the LSAT for the first time NO LATER than October of your Senior year (and, as noted above, if you feel ready, the June exam may be even better).
- There are various ways to prepare for the LSAT. All of the options may be successful; students must decide which option best suits their needs.
- Note that the Politics department offers a 2 unit LSAT Prep course, typically offered 1-2 times a semester, during the summer, and most intersessions (Loading...). Students can take this course more than once (although you will only get the 2 units of credit one time). These 4-6 week prep courses are worth 2 credits each, and tacked on to a regular 16 credit course load will incur no additional cost. The prep courses are timed to run several weeks before each of the LSATs
- Additional options are noted below, from the least expensive to the most expensive:
- Work through the free materials offered by LSDAS.
- Khan Academy also offers free preparation resources.
- Numerous books (see Resources) are available, which cost approximately $25 each.
- Online courses are available as well at a slightly higher cost.
- The most expensive and time intensive preparation method would be enrolling in an LSAT course. Kaplan, Princeton Review, Blueprint, and other companies offer prep classes.
- If you plan on attending law school the Fall after graduation, ideally, take the LSAT (or the GRE or GMAT, depending on the school’s requirements) during the summer between your Junior and Senior year or in October of your Senior year. But only take the test when you are ready!! While you can cancel your scores immediately after taking the exam, that is not a recommended option.
- You can take the LSAT more than once; however, your scores may be averaged. Some law schools only count the highest score, but you should check with each law school to determine whether they use that policy or an averaging policy. It makes a difference. Take into consideration that on average, most people who take the LSAT more than once do not significantly raise their score. If extraordinary circumstances undermined your performance during the first exam, then consider canceling your score and taking the exam again.
- You can cancel a score, but it must be done before you receive the results. For example, if illness or anxiety prevented you from focusing, then cancel your score immediately and sign up for the next exam.
- Part of the LSAT is a 30-minute Writing Sample. The writing sample is designed to exhibit your ability to argue clearly and effectively one side of a decision problem, utilizing the facts present. Every school uses the writing sample differently, but none actually “score” the sample. If the LSAT is taken more than once, the last writing sample is the one sent to requested schools.
The GRE Exam
A number of law schools now accept the GRE exam instead of the LSAT.
- Create an LSAC online account
- Register for the Credential Assembly Service (optional but most students choose to use this service)
- Write a Resume (see Sample Resume).
- Write a Personal Statement and have it edited by a professor.
- Request Letters of Recommendation (see below).
- Research law schools and decide what schools you will apply to.
- Much is made of school rankings, but choosing the right school for you entails much more than relying on rankings. Investigate schools based upon interest, specialization, size of school, location, and various other considerations. As of July 2023, there are 199 ABA-approved law schools in the U.S.
- Think geographically, if you lack other criteria: what cities or regions do you want to spend 3 years in law school? Where do you think you want to live or practice law? Keep in mind the difference between local and national law schools, where the former have more limited name recognition and the latter give you wider flexibility in moving around the country.
- Be realistic in applying. The application process is expensive and time consuming; you should apply to those schools that you have a realistic chance of being accepted into.
- Meet with a Pre-Law Advisor to discuss your choices.
- Fill out and submit applications
- We recommend you submit your application as soon as possible – preferably by Thanksgiving. Some schools have rolling admissions, which means they accept applications as they come in. If you wait until late January or later, there may not be space for you!
- Research Financial aid and submit the FAFSA form.
Writing a personal statement is the one aspect of the application process that the applicant fully controls. Furthermore, because law schools rarely if ever ask for personal interviews, this is the applicant’s chance to elaborate on details about themselves that the rest of the application may not accurately capture. The length of personal statements varies slightly and it is important to know what length is required for each application, but most schools want about two pages.
The personal statement should reflect the individual student and no one else. Therefore, it is difficult to offer a model. It is important, however, to devise an “angle” to hook the reader. Is there an event or person or experience you have had that transformed or shaped you, and helped convince you to pursue a legal career? Shape your essay around that, if you can.
In addition, law school admissions people at a NAPLA conference came up with the following list of Dos and Don’ts to help (from NAPLA Handbook for Pre-Law Advisors, 4th Edition, Dom DeLeo et. al.).
- Write well, making the essay flow.
- Have a strong first sentence.
- Double space and leave significant margins.
- Keep it within the prescribed length.
- Put your name on each page.
- Be specific and accurate.
- Be truthful.
- Have the statement support and be supported by the rest of the application.
- Look beyond fraternity/sorority offices or athletic experiences.
- Acknowledge the negatives in your application.
- Turn those negatives into positives.
- Mention sensitive topics in an appropriate way – don’t be dramatic.
- Explain why you have chosen law.
- Show who you are – this is essentially your interview!
- Overuse a thesaurus.
- Use clichés or quote others extensively.
- Misspell words.
- Use the third person.
- Title your statement.
- Send multi-media presentations/modeling photos.
- Gush about law school or philosophize about the role of law in society.
- Include the name of the law school (unless you are very careful!) – it may end up submitted to the wrong school.
- Pat yourself on the back too much.
- Be too cynical.
- Come across as a victim.
- Be too specific as to what you will do with your law degree unless your experience shows that it is a logical extension of what you’ve already done.
- Focus too much on another person, even if they have been influential.
- Give a narrative resume, listing activities already mentioned in the application.
Most law schools request two letters of recommendation from people who are familiar with the applicant’s academic work (Check with the school you are applying to as some schools accept up to four letters). Typically, faculty from the applicant’s undergraduate university provide the letters. It is important for the applicant to know the professor before asking him/her for a letter. It is best to ask professors who:
- Have taught smaller, upper-division courses instead of large introductory courses;
- You have done research for; and/or
- Know you well enough to be able to compare you to other students they have known.
By asking a professor who may be reluctant to write a letter of recommendation because they do not know the applicant very well may weaken an application overall.
It is best to ask for the letters as soon as possible – early in the Fall of the application year. It often helps to bring information (transcripts, resume, personal statement, and writing sample) to the professor writing the recommendation. Students can request a link to be sent to the recommender who will then be able to submit the letter electronically.
Most schools require two academic recommendations, although some allow additional nonacademic recommendations. As with all areas of the application process, it is important to discern what each Law School specifically requires. Even if two academic letters are requested, the applicant can turn in additional non-academic letters. The best sources for non-academic letters of recommendation are employers, internship supervisors, or any other person able to objectively ascertain an applicant’s leadership, maturity, or interaction with, or supervision of others.
The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) Letter of Recommendation Service has become the preferred method for law schools. Recommenders write one letter and submit it to the LSAC, which then forwards this letter to the law schools requested by the applicant.
Determining what schools to apply to should be an exercise in honesty. Some of the most basic determinants for law school applications are:
- GPA – the higher the GPA, the more options you have. A person with a GPA of 3.4 or lower should probably not apply to the highest-ranked schools, despite your personal level of commitment
- Experience – legal internships and other forms of legal work experience can distinguish an applicant from others.
- LSAT or GRE scores – Many law schools still give weight to standardized scores. The higher the score, the more options you have. For example, the highest-ranked law schools generally pool from the top 1% of LSAT (or GRE) scores. However, as noted earlier, a growing number of law schools are now test-optional
- Schools read applications carefully. While initial factors are GPA and LSAT or GRE scores, admissions officers also look at coursework and experience. In the end, most law schools accept a wide range of LSAT or GRE scores and GPAs.
Opportunities for Minority Students
There are many support networks for minority applicants to law schools. For example, the Council on Legal Education opportunities (CLEO) is a non-profit organization dedicated to diversifying the legal profession by encouraging legal education opportunities for minority, low income and disadvantaged students. CLEO is governed by a council composed of representatives from the American Bar Association, Association of American Law Schools, Hispanic National Bar Association, Law School Admissions Council, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Bar Association, and the Society of American Law Teachers.
The CLEO website offers a list of financial aid opportunities for minority students. While not exhaustive, the list can be an excellent starting point. It is important for students to contact scholarship organizations early and press their search for financial assistance beyond their cited list. Additionally, it is important for students to contact the financial aid offices at law schools they would like to attend to determine what in-house and local funding is available.
Possible resources of financial aid for minority applicants are: American Association of University Women; American Indian Graduate Center, Business Fellowship Fund – DIUGUID Fellows; Earl Warren Legal Training Program, Inc.; Japanese American Citizens’ League; Mexican-American Business and Professional Scholarships Association; NAACP Agnes Jones-Jackson Scholarship Awards; National Lesbian and Gay Law Association National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students, Inc. (SERO); and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund.
If you have a proven learning disability, you can apply to receive more time on the LSAT. If you face particular obstacles and/or challenges, please speak to an advisor to find out the pros and cons of notifying the schools to which you plan to apply.
It is intended that financial hardships should not prohibit a student from the potential of practicing law. There are many scholarships and grants available for LSAT prep courses, LSAT, the application process, and ultimately, law school.
The Law School Admissions Council dedicates funds through its Fee Waiver Program to support law school access for all applicants regardless of their ability to pay for the LSAT and other fees. To be considered for a fee waiver, the applicant must be a U.S. or Canadian citizen, a U.S. national, or a permanent resident alien of the U.S. with an Alien Registration Card. Fee waivers are intended for only the neediest applicants.
The LSAT fee waiver form must be submitted to LSAC by the candidate, together with the registration form and copies of current federal tax or LSAT nonfiler forms. The packet of forms and deadline information can be found on LSAC's website.
Candidates may also apply for a fee waiver through a law school. Law schools are not bound by LSAC fee waiver deadlines or by the financial eligibility restrictions, although they may elect to apply a similar standard to determine eligibility. When requesting a fee waiver from a law school, students must allow ample time for processing and returning the form to meet the registration deadlines in order to avoid paying the late registration fees.
Many law schools also offer waivers for their application fees. Please contact the individual school for more information regarding deadlines and procedures.
According to U.S. NEWS, “while the top three law schools, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, generally do not offer very significant merit-based aid, other top schools offer valuable grants ranging from about $10,000 a year to full scholarships.” The first and most important step in acquiring financial assistance is to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Most other grants and scholarships are dependent on the information submitted on the FAFSA form. Find the FAFSA form online.
There are several other websites that offer scholarships and grants:
- sciencecareers.sciencemag.org, and
- Law School Admissions Council (LSAC, LSAT, and LSDAS information)
- National Association for Law Placement
- Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors
- American Bar Association: https://www.americanbar.org/about_the_aba/
DATABASES, RANKINGS AND PROFILES OF LAW SCHOOLS:
- Internet Legal Resources Guide (Public Legal)
- Department of Education, (for FAFSA forms, etc.)
- Private aid vendors (finaid)
- MoneyGeek: https://www.moneygeek.com/financial-planning/paying-for-college/scholarship-resources/law-school-scholarships/
INFORMATION FOR DIVERSE STUDENTS:
- LSAC - Racially/Ethnically Diverse Applicants
- Council on Legal Education Opportunity: CLEO website
- LGBTQ+ Bar Association
INFORMATION FOR APPLICANTS WITH DISABILITIES:
LSAT PREP RESOURCES AND OTHER PRE-LAW RESOURCES:
BOOKS ON APPLYING TO AND GOING TO LAW SCHOOL:
(Most Available through Gleeson Library)
- So You Want to Be a Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Law as a Career. Law Services. Bantam, Doubleday, and Dell Publishers.
- Guide to Law Schools. Barrons Publications.
- The Best Law Schools. Princeton Review.
- Bell, Susan J., ed. Full Disclosure: Do You Really Want to Be a Lawyer? 2nd edition, Peterson’s Guides, American Bar Association, 1992.
- Deaver, Jeff. The Complete Law School Companion. John Wiley and Sons.
- Dobbyn, John F. So You Want to Go to Law School. West Publishing, Co.
- Gillers, Stephen, ed. Looking at Law School, 4th edition. New York: Meridian Books, 1997.
- Goldfarb, Sally and Edward Adams. Inside Law Schools. New York: Penguin Books.
- Goodrich, Chris. Anarchy and Elegance: Confessions of a Journalist at Yale Law School. Little, Brown and Co.
- Kahlenberg, Richard D. Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992.
- Montauk, Richard. How To Get Into the Top Law Schools. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall Press.
- Roth, George. Slaying the Law School Dragon. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Books ABOUT THE LEGAL PROFESSION:
- Abel, Richard L. American Lawyers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
- Arron, Deborah L. Running from the Law: Why Good Lawyers Are Getting Out of the Legal Profession. Ten Speed Press.
- Bachman, Walt. Law v. Life: What Lawyers Are Afraid to Say about the Legal Profession. Four Directions Press.
- Byers, Mark et al. Lawyers in Transition: Planning a Life in the Law. Barkley Co.
- Glendon, Mary Ann. A Nation Under Lawyers. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994.
- Linowitz, Sol M. The Betrayed Profession: Lawyering at the End of the Twentieth Century. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
- McCormack, Mark. The Terrible Truth About Lawyers. Beech Tree Books.
- Moll, Richard W. The Lure of the Law. Viking Press.
- Strickland, Rennard and Frank Read. The Lawyer Myth: A Defense of the American Legal Profession. Athens, OH: Swallow Press, 2008.