How LSAT & GPA Numbers Are Evaluated

An excerpt from Jeremy Shinewald's book

An excerpt from Jeremy Shinewald’s book

To sum up, as a candidate, you can consult your target school’s GPA and LSAT score 75th–25th percentile ranges to gain a broad understanding of where you might stand at the very beginning of the race. Your scores will place you into one of the following five categories:

  1. High GPA and high LSAT score: Your place in the class is most likely yours to lose.
  2. Middle LSAT score and middle GPA: You are in the hunt but will have to put together a compelling application package.
  3. High GPA and low LSAT score: You are in the hunt but will have to put together a compelling application package.
  4. High LSAT score and low GPA: You are in the hunt but will have to put together a compelling application package.
  5. Low LSAT score and low GPA: You will need an extraordinarily strong story and application to succeed.

Beyond the Numbers
Law school admissions officers go to great lengths to persuade applicants that their candidacies are more than the simple sum of their GPA and LSAT scores because they worry that otherwise well-qualified candidates may feel that they do not measure up statistically and will decide not to apply. We are not suggest- ing that schools are seeking candidates with mediocre grades and LSAT scores, but candidates with lower than average scores can succeed. After all, the nature of an average is such that some people are above it and others are below it—and the schools ask for qualitative data (résumés, essays, etc.) for a reason, which is to get to know the individual behind the stats.
So this is the point when many of you may roll your eyes and want to dismiss what we are saying because you have heard so many stories about and from individuals who were accepted at every school to which they applied, “just because” of their GPA or LSAT result and nothing else. If you do not believe us, consider what the associate dean of admissions at what is arguably the most prestigious and selective law school in the world—Yale Law School (YLS)— has to say on the matter. Asha Rangappa has consistently gone on the record to declare that the issue of law school application statistics is overblown. She told
The biggest misconception is that we base our admission on numbers alone. I am amazed that this misconception persists…. We have too few spots to just bring in the people who happened to score well on exams and standard- ized tests. We use these numbers to be confident in an applicant’s academic potential—we don’t want to bring someone here who can’t handle the work and will struggle—but beyond that we want people who are interesting, multifaceted, intellectually curious, and will be great lawyers and represen- tatives of YLS. Numbers don’t tell you about these things.1
On her entertaining and freewheeling blog, Rangappa expanded on her “scores are not everything” contention, stating that applicants should not be asking, “Can you get in with low scores?” but rather, “Why are you rejecting so many people with high scores?”
As I’ve mentioned before, a weak number does usually need extremely strong everything else to make it through to the faculty, which is why I have to read through the whole thing [the application], including the recommendations. Actually, a better topic for discussion might be what would keep someone with really strong numbers from being passed on… which happens with surprising frequency.2
If you go looking, you will find plenty of blog posts, interviews, and other instances in which law school admissions directors attempt to dispel the myth that the GPA/LSAT score combination is all that matters. So, a question is begged, what else are the schools evaluating?
Basically, after scrutinizing your scores to first ensure that you can manage the work law school requires, the admissions committee will turn to your résumé, recommendations, personal statement, and, if provided, optional diversity es- say, and may possibly even interview you to better understand your interests and motivations—all to get a more rounded sense of you as a person. Essentially, the entire application presents an opportunity for you to tell your story. Even though candidates with a high GPA and/or a stellar LSAT score will grab the admissions committee’s attention, these applicants still need well-rounded, compelling stories to really get the door to swing open. Other candidates may have stories that are interesting enough to get them to the doorstep, and their scores are just sufficient to open the door. These two aspects of your profile— your statistics and the nonquantifiable elements of your candidacy—work to- gether to make an impression on the admissions officers, so you should not pin your hopes on just one or the other.
Jeremy Shinewald is the founder of jdMission, an admissions consulting firm that helps applicants get into law school. This article is excerpted from his book, The Complete Start-To-Finish Law School Admissions Guide.