How to Gain Admission to Top Law Schools
Advice from Professors and Admission Committee Members
Where you attend law school makes a big difference in the types of jobs you can land after graduation. Average starting salaries of law graduates across the country are directly proportional to the prestige of the degree. A student who earns a JD from one of the top 20 schools usually receives more job offers, and offers with higher salaries.
In fact, some surveys show that students with low class rankings at top law schools may receive better offers than students with high class rankings at lower tier institutions. For these reasons, many pre-law undergraduates pull out all the stops to get into a highly ranked school. Here is some advice from law school professors and admission committe members on how to get into a top 10 or top 20 law school.
J. Davidson, a law professor in California, advises students to major in subjects that they enjoy and excel in. Earning a Bachelor's degree in engineering, dance, or music won't hurt your chances of getting admitted to a top 20 or top 10 law school. In fact, it often helps. Davidson says that law schools drool over applicants with "interesting" majors, subjects other than history, political science, English, or philosophy. So, if you really like Spanish and drama, double major in Spanish and drama.
Talk with a pre-law adviser about foundational coursework related to law. This includes several courses in history and philosophy. Strong law school applicants take upper level humanities courses that have large reading and writing components. Much of law school coursework is reading, analyzing, and writing.
K. Martin emphasizes that grades matter, but most especially in your major and pre-law classes. Getting a C in an course outside of your field of study is not as bad as getting a C in a class that's required for your major. Law schools look at applicants' total GPAs, and also their academic and major GPAs. Martin advises students to set their priorities accordingly when they study for midterms and finals.
Start studying for the LSAT long before you register for it. Students who become intimately familiar with the exam find it much easier than students who start studying a month before the LSAT. Davidson warns that smart students can get low LSAT scores if they don't bother to learn the format of the test and style of questions. A high LSAT score is crucial to gain admission to top law school and the test is beatable with the right study plan.
Maintain good relations with your professors; keep an eye out for possible recommenders. The more a professor knows you and your work, the more persuasive a letter she can write.
Research the academic interests of faculty who teach at your top pick law schools. When you are writing your statements of purpose, make each essay unique to the school you are applying to. Show the admissions committee why you are a perfect fit for that particular school, and how professors' academic interests mesh with your own.
Join volunteer legal programs, community outreach, debate, political campaigns, or other activities that combine critical thinking with public service. Martin notes that these are great things to mention in a statement of purpose, and they help admission committees visualize you as a law student. Such activities set you apart from a sea of faceless applicants.
Apply to at least 7 top schools that you think you have a shot at getting into, and 3 that are a long shot. Also apply to several safety schools that you wouldn't mind attending. Admission to top law schools is partly a numbers game.
Sending out applications to the most prestigious law schools can be scary, but all students have the same jitters, wondering if they are wasting their time. Yet every year, the first year law classes are filled with students just like you who can't believe they made it. You'll never get in unless you try!
© Had2Know 2010