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How to Get into Law School: Requirements, Timelines, Tips & Everything Else

Well, you might be thinking to yourself, “How to get into a law school?”

We got you covered.

If you’re planning to become a lawyer, now is the time to start thinking about how you will achieve your career goals.

Earning a law degree is a seven-year commitment: four years of undergraduate school, plus three years of law school.

During undergraduate school, you’ll need to work hard to earn a high GPA so that you can be admitted to law school.

Of course, a solid GPA isn’t the only requirement for admission to law school.

In this guide, we’ll outline law school requirements and provide a step-by-step process for getting into the law school of your dreams.

What do lawyers do?

There’s more to being a lawyer than what you’ve seen on your favorite crime dramas.

Lawyers do appear in court, presenting evidence and arguing a case to support their clients.

They also advise people about their legal rights and suggest appropriate action in legal and business matters.

  • In addition, lawyers spend time conducting research and interviewing clients and witnesses.
  • Some lawyers appear in court more than others.
  • In addition to the court room, lawyers work in offices and law libraries.
  • They travel to meetings and may visit clients’ homes or places of businesses, as well as hospitals or prisons. Many lawyers work 50 or more hours per week.

The exact details of the job depend on the lawyer’s specialization. Specializations include environmental, international, criminal, intellectual property, business, health care, and bankruptcy law.

How much money do lawyers make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for lawyers is $119,250 per year.

However, your earnings may vary widely depending on what field of law you practice and where you live.

  • Public service lawyers, like public defenders and prosecutors working for local governments, earn much less than corporate lawyers.
  • While first-year corporate lawyers can earn $105,000-$160,000, first-year public defenders earn closer to $50,000.

Meanwhile, experienced patent lawyers typically make more than $200,000 a year.

  • And trial lawyers for wealthy clients can earn upwards of $500,000 annually, and sometimes as much as $40 million.

In addition, where you attend law school can play a role in how much money you earn.

High-earning corporate law positions are highly competitive, and a degree from a law school like Harvard or Stanford can certainly give you an edge.

How much does law school cost?

When it comes to the cost of law school, there are three different categories: public in-state law schools, public out-of-state law schools, and private law schools.

The average annual tuition and fees for each category is:

  • Public, in-state: $27,591
  • Public, out-of-state: $40,725
  • Private: $49,095
  • Keep in mind that law school is typically a three-year program. So, the average total cost of tuition and fees is $82,773-$147,285, depending on where you choose to attend.

In addition, these are just averages.

  • The most affordable public law schools cost about $22,000, bringing the total cost of law school to $66,000.
  • The most expense private law schools can cost over $69,000 annually, making your total cost closer to $207,000.

Of course, you’ll attend law school after completing your undergraduate degree.

If your law school program takes three years to complete, you’ll spend a total of seven years in college. That means you’ll also pay four years of tuition at your undergraduate program.

Remember that there are many financial aid and payment options to consider, including grants, scholarships, and loans.

What to consider in a law school

After looking at the price tags above, you can see that cost is one consideration when choosing a law school.

This doesn’t mean you should only apply to the most affordable schools available.

However, you should consider how you’ll finance your education, pursue financial aid options, and weigh the cost and benefits of the schools on your list.

Look into the public law schools in your state of residence if you want to go the most affordable route.

Of course, reputation should also be a consideration.

  • You want to get the best possible return on your investment, which often means attending a prestigious, highly ranked school.
  • These schools have excellent reputations for a reason: They’ll give you top notch preparation for your future law career.

Additionally, attending a top law school often makes you a more competitive job candidate, resulting in more offers and a higher starting salary.

Another important factor is location.

  • Think about where you would like to practice law after graduation. Wherever you attend law school, you’ll build connections with classmates and professors, as well as within the community.
  • This can lead to job opportunities. So, it’s a smart move to attend a law school in an area where you would like to practice law.

You may not know your specialty yet. But if you do have an idea of what type of law you’d like to practice, find a law school that is known for its strength in your area of specialization.

  • For instance, if you want to practice environmental law, research which schools have the strongest environmental law programs and opportunities.

Consider selectivity to increase your chances of acceptance. Look at the average LSAT scores and GPAs of admitted students.

Send most of your applications to schools that are a good fit for your student profile.

Feel free to apply to one or two dream schools that may seem out of reach too.

You never know what might happen, and you’ll have plenty of other schools to fall back on.

Additional considerations may include:

  • Size of the school
  • Average class size
  • Academic support programs
  • Student organizations
  • Career services and employment
  • Libraries and other facilities
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Clinical programs, court competitions, and other experiences and opportunities

And finally, be sure to visit the law school before committing. The law school that looks the best on paper isn’t necessarily the best fit for you.

Visit the final schools on your list, talk to people, look around, and imagine yourself spending three years there.

  • Visiting campus is the best way to capture the overall “feel” of the school and see if it’s the right place for you.

Law School Requirements

The requirements to get into law school typically include:

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • LSAT scores (although some schools also accept the GRE)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement
  • Completed application

Law schools look most closely at your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT scores.

If two students have comparable scores, factors like activities and internships, along with letters of recommendation and the personal statement, can provide an edge.

How to Get into Law School: A Step-by-Step Checklist

Now that you know the basics, what steps should you follow to get into the law school of your dreams?

Read the step-by-step checklist below to find out.

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The first step (after getting accepted to a college or university) is to earn your undergraduate degree. Remember that law schools are extremely selective, so keep your GPA as high as possible.

What’s a good major for law school?

Law is an interdisciplinary field that’s linked to history, philosophy, sociology, economics, linguistics, and more.

Although some students think it’s best to major in political science or criminal justice, that’s not necessarily the case.

  • In fact, the undergraduate major you choose won’t have much of an impact on whether you get into law school.
  • What will have an impact is the GPA you earn, so choose a major in an area that you excel at and enjoy.

Some studies have indicated that students who major in engineering, math, or science may perform better in law school because of the training in logic they received during undergraduate school.

English is another solid option for future law school students because of the emphasis on communication.

Law schools prefer that applicants major in a broad field, rather than a narrowly specialized degree focused on vocational training.

Ultimately, some good options include:

And if you’re interested in a major that’s not listed here, that’s fine to pursue too. Your first year of law school will provide the essential foundation you need to become an effective lawyer.

Choose an undergraduate major that you’ll find engaging, and you’re likelier to earn better grades and have a better chance of gaining acceptance to law school.

  • What grades do I need for law school?

Your undergraduate GPA is extremely important to law schools, perhaps the most important factor in admissions.

This is partly because the undergraduate GPAs of admitted students are tied to law school rankings, which determine the law school’s reputation and prestige.

  • The average median GPA for students admitted to Top 10 law schools is a 3.865.
  • For ranked schools outside the Top 10, the average median GPA is a 3.4.

If you want to attend a Top 10 law school, it’s best if your GPA is a 3.8 or higher.

  • Even for schools lower in the law school rankings, you don’t want to slip below a 3.4.
  • Throughout your undergraduate education, keep in mind that the GPA you earn will play a major role in which law schools you can attend.

In some cases, an excellent LSAT score or other achievements can compensate for a lower GPA, but this is rare.

Throughout undergraduate school, you will need to focus on keeping up with your classes and coursework, meeting all deadlines, and performing well on tests.

Step 2: Take the LSAT

For fall admission to law school, you need to take the LSAT by December at the latest.

However, taking the LSAT even earlier offers advantages:

  • If your score isn’t high enough the first time around, you can study more and take another shot at the test. (However, you’ll want to study thoroughly the first time, since most top law schools average multiple attempts at the test.)
  • Admissions teams don’t wait until the deadline to start making decisions and filling seats (more on that in the “When to submit your application” section below). So, take your test earlier to get your applications in sooner.

For these reasons, we recommend taking the LSAT in June, September, and/or October for fall admission to law school.

Do all law schools require the LSAT?

In February 2016, the University of Arizona College of Law announced that it would consider applicants who had taken the LSAT or applicants who had taken the Graduate Records Examination (GRE).

A year later, Harvard Law School followed suit.

Since then, additional schools have announced that they will also accept the GRE, including:

  • Columbia Law School
  • Cornell Law School
  • Georgetown Law
  • University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • Wake Forest School of Law
  • Florida State University College of Law
  • Northwestern University School of Law
  • New York University Law
  • University of California, Los Angeles School of Law

Still, it’s a good idea to take the LSAT.

  • Only about 24 schools accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, so taking only the GRE would limit which law schools you can apply to.
  • In addition, taking the LSAT demonstrates your commitment to law school, while taking the GRE may indicate that you’re considering several different graduate school paths.

What to know about the LSAT

The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) assesses skills including reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and analytical reasoning.

It’s a multiple-choice test that is currently paper-and-pencil. However, a digital version of the LSAT is coming in September 2019 and will be taken on a tablet provided to test-takers at the test center.

The LSAT consists of the following sections:

  • Logical Reasoning (also known as Arguments)
  • Analytical Reasoning (also known as Logic Games)
  • Reading Comprehension
  • An unscored Writing Sample
  • An unscored experimental section

In total, you’ll answer 99-102 multiple-choice questions. The LSAT is 3 hours and 30 minutes long and costs $190.

What’s a good LSAT score?

The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120-180 points. Along with undergraduate GPA, the LSAT is one of the most significant factors considered by law school admission teams. The higher your score, the more options you’ll have when it comes to choosing a law school.

A “good” LSAT score varies depending on which law schools you’re interested in attending.

  • The average LSAT score is about 150.
  • If you want to get into a Top 10 law school, aim for a score above 162.
  • For a Top 50 law school, you’ll need a score above 154. And to get into most accredited law schools, a score of at least 150 is necessary.

Step 3: Register for the Credential Assembly Service (CAS).

The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is required by most American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law schools.

CAS assembles a report that consists of your LSAT scores, LSAT writing samples, transcripts, and letters of recommendation.

Once you apply to a law school, the school contacts the CAS to request a copy of your report.

Registering for CAS costs $195 and includes one free score report. Each additional score report costs $45.

Step 4: Submit transcripts and letters of recommendation to CAS.

Around August or September, contact your college to request that your transcripts be sent to CAS.

Begin asking your professors for letters of recommendation as well.

What to know about letters of recommendation

Most law schools ask for two letters of recommendation.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) offers the CAS service and allows you to submit letter of recommendation requests through the CAS system.

  • You will assign each letter to the law schools you wish to receive it.
  • However, if your recommender prefers, paper letters of recommendation are also accepted.

The most effective letters of recommendation are written by professors or work supervisors who know you well.

They should be able to describe your personal, academic, and/or professional achievements in detail.

While generic letters praising the applicant aren’t helpful, a letter of recommendation that provides specific details and compares you to your academic peers is useful to the admissions team.

Start building relationships with your professors early in your academic career.

When it’s time to ask for letters of recommendation, ensure that the professor sounds enthusiastic about recommending you. A lukewarm letter won’t help your case—and may even hurt it.

If possible, set aside time to meet with the professor(s) and discuss your credentials, personal qualities, and other information that may be included in the letter.

It can also be helpful to email or deliver a copy of your resume.

Step 5: Apply to law schools.

Law school applications are fairly straightforward. However, you will also need to submit a personal statement and sometimes a resume.

What to know about your personal statement

Length:

For some law schools, there is no word limit provided for the personal statement. Others recommend 2-4 pages double spaced.

  • Follow all requirements to the letter.

If you want to use the same personal statement for schools with varying length requirements, write a longer version and a shorter version.

If no word limit or page limit is stated, it’s best to stick to 2-3 pages.

Topic:

Most law schools provide a very generic question for the personal statement, while others provide no topic at all.

  • On the plus side, this means that you can use the same personal statement for multiple law schools (with some tweaks, of course).
  • With no real guidelines, however, it’s sometimes tough to decide what to write about.

Use your personal statement to reveal how your background, education, and experiences have prepared you for law school and inspired an interest in law.

As with other personal statements, it’s a great idea to use a specific anecdote to convey your point. Be personal and personable, providing genuine insight into who you are as an individual.

Tips:

  • Be straightforward, concise, and organized.
  • Keep the focus on yourself rather than on loved ones, legal issues, or your family history.
  • Be authentic instead of writing what you think the admissions team wants to hear.
  • Write in your own voice, and make it personal. Could someone else write the exact same essay? If so, it’s probably not the topic you should choose.
  • Proofread and edit extensively. Your personal statement should be error-free.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t restate your resume and qualifications. These appear elsewhere in your application. The personal statement is the place to add new information.
  • Don’t tell the admissions team that you’d make a good lawyer because you like to argue. Yes, applicants do this more than you might expect.
  • If you reference law schools by name, triple check that you’ve referenced the correct school and spelled the name correctly (and removed references to any other law schools).
  • Don’t try to cover your entire life story. You have limited space, and attempting to cover too much can result in a scattered and unorganized essay.

Optional essays:

It’s also important to note that many law school applications include additional optional essays.

Should you respond to the optional essay questions?

In most cases, yes. Your essays are what set you apart from similarly qualified candidates.

Going the extra mile to answer optional questions demonstrates genuine interest in the school and a solid work ethic.

Depending on how many law schools you’re applying to, however, you may find it difficult to answer every single optional essay question. In general:

  • Be sure to respond to those that are applicable to you. If the question gives you an opportunity to provide valuable information or a highly engaging response, you’d be remiss to skip it.
  • If the question is about why you’re interested in the law school, answer it.
  • It’s best to respond to all optional questions for the schools you’re most interested in attending.

When to submit your application

Law school applications typically become available between August and October.

Most law school deadlines fall between February 1 and June 1. Early Decision and Early Notification deadlines are usually between November 1 and November 15.

  • However, it’s important to note that 99 percent of law schools begin admitting students shortly after applications become available.
  • Most law schools use rolling admissions.
  • This means that if you wait until the end of the application cycle to apply, most of the seats will already be filled.

Regardless of the official deadline, aim to submit all law school applications by late November or early December (earlier, of course, if you’re applying Early Decision or Early Notification).

Step 6: Wait for a response.

Once you’ve ensured that all required documents are submitted to the law schools of your choice, take a well-deserved break.

Relax, distract yourself with fun activities or much-needed leisure time, and try not to anxiously obsess over law school decisions.

Because of rolling admissions, the sooner you submit your application, the earlier you’ll hear back from the college. There is no set time table, but generally:

  • Early Decision applicants will get a response between mid-December to early January.
  • Regular Admissions applicants will hear back by mid-May or earlier.
  • Waitlisted applicants should receive a decision by mid-summer.

Some top students may receive a response quickly. In other cases, the college may wait to receive additional applications before making a final decision on an applicant.

Next Steps

After you’re admitted to law school, you’ll need to earn your law degree (typically the Juris Doctor, or J.D.).

You’ll then have to pass an ethics exam known as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination before taking your bar exam.

The bar exam is a challenging test that varies by state.

However, it usually consists of multiple choice and essay questions that evaluate your knowledge of state law and your ability to apply these laws to various scenarios.

With your J.D. and passing bar exam scores in hand, you’ll be ready for a career in law.

What Other Pre-Law Experts Have to Say

Over time, we’ll add what other pre-law experts have to say about how to get into law school. Read below to hear their perspectives!

Lynn Laufenberg, associate professor of history and pre-law advisor at Sweet Briar College:

Any major is fine for law school. In fact, assuming that political science/government is an advantage is wrong. It’s a good major, but so are all majors that require analytical reasoning and writing. Law schools like philosophy and history for this reason. Also English. That’s more important than having a lot of courses in American government. Learning the “law” happens in law school, so it doesn’t have to happen in college.

Also, don’t discount the sciences for students who want to go on in patent or intellectual-property law — but they still have be excellent writers of expository prose, which the sciences don’t usually stress. Frankly, students should major in analytical-writing intensive majors that they enjoy — GPA is a major factor in where they will be accepted.In your personal statement, kill anything predictable. Serious challenges overcome is the best narrative — but they had better be serious (not the death of a pet — although I don’t want to diminish that. But everyone undergoes that. What has happened to you that’s different?). Or highly unusual intellectual interests.

You’re an art history or music major — how does that prepare you for law school? (One of our former students, an art history/history/French triple major with a medieval and Renaissance studies minor, got into Georgetown Law, now has a job with a D.C. firm not in any of the above fields). You need a great GPA, great analytical/writing skills, and great test-taking skills.

Tina Willis, an Orlando personal injury attorney and former law professor:

Unfortunately, there are no real tricks to law school admission, other than working hard to get high grades during college, and performing well on the LSAT (taking an LSAT preparation course is recommended). But a very well-written essay can make a big difference, so speak from the heart, and ask several trusted mentors to review your draft before submission (like your college professors, and another lawyer, if you know one).

Additionally, because lawyers spend so much time writing, I would highly recommend that those hoping to be admitted to law school choose majors that involve a lot of writing, such as English, philosophy, or history. I started my college career in the totally wrong major. Thankfully, my former history professor convinced me to switch to history, and to start writing regularly in a journal.

Lance J. Robinson, a practicing criminal defense lawyer in New Orleans with over 22 years of experience:

Students who want to go to law school should aim to be above the median in both their GPA and LSAT. If you’re considering taking a difficult class to impress admissions, but you think the grade you’ll get could lower your GPA, don’t take the difficult class. Most often, admissions will pay more attention to your scores over which classes you took. Law school is highly competitive, and there are often minimum requirements for GPA and LSAT to help weed through applicants.

For college and high school students, find extracurricular activities and clubs that will show your skills in debate or as a leader. These alone won’t get you into law school, but if you have stellar GPA and LSAT scores and you’re being compared with another student with even better scores, having strong examples of your leadership and a debate background could help you look better to admissions.

Nigel McKechnie, lawyer at Mann Lawyers LLP:

Aspiring lawyers should find out what is required to get into law school as early as possible. For instance, they should look at what kinds of grades are expected for admission, how many reference letters they will need, the average LSAT scores of the entering class, and what kinds of attributes each law school is looking for in their students, as not all schools are looking for the same types. They should also know that the application process is lengthy, and cannot be complete over night. Aspiring lawyers should plan early and secure reference letters as soon as possible, while stale-dated references should be updated.

The personal statement is not an afterthought. It is sometimes the make-or-break document in the application process. Aspiring lawyers should prepare the statement carefully and begin months in advance. Think about why you want to become a lawyer, and what makes you different from the many other talented applicants. Law schools will also want to know why you want to attend that particular law school. Consider outlining what sets it apart from the rest.

Jeremy Peter Green, founder of JPG Legal who was awarded a full scholarship at Northwestern University School of Law:

The two most important factors for getting into law school are, by far, LSAT and undergraduate GPA, in that order. To this end, law school applicants should put as much time and effort as possible into preparing for the LSAT, including taking a course if necessary.

For GPA, the best thing you can do besides working hard is to pick an easy major and attend an undergraduate school with an easy grading curve. Rigor of the undergraduate institution or major are not major factors, so a sociology major from a small local state school with a 3.9 GPA will have a noticeable advantage over a mechanical engineering major from MIT with a 3.4 GPA.

Final Thoughts: How to Get Into Law School

Law schools are highly competitive, and earning an acceptance letter from your top choice is challenging.

But by creating a plan and getting started now, you’ll increase your chances.

Focus on earning a high GPA during all four years of undergraduate school, developing relationships with professors, and preparing for the LSAT.

  • After that, register for the Credential Assembly Service, request letters of recommendation, and craft a quality personal statement.

Regardless of application deadlines, apply by early December at the latest. If you wait until most of the seats have filled up, admission becomes even more competitive.

Follow these tips, and you’ll get into a quality law school and effectively prepare for your career as a lawyer.