The good news: It’s often easier to get into law school than ever.
The bad news: It’s also way more expensive.
Well, let’s take an optimistic view first. According to a December paper from the National Conference of Bar Examiners, bottom 25th percentile LSAT scores dropped from five to nine points at elite programs like Northwestern, Georgetown, and Emory. What’s more, top schools are raising their acceptance rates to curb declining enrollments. Look no further than the University of California-Berkeley, whose rate has nearly doubled from 11.6% to 20.2% in just three years.
DESPITE DECLINING ENROLLMENTS, NUMBERS STILL MATTER
While many law schools are softening their standards, don’t assume you can skate through undergrad or skimp on LSAT study. Numbers matter at law school – now more than ever. Scholarships are still heavily based on LSAT scores (and class rank determines who keeps their funding). Even though New York University, for example, accepts nearly a third of applicants, you still won’t get in with a 154 LSAT (even if you pay the full sticker price).
‘They either have the brainpower or they don’t.’ That’s how adcoms regard applications. As an applicant, your approach can be more nuanced. Let’s say you aspire to practice law in North Carolina, knowing the local law schools’ alumni networks are often concentrated in their own state. If you score a 166 on your LSAT, you’ll certainly qualify for Duke Law, where the range is 166-170 between the 25th and 75th percentiles. But why not consider the University of North Carolina? Let’s face it: No one cares where you earned your degree once you start practicing. And Chapel Hill’s tuition is $33,000 a year less for in-state residents (and $16,000 less for out-of-state residents) than Duke. Plus, your 166 score is well above North Carolina’s LSAT range (157-163), giving you leverage for a beefier aid package.
And that’s because numbers also drive law school rankings. Higher LSATs and GPAs equal greater perceived intellectual horsepower. And lower acceptance rates mean higher prestige. And that translates into money. The better your school’s reputation, the more they can charge for tuition. Higher rankings draw better faculty and students. This boosts a degree’s value, increasing alumni engagement and gifts. And that, in turn, fuels additional resources and scholarships for students. If you’re a stellar candidate, schools may need you as much as you need them.
NYU AND CORNELL ARE YOUR BEST CHANCE AMONG TOP SCHOOLS
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, there is that little matter of getting accepted. If your heart is set on the Ivy League,the best place to start is Cornell, which maintains a 30.3% acceptance rate. NYU is another gem, with a 30.1% acceptance rate. Numerically, it is easier to get accepted into these schools than it is at Baylor (29.9%) or Georgia State (28.4%), which tied for 56th overall.
Generally, the top programs are the most selective. Not surprisingly, Yale maintains the lowest acceptance rate at 8.9%. Last year, just 255 of 2,589 applicants were accepted by the school. They were followed by Stanford (9.1%), Harvard (15.4%), the University of Pennsylvania (16.4%), and the University of Virginia (18.1%). What does it take to get into Yale? Over the past three years, the numbers have remained relatively consistent: an LSAT between 170-176 and an average GPA between 3.82-3.97 (which has relaxed from its 3.84-3.98 high three years ago).
However, you’ll find exceptions. Take 30th-ranked University of California-Irvine, for example. It holds a 22% acceptance rate, higher than Northwestern, Michigan, and Texas. And the University of Tulsa, ranked 82nd, is technically more stringent at 32.5% than Vanderbilt, Emory, and Notre Dame.
So where is your best shot to get into law school? Among top 100 program, that distinction belongs to 94th-ranked University of Louisville, where 424 out of 608 applicants got the thumbs up (69.7%). That said, the program ranked among the lowest in the top 100 for GMAT (150-157) and undergrad GPA (3.17-3.62). Still, the program only costs $36,538 a year. And its outcomes – an 80.5% nine month placement rate and a 80.2% first-time bar passage rate – are higher than some top 50 programs.
RISING ACCEPTANCE RATES MEANS BETTER FINANCIAL TERMS
Looking for some diamonds in the rough? Start with the University of Wisconsin, which has a 49.9% acceptance rate. Even better, if you intend to practice law in the state, you don’t have to take the bar. That means you can start practicing after graduation. At Indiana University, 61.9% of applicants are accepted. And that number is 49.6% at Ohio State, which is tied with Indiana at 34th overall.