How LSAT & GPA Numbers Are Evaluated

An excerpt from Jeremy Shinewald's book

An excerpt from Jeremy Shinewald’s book

Although schools do not view candidates’ profiles purely scientifically, we do need to admit that some science can come into play in the admissions process. To illustrate, we first ask you which of the following candidates you would rather be, if you could choose:

Candidate 1 Candidate 2 Candidate 3

LSAT Score GPA 180 3.30 175 3.50 170 3.70

The truth is, there is no definitively “right” answer. You may be surprised to learn that none of these candidates is necessarily “better” than the others based on these numbers alone (for our purposes here, we will ignore the rest of these applicants’ stories). Whether these combinations of GPA and LSAT score would prove advantageous at a particular school depends entirely on the school in question. Many law schools actually use special equations to create a harmonized score for each candidate using his or her LSAT score and GPA. In doing so, the schools have created a way to measure the combined value of these metrics. (The schools even publish these equations. Create an account with LSAC and then within your home page, find “transcripts” and on that page find “admissions index.” There you will find all the equations!)

Now, do not get carried away thinking you have found the key to determining your chances at your target school. Although the programs publish these equations, they offer no guidance as to what the outputs mean. You can calculate your own aggregate score by inserting your LSAT score and GPA into the equations, of course, but you will not be able to know how your target school would view your aggregate score, in other words, whether it would be considered “good” or not. We believe these equations do reveal one thing, though— whether a school has a slight bias toward the GPA or the LSAT.

As examples, let us take a look at Berkeley Law’s and Stanford Law School’s equations:

SchoolCandidate’sLSAT score multiplied by+Candidate’s GPA multiplied by+/-Constant
University of California, Berkeley, School of Law0.871+23.487+8.474
Stanford Law School0.018+0.402+-1.172

On their own, these figures probably mean nothing to you, so to illuminate better how this works, let us run the equations for Candidates 1, 2, and 3, who we introduced earlier, using Berkeley Law’s equation ([Candidate’s LSAT score × 0.871] + [Candidate’s GPA × 23.487] + 8.474 = Aggregate):

Candidate 1 Candidate 2 Candidate 3

LSAT GPA 180 3.30 175 3.50 170 3.70

Constant 8.474 8.474 8.474

Aggregate Rank 242.8 3 243.1 2 243.4 1

Using Berkeley Law’s equation, Candidate 3, who has a 170 LSAT score and a 3.70 GPA, has the best composite ranking. Meanwhile, running the exact same numbers through Stanford Law’s equation ([Candidate’s LSAT score × 0.018] + [Candidate’s GPA × 0.402] + [-1.172] = Aggregate) yields very different results:

Candidate 1 Candidate 2 Candidate 3

LSAT GPA 180 3.30 175 3.50 170 3.70

Constant -1.172 -1.172 -1.172

Aggregate Rank 3.395 1 3.385 2 3.375 3

At Stanford Law, Candidate 1 would be ranked first, though this same candidate ranked third when the numbers were run through Berkeley Law’s equation—and vice versa. So what do these outputs tell us? They reveal that on a relative basis, Berkeley Law places more emphasis on a candidate’s GPA, and Stanford Law places more emphasis on a candidate’s LSAT score. What is especially interesting is that the individual with the perfect LSAT score, Candidate 1, is the lowest ranked using Berkeley Law’s equation. Although he or she may still have a very strong application overall and a very high—and thus very helpful—LSAT score, this simple exercise demonstrates that one’s LSAT score is not everything.

How can you use this information to your advantage, then? If you happen to have a high LSAT score but a low GPA, or a low LSAT score but a high GPA, you can use these equations to identify schools that favor your strengths. Still, you should not be deluded into thinking that a high GPA and terrible LSAT score will get you into a school like Berkeley Law, which values candidates’ GPAs more highly. These relative weightings are not capable of turning a weak candidate into a strong one! You might view the information these equations produce as providing a little nudge in one direction or the other as you consid- er different schools. That said, make sure that you are applying to JD programs that truly interest you and offer the resources you need, not schools that simply have favorable equations.