What Top Law Schools Look for in an Applicant | Next Step Test Prep What Top Law Schools Look for in an Applicant | Next Step Test Prep

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by Hannah Smith

In the past, there has been a misconception around law school that admissions offices evaluate applicants only based off of their LSAT score and undergraduate GPA. Rather, schools have adopted a holistic approach to the application process. This means that while your hard numbers are certainly important, what you have done outside of the classroom also factors into admissions decisions.

The trend in recent years is that more and more applicants take a few years to work in between graduating from college and applying to law school. By not applying directly out of undergrad, students then have the chance to gain work experience, find their passions, and build up their candidacy for law school.

As you’re thinking about applying to JD programs, consider these four major components that top law schools look for in an applicant:

1. LSAT

Your LSAT score is the way law schools predict how well you will perform in your first year of law school. A strong score is the first step towards acceptance into top law schools. Harvard, Yale and Stanford have the highest median LSAT scores of top law schools. If you can get above a 175 on your LSAT, you’re in an extremely strong place going into applications. Above a 170 with a strong GPA will also give you a good shot at top law schools. That being said, your LSAT score is not the end-all-be-all of law school admissions. There are ways to combat a lower-than-expected score.

2. Undergraduate Performance

Your undergraduate GPA goes hand-in-hand with your LSAT score. A strong GPA can help balance out an LSAT score that is on the edge. Your undergrad GPA shows how well you have performed over time in a school-setting. If you’re applying to top law schools with a strong GPA from a competitive undergraduate university, then you will increase your chances.

In many cases, students have dips or rough patches on their transcripts, which may explain a lower-than-expected GPA. If your grades dropped the semester that a family member was sick or that you were dealing with an extenuating circumstance, you should consider writing an addendum. Law school admissions offices will look at your transcript and see these trends. An upward trajectory is always a good indicator of hard work and perseverance if you had difficulty your freshman year of college. In general, your LSAT and GPA will be the hard statistics that top law schools will evaluate you based off of.

3. Interest in Law

An “interest in law”, contrary to popular belief, does not have to manifest itself in traditional Pre-Law studies or law-related extracurriculars. While activities such as debate, Model UN, pre-law societies, or student government are great extracurriculars to participate in, they are not “required” for admission to top law schools.

Instead, you should think about your personal interests and passions and how they are related to the law. Perhaps you’re pursuing a law degree because you are interested in environmental policy. In that case, you might spend your time during your undergraduate years joining environmental groups on campus, or working for an environmental grassroots campaign during the summers, or even majoring in environmental studies.

Law touches most facets of our society, so don’t feel the need to fit the traditional “pre-law” box. In reality, top law schools are looking for nontraditional candidates who will help diversify their incoming classes.

4. Standing Out

To build off of the last point, especially if you’re applying to T-14 law schools, you need to stand out in comparison to your fellow applicants. In most cases, it is actually best if you are coming from a major that is not Pre-Law and if you spent your time in college and after doing work that is not as typical as something such as a paralegal.

Instead, showing a vested interest in your individual interests and passions is key. Starting your own student group in college, founding your own nonprofit or company, or showing leadership and initiative in another way are all great means of standing out as an applicant.


Hannah Smith is a graduate of Stanford University and an admissions expert at InGenius Prep.

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