Learn the 5 Deciding Factors in Law School Admissions

Find out what matters most in admissions decisions and merit aid awards.

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Law school admissions officers review thousands of applications every year to fill classes of often only a couple hundred students, so they need ways to quickly evaluate applications.

Through my almost 10 years of experience coaching law school applicants through the admissions process, I have identified the following five factors, which are weighed most heavily in making admissions decisions, as well as in distribution of invaluable merit-based aid.

1. LSAT score: Since the LSAT is heavily regulated to ensure consistency across test dates and administration sites, admissions committees use LSAT scores to objectively compare applicants from diverse academic, personal, and professional backgrounds.

Admissions committees particularly rely on LSAT scores to evaluate applicants' logical reasoning, analytical, and reading skills, all of which are essential for success in law school. While the LSAT is far from perfect, law school admissions committees put substantial stock in it because it has a higher correlation to law school academic performance than undergraduate GPA.

[Find out how to best prepare for the LSAT.]

2. Undergraduate GPA: Your undergraduate GPA summarizes your college career, so admissions committees see it as a strong indicator of how you perform academically, as well as of your motivation and determination over the long term.

A high GPA implies that you likely work hard in school and you will probably be able to handle the academic rigors of law school. When you apply, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) combines your LSAT score and LSAC undergraduate GPA (which includes all college level classes you have taken at any school) to create a school-specific LSAT/GPA Index that is used to initially benchmark you against other applicants to that school.

Additional factors like undergraduate college and major will come into play later in the process when the committee is evaluating your individual application, but you should be aware that even in this subsequent, more individualized evaluation, having a notoriously difficult major, like engineering, will not be perceived as a valid justification for a significantly lower grade point average.

[See why STEM sells in law school admissions.]

3. Leadership experience: Leading groups or teams illustrates to the admissions committees how you will contribute to their community and society more broadly in a significant way. You can gain this experience through student clubs and organizations, volunteer activities, class projects, work experience, and more.

Admissions committees like to see involvement over a long period of time, so you should join a few groups freshman year of college and subsequently seek out leadership roles.

Also, demonstrate what you have accomplished as a leader. Instead of simply stating that you were president of your fraternity, for example, show the tangible impact of your leadership.

4. Reason for attending law school: During the recession, many more college seniors applied to law school to avoid the sluggish job market. While this phenomenon has subsided a bit recently, admissions committees are still wary of applicants' intentions, so you need to demonstrate through your application essays that you absolutely need a J.D.

Admissions officers want to understand how you will use your law degree to accomplish your professional goals. Dig deep to find the compelling personal events that have inspired you to pursue a career in law to help the admissions committee connect with you personally, as well as academically and professionally.

[Explore unique career paths after law school.]

5. Recommendations: These provide credibility to your application as they represent third-party evaluations of your academic and professional performance to date.

Recommendations from professors are particularly important, as they can speak to your academic intellect, as well as your interest in law and how it relates to your undergraduate studies. In addition, professors likely have taught hundreds of other law school applicants and thus can help the admissions committee benchmark you against other applicants from your school.

Admissions committees have come to expect overly enthusiastic recommendations full of compelling examples that show how and why you are such an exceptional applicant, so be careful not to choose recommenders who are more reserved in their assessments of applicants, as this could be perceived negatively by the admissions committees.

Which of these five factors are you still working to improve for your applications? Let me know in the comments, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.