July 10, 2010 at 12:48 am (Applying to Law School)
Disclaimer: I am not an expert. So, really, the title of this post should read: “How I am researching schools and building a law school applications list.”
Whether you are out of undergrad, at an undergrad that is just not “with it” in terms of law school admissions, or you think you’re so called “pre-law advisor” is clueless, you should be proactive about researching which law schools you want, and should, apply to. In this post I will share some methods I have used to research law schools.
First of all, do attempt to make contact with your school’s pre-law advisor (if such a bird exists). If you’re not sure who this person is, check your LSAC account page; on the left-hand size of the page you will likely see a blue box that lists your pre-law advisor’s name and phone number. Ideally, you would have already contacted them so they could advise you about which classes to take that will dazzle adcomms (not that they comb through your transcript anyway) or which logic and critical thinking courses are good for LSAT prep. My undergraduate university, though I love and cherish the institution dearly, apparently does not have a designated pre-law advisor on campus. While my LSAC account page does list someone, it is apparently out-of-date because he is no longer at my school. Regardless if your working with an advisor, you should be proactive and do a little research on your own. Don’t rely on someone else to tell you which schools you are a good match for. Here are some places to look:
Researching Law School’s General Information :
- Your school or public library will likely have a copy of U.S. News and World Reports Guide to Graduate Schools. This is very handy and is considered the “gold standard” of rankings. Law Schools seem to be a slave to these rankings, and law school applicants seem to base their decision wholly on rankings (literally I’ve heard of applicants choosing a higher ranked school by just a few slots with no scholarship money than a slightly lower ranked school with a lot of scholarship money – please do not be that INSANE). These rankings will include information about 25th and 75th percentiles for GPA and LSAT applicants admitted in previous admission cycles which can be used to loosely gage your probability in gaining admission to the given school. My university, unfortunately had a 1999 copy, and nothing more recent, so I opted to pay for the $14.95 online access which will expire in April of 2011. What’s really nice about the U.S. News & World Report rankings is that not only are the schools ranked by overall quality, there are several sub-rankings that rank the schools by specialty area like environmental law, trial advocacy, part-time law schools, etc.
- Law School’s own websites provide a plethora of information, though inherently biased in favor of its own school, there is generally no shortage of “this is why you should choose our law school” type information. Use this LSAC webpage to quickly link to all ABA-approved law schools. You can also usually request information by mail which is a handy way to sit down and compare schools side-by-side.
- Law School Forums organized either by undergraduate universities aiding their own students in graduate school pursuits or the LSAC Forum which is the grandaddy of all forums and take place around the U.S. are one-stop shops to meet admissions representatives from a wide-range of schools (both in rank and location) all in one place.
- Most law schools designate official “Visit Days” which welcome interested persons to tour the law school, sometimes sit-in on law school classes, meet with current students, and ask questions of admissions representatives. This is a great way to really get a feel for the school’s atmosphere, but is not an option if the school is too far away and you can’t afford to hop a plane or spend a day’s worth of driving to visit.
- One way to get a student’s perspective of a given law school is to speak with current law students attending the school your interested in. Law schools can usually provide you with the contact information of a few “volunteer” students, or pass along your contact information. Keep in mind, again, this student is likely to be selected by the admissions office so this perspective is likely one that the law school is happy to share with you. Alternatively, you can usually find “X Law Student Taking Questions” threads on forums like Top-Law-Schools.com.
Law School Admission Probability Calculators:
- Once you have your LSAT score and LSDAS GPA you can now become addicted to probability calculators – one of the most stress-inducing ways of predicting chances of gaining admission. My favorite probability calculator is the “Law School Predictor,” which categorizes your probability of admission by admit, strong consider, consider, weak consider, and deny. There is a predictor for Top 100 law schools (also commonly known as the coveted “Tier 1,” non-Tier 1 law schools, and part-time law schools (this covers all American Bar Association approved law schools that offer part-time programs).
- LSAC has an “Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools” and its own probability calculator which identifies your likelihood of admission based on percentages. While this one does not give you a clear admit/deny probability, it does provide an easy snapshot of where you stand in terms of LSAT and GPA. This calculator includes all American Bar Association accredited law schools (regardless of rank) and you can sort the list alphabetically or in terms of likelihood. This calculator is somewhat out-of-date as its based on 2008 admission data which may not accurately reflect current admissions probability since the dramatic increase in law school applicants in 2009 has increased the competitiveness of law school admissions. One thing this calculator offers that others do not is you can check the box for law schools you are interested in and easily see the schools application fee, location, and additional descriptive information and data compiled by LSAC where you can also add the school to your “School List” for later application viewing and submission. However, I would caution you against compiling your school list before August. I was told by a LSAC representative that the school lists are “purged” in August so that old law school applications from previous application cycles are cleared to make room for new applications that will become available in September-October.
- For the most up-to-the minute information on law school admissions turn to Law School Numbers. Keep in mind the accuracy of the available information is entirely dependent on the registered users providing their own LSAT, GPA, URM (under-represented minority) status, scholarship information, and additional “soft” factors. What Law School Numbers provides that none of the other predictors have is the ability to view additional information like the URM status, scholarship offers, and extracurriculars and you do not need to wait until the end of an admission cycle to view admission info since applicants who are active on the website during admissions season tend to update their status regularly. But again, I cannot stress enough, this information is not as reliable as the other two predictors listed above.
Building a School List:
As I mentioned previously, do not build your “official” school list in your LSAC account until the 2011 admission applications are available since the LSAC will purge school lists in August to make room for the new applications. But you can certainly make your own list of schools you intend to apply. A supportive professor of mine told me that when thinking of law schools to apply to, I should “cast my net as wide as possible.” What she meant by that is, I should pick several “reach” schools whose median numbers for admission are above mine, several “target” schools that are realistically within my range of numbers, and several “safety” schools that I am reasonably confident that, given my numbers, I should be admitted to. A quick snapshot view of the numbers can be found on TLS’ school rankings list and additional information on several of the schools in the list is available by clicking the school name.
Of course, actually determining a “reach,” “target,” and “safety” school is pretty difficult. In my personal opinion, I would use the Law School Predictor as a guide by using the classification system. A “deny” or ”weak consider” will likely make it onto my “reach” school list. A “consider” or “strong consider” will likely make it onto my “target” school list. And an “admit” school will likely make it onto my “safety” school list. Remember, this is just a guide, so use it to loosely compile your list. If there is a school you really dream of attending and if you did not apply would always wonder “what if” and the predictor classifies it as a “deny” I would still apply if you can afford to or better yet, were granted a need-based fee waiver. I’ve heard great stories of applicants who applied early in the application cycle or early decision and were granted admission. “Early decision” or “early action” means submitting an early application that would bind you to attend that school if you are granted admission – this is different from the “regular” application and has an early application deadline. Some schools will extend an offer to someone who obviously really wants to attend their school because it’s a safe bet (rather a binding bet) that the applicant will attend their school which of course, like everything else, plays into account when figuring the law school rankings.