by Zack Baldwin
Before you take the LSAT, you may want to know what score you need to achieve in order to be competitive at your dream school. But just knowing the LSAT score isn’t enough to make that assessment: you also need an undergraduate GPA.
That’s right: even if you score a 180 on the LSAT, you won’t be competitive at many decent law schools with a 2.0 GPA. We’ll take a look at what LSAT score you need to achieve depending on your GPA bracket.
We’ll take a look at three imaginary students and figure out what scores on the LSAT they will need in order to get into different schools that interest them:
Student A has a 3.8 GPA
Student B has a 3.3 GPA
Student C has a 2.8 GPA
We’ll take a look at the scores each student needs to achieve in order to gain admission to the following groups of schools.
A few things to note:
- We made our list not by quality of law school, but by difficulty of acceptance
- Our “Tiers” are unique and different from the commonly used Tier 1-4, and we did this to discuss admissions difficulty, not university quality
- Not all law schools are listed. When we go into each student’s chances at these schools, we’ll discuss the admissions standards for each tier, to give you an idea of what you need if the school you are interested in is not on the list.
Tier 1: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UChicago
The most difficult and exacting law schools in the land. Only Student A has even a shot of gaining acceptance to one of these schools; Student B and Student C are out of contention. Student A is actually below average GPA for these schools, which tends to be in the 3.85-3.95 range. So, Student A will need a 172-176 LSAT score to stand a chance.
Tier 2: Columbia, NYU, UPenn, UMichigan, UVA, Duke
Although slightly less competitive, again only Student A really stands a chance of gaining admission and has a stronger application here compared to the Tier 1 schools. Student A will need to hit a 168-171 on their LSAT to be considered for admissions.
Tier 3: Northwestern, Cornell, Georgetown, Berkeley, UT Austin, Vanderbilt, UCLA, Washington U of St. Louis, USC
These are right in Student A’s range if they can achieve the appropriate LSAT score. For the Tier 3 schools, Student A is above average in GPA and would need an LSAT score of about a 165 to make the admissions process easy on themselves. Student B is in with a small chance of acceptance at this level, but their LSAT score needs to balance out a poor GPA. For Student B to have much of a chance, they’ll need an LSAT score above a 170.
Tier 4: Boston U, U Iowa, Notre Dame, Emory, U of Minnesota, Indiana U Bloomington, Arizona State, George Washington, U Alabama, UC Irvine, Ohio State
For Student A, these are pretty safe bets with a good LSAT score. With an LSAT score in the 160s, Student A should definitely apply to any schools of interest in this Tier. Just like in Tier 3, these are all reach schools for Student B, and they shouldn’t expect to get in. However, a strong LSAT score in the high 160s or 170s may put them into consideration.
Tier 5: Boston College, UC Davis, U Wisconsin Madison, U Washington, William and Mary, U Georgia, Fordham, UNC Chapel Hill, U Illinois Champaign, U Arizona, U Colorado Boulder, Wake Forest, George Mason, Southern Methodist
At this point, Student A’s GPA can start to seriously compensate for a middle-range LSAT score. A score in the mid-150s – despite being below the average for these schools – will keep Student A competitive, albeit prevent Student A from being a guaranteed admittance. Most of these are still reach schools, but the schools in the lower half of Tier 4 are definitely within reach with an LSAT score in the mid-160s.
Tier 6: U Florida, U Maryland, UC Hastings, Florida State, Tulane, U Houston, U Richmond, Baylor, Case Western Reserve, Georgia State, U Nebraska Lincoln, U Kentucky, U New Mexico, U Miami, U Oklahoma, U Connecticut, Seton Hall, Loyola, Pepperdine, Northeastern
Tier 6 is where Student B really stands a chance with an LSAT score in the low 160s. From here on out, Student A can afford a low LSAT score and still gain acceptance, but Student B is going to need to really study for the LSAT to try and get a mid 160s score to guarantee consideration.
Tier 7: Cardozo-Yeshiva, U San Diego, U Pittsburgh, U Oregon, American, U New Hampshire, St. Louis U, Chicago-Kent, Syracuse, Rutgers, West Virginia U, Michigan State, Catholic, Drexel, Hofstra, U Mississippi, Seattle U, Texas A&M
These are the beginning of the reach schools for Student C. As always, to compensate for a GPA well below the average for admittance, Student C needs an LSAT score well above the average for admittance, something in the high 160s, to really be considered competitive. Student B is looking competitive at these schools with an LSAT in the high 150s or even in the mid 150s.
What can we conclude?
You’ll notice that Student C never really got into a comfortable zone for admissions, and that isn’t to say there aren’t law schools out there that would accept someone like Student C, there are. But before you apply to schools that have an average of a 2.8 GPA for admissions, be sure to check their bar passage rates. There are some very good up-and-coming law schools that accept lower GPA and LSATs, but there are also predatory institutions that will take student loan money in exchange for a substandard education.
Every lawyer needs to take the bar examination to practice law and if you think the LSAT is very challenging, then the bar might be called “indescribably challenging”. If a school you are considering has a 25% bar passage rate, that may be a school to skip over; if you fail the bar the first time you’ll probably fail the second time (80% of takers pass the bar the first time, while only 30% pass on the second take).
The bar examination isn’t the only reason to go to law school, but if you intend to pursue a career as a lawyer, you will need to take it. Attend a school that will help you get a career in law with proven and substantiated success, not just one will accept you for the upcoming cycle.
What is an average LSAT score?
You’ll notice we never name a true average LSAT score. An average LSAT score is relative. If you’d like to base “average” on the mean LSAT score of all recent LSAT takers, you’re looking at about a 150. But, there are far too many factors to consider to name a true average score on this exam. Your GPA and the institution you’re applying to have a significant effect on where that average bar lies. You can take a look at a list of the accepted scores for law institutions here to get a feel for what you should be aiming for.