As a law school applicant, you can set yourself apart in several ways. Take the all-important essay. Craft a gripping narrative and you’ll showcase your ability to adapt and persevere. Letters of recommendation are another differentiator. The best ones position you as a low-risk applicant with a love for people and a knack for success. Heavily involved in extracurriculars? Perfect. Now, the adcom knows you can manage your time, workload, and stress. And don’t forget leadership. Schools aren’t seeking bookworms and arrested adolescents–they’re hoping to add future judges and statements to their alumni rolls.
Forget the tales of sagging enrollments and lavish scholarships making law school a buyer’s market. The bar is still pretty daunting for getting in. And don’t buy into the folklore that law school is the place for lost humanities graduates to hide out for three years. Adcoms can weed out those dilettantes in minutes. No, top law programs are pursuing candidates with a passion for the law–the kind that can sustain them through the 1L shellshock and the 3L blues. These students are curious and ethics-driven strivers who know who they are and what they want.
NUMBERS GAME: LSATs AND GPAs MATTER MOST
Most important: They possess the intellectual horsepower to compete with their peers (and their predecessors).
That’s the part of the law admissions formula that hasn’t changed. At the end of the process, equal candidates are separated by intangibles like back stories, skill sets, and ambitions. But the first step is staying off the waitlist or rejects piles. For adcoms, the make-or-breaks are LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs. You may be as special as you think. Make no mistake: A 172 LSAT is far more memorable than making all-conference or starring on a cable show.
So what chance do you really have to get into law school? That depends on your school…and your academic record. An LSAT score is considered a predictor of future law school performance. That’s why high scores are so coveted; they reduce your risk of being another dropout (who takes two years of precious tuition dollars with you). In other words, the LSAT is both the measuring stick and the foundation.
For example, let’s say you scored a 164 on your LSAT. Pretty impressive–that puts you roughly in the 90th percentile of all LSAT test-takers. Does that make you a hot commodity? You bet. Does that mean you’re a shoo-in at a top school? Well, that depends.
A 164 LSAT MEANS DIFFERENT THINGS AT DIFFERENT SCHOOLS
At Columbia Law, ranked fourth overall by U.S. News & World Report, your 164 score would actually rank in the bottom 25th percentile, which stands at 168 (along with a median LSAT of 171). In other words, you’d actually be a hard sell to admissions here. Even if you were accepted, you’ll undoubtedly be paying full sticker price ($62,700 in annual tuition alone at Columbia Law).
Compare that to Boston University, which has emerged as a Top 20 law program in U.S. News’ latest ranking. Their 75th percentile tops off at 164–with the median score being 163. That gives you a stronger likelihood of being accepted. Even more, 87.4% of Boston University students receive grants. In fact, the median grant averages $20,000 per year, with nearly a third of students receiving assistance covering 50% or more of the school’s $49,330. Bottom line: You stand a better chance of being accepted–and incurring far less debt–by choosing a school where you’re more likely to be an LSAT standout (particularly since grant money is often tied to class rank).
It all goes back to rankings. LSATs and GPAs account for 22.5% of a school’s rank. As a result, applicants can cash in on the virtuous circle. Higher scores drive higher rankings, which (in turn) confer greater prestige and draws better applicants. In a stagnant marketplace, with enrollment falling another 5% in 2015, potential law students have more leverage than ever before.
BEST CHANCE OF GETTING INTO A TOP 10 PROGRAM: NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
And that’s evidenced by acceptance rates at various schools. Think of this rate as the barometer of a school’s health. A fixed or declining acceptance rate means that a school is enjoying a steady or increased stream of applications. As a result, they can fill their lecture halls without having to dilute the quality of their class. In contrast, a rising acceptance rate translates to a potentially struggling school…with a caveat. This expanding rate can signify greater opportunities to be accepted–and even nab a better financial aid package as an enticement.
Not surprisingly, you’ll find the lowest acceptance rates at the highest-ranked schools. At top-ranked Yale Law, for example, just one in ten applicants is accepted. Stanford Law is nearly as rigorous at 11.3%. Compare that to 100th-ranked Indiana University of Indianapolis (McKinney), where nearly 70% of all applicants are accepted. And your odds are nearly as strong at #92 Louisville (68.2%) and #86 Arkansas (67%).
Looking for highly-ranked programs with more reasonable acceptance rates? 6th-ranked New York University fits the bill with a 33.1% acceptance rate (provided you can compete with a 169 median LSAT and a 3.78 median undergraduate GPA). Notably, just 426 of the 1892 students who were offered spots at NYU ultimately accepted them–a 22.5% yield. That’s a backup school by its very definition, giving candidates who can clearly articulate why NYU is their top choice a decided advantage. That said, just 38.8% of students receive grants to cover the school’s prohibitive $59,330 annual tuition–with Manhattan’s stomach-churning cost of living ($23,000 a year minimum according to the school) acting as another drawback. Then again, NYU’s 96.7% 10-month placement rate–second only to the University of Pennsylvania–means that graduates get a head start on their careers as a whole.
Among public schools, the University of Minnesota, ranked 22nd, boasts a 44.4% acceptance rate. Minnesota’s class of 2017 arrived with a 164 median LSAT and a 3.79 undergraduate GPA. As with NYU, the yield is low at Minnesota–19.8% to be exact. However, 85.8% of its students also receive grants (which covers 50% or more of tuition for nearly half of all students). Other top programs with unexpectedly high acceptance rates include #16 Vanderbilt (38.1%), #20 University of Iowa (43.5%), #25 George Washington (39.7%), #25 Arizona State (43.3%), #25 Indiana University-Bloomington (53.1%), #30 Boston College (45.3%), #33 University of Wisconsin (48.8%–and no bar exam if you practice in Wisconsin), and #33 Ohio State (49.7%). Notice a trend? It definitely pays to attend a public Big 10 school in the Midwest.
COMING UP: SCHOOL-BASED STATS ON KEY ADMISSION CRITERIA