Law School Advice for High School Students

I thought potential law school applicants might benefit from what we’ve learned as a family. D is a senior at a top 20 private university applying to law schools this fall for admission in the 2019/2020 school year next fall. Some information you might not otherwise know about:

College Grades - when applying to law schools you do so via the Law School Advisory Council (LSAC for short) rather than the schools directly. The LSAC will solicit grades from every college you attended, even dual-enrollment courses you took in high school and compile a new GPA which may be different than what your college transcript looks like. If, for example, you took multi-variable calculus while in high school via dual-enrollment and earned a “C” grade, law schools will see this grade when you apply

Merit Scholarships - while D was offered merit scholarships by a number of undergraduate schools when she applied 4 years ago, but the amount of merit scholarships available to strong law school applicants is very surprising. The top 3 law schools do not offer merit money (Yale, Harvard, and Stanford) but it is common for very strong applicants to receive an offer of full tuition or even more. D is a strong applicant (LSAT of 172, GPA of 3.9) but we’ve been surprised at how much merit money is awarded in some cases to a high percentage of incoming students. So, don’t rule out law school until you understand what your true net cost will end up being

LSAT - D had a strong ACT 4 years ago when applying to undergraduate programs. Her ACT was a 36 and she had several strong SAT subject test scores as well. Strong test scores alone though without interesting extracurricular activities and a near perfect GPA are not enough to get into the Ivy League schools or the top liberal arts colleges. Test scores might be worth something like 25% of the admissions decision for undergrad - necessary but not sufficient. The LSAT though seems to be far, far more meaningful for law school admissions than the ACT/SAT were for undergraduate admissions. A strong LSAT score can compensate for a less than stellar GPA and it might be worth 60% or 70% of the admissions decision. It is a huge deal. Successful law school applicants prepare for the LSAT over a period of several months. Big cities have companies that offer practice sessions and test prep. In particular, many find the logic section very difficult. Thousands of dollars in scholarships are on the line, prepare accordingly

Timeline - you need to be thinking about when you apply to law schools. Provided you apply by deadlines there is not a significant benefit to applying early for undergraduate programs. Law schools review applications on a rolling basis and award merit money as decisions are made. So, it is in your best interests to apply in October or by the end of November regardless of when the application cutoff date is

Legal Employment Prospects - attorney income is “bi-modal.” Graduates who join big law firms earn high salaries. The starting salaries of firms hiring out of T14 law schools is around $170K/year with some form of bonus. However, attorneys who work in the public sector or non-profits earn more like $50K - $60K/year. If you want to work in a big firm you need to either finish at the very top of your law school class or attend a top rated law school (T14). Many thousands of attorneys graduate from law school each year only to find that they cannot find positions that require a law degree. Additionally, the vast majority of law schools are somewhat regional in nature so you need to be thinking about where you want to live when you choose a law school. Don’t assume a law degree will make you wealthy and have some idea where you want to practice long-term. The full cost of law school will vary from about $50K/year up to $85K/year. Top schools have loan relief programs for those working in public sector jobs but still having a loan of $250K is not much fun on a $50K salary

Undergraduate School - if your long term plan is to attend law school, it is far more important that you have an extremely strong GPA than where you go to school. Save your tuition money and attend your state public flagship campus. Certainly if you don’t go to law school having attended a prestigious undergrad program will be of value. However, when all is said and done your GPA will be far more important than the prestige of where you went to school

Helpful post.

The short version is that when applying to law schools all that really matters is one’s LSAT score (about 65%) & one’s undergraduate GPA (about 35%). If an applicant is an URM, then that applicant’s LSAT & GPA can be lower than any particular law school’s medians for matriculated students.

Apply early as scholarship funds, while plentiful, do get depleted.

If unable to get admitted to a Top 14 law school or unable to afford one if admitted, then go to a law school on scholarship in the geographic region where you would like to live & work after law school.

Avoid student loan debt unless for COA at a Top 6 law school.

Most important, do not go to law school unless you want to become an attorney and practice law.

Finally, understand the differences between a law degree (JD) and a career as a lawyer, and an MBA and the opportunities it creates. Different personality types for these two very different types of professional schools.

Post undergraduate work experience is essential for one to maximize the benefits from an MBA program, while post undergraduate work experience is not essential, and maybe not even beneficial, for one seeking a law degree.

Perhaps that is why math and philosophy majors tend to show up at the top of “LSAT scores by major” lists, since they get much more practice in logic in their majors than those in majors like political science or English.

To reinforce a point made in my initial post, D has heard back thus far from 4 of the 13 schools she applied to. Illinois merit award was full tuition, GW was $150k and Duke’s merit award is still TBD. If you do exceptionally well on the LSAT it totally changes the financial equation

The good news is that the Logic games are the most learnable component of the LSAT – just takes time and practice, practice, practice.

A 3.9/172 will be in the running for big merit aid at every school that offers it. Yes, the 17x is important, but a high GPA 3.9 and high test score 172 [and female] is rare and plenty of schools will pay her to attend.

Don’t waste her time replying to UI or GW. Much better offers will come, and then the negotiation begins. :-).

Thank you very much for this info @Wje9164be - our daughter is awaiting a deferral decision at Michigan but has a couple of honor college invites from other states’ flagships. In your opinion - and all things being equal in terms of LSAT scores - do you think a good law school is more likely to lean towards at an applicant from UoMichigan with a 3.6 GPA or an applicant from another state flagship with a 4.0 graduating w/ honors?

I ask as there seem to be many posts on these boards referring to Michigan as a “GPA killer”

UMich is not a GPA killer. (Its mean GPA is a 3.37, which is lower than some grade-inflated private schools, but still respectful for a top public.)

But the short and long answer is that a 4.0 from Podunk Regional State U beats a 3.6 from anywhere each and every time (other things like LSAT being the same).

From what we’ve seen so far the GPA itself is very important and the undergraduate school and it’s prestige or lack thereof seems to be not very important. 3.6 from U Mich is probably going to lose out to someone with a 4.0 from an accredited college @bluebayou is right. There might be some advantage to having attended a very top LAC or an Ivy League school but not much - maybe it’s worth 0.1 in GPA, maybe. I guess the big intangible is knowing whether your child is actually going to pursue law school later. Had we known that D was going to law school we could have saved about $140K and she could have attended U.Illinois vs. Notre Dame. The odd thing is that while where you go as an undergraduate is not significant in terms of law school admissions, where you go to law school has a very significant impact on your opportunities in the legal profession. SCOTUS clerkships don’t go to lower tier law school graduates. BigLaw jobs are very difficult to get if you did not attend a T14 law school.

We realize that she should receive similar merit offers from higher ranked schools, my point is just to help folks understand just how significant the LSAT is and that merit money is readily available to strong applicants. I can’t find good data on male vs. female LSAT scores but what data I have found seems to show about a 2.0 or 2.5 point differential. Not clear if law schools take this into account or not as they might for a URM.

^^the Chairman of Jones Day is a Double Domer, and JD hires plenty from ND Law. Undergrad can help in some very rare cases…I have no doubt that my Son got his federal clerkship due to undergrad connection as the Judge was an alum.

I am sure down the road when money is not so tight, your D will feel her experience at ND vs U.Illinois is priceless.
My brother and his son are ND alums who were full pay students and who could have attended their state’s(CA) top flagship schools.

Late cycle recap for those that might be interested in how a non URM, K-JD with a 3.9 Notre Dame GPA and a 172 LSAT fares in law school admissions:

Yale Reject
Harvard Waitlist
Stanford April 3rd and no answer yet
U.Chicago Waitlist
Columbia Admitted and praying for merit/financial aid
NYU April 3rd, and no answer yet
Duke Admitted with good scholarship offer
Georgetown Admitted
UVA Waitlist, this was a surprise given stats, not bothering to stay on list
U.Michigan Waitlist, also surprising given above both 75th percentiles

My suspicion is that she would have been admitted to Harvard with a 173 or higher (their median) vs. 172 so even 1 point on the LSAT can make a big difference. Could just be sour grapes but both UVA and U.Michigan seem prone to reject very strong applicants, perhaps to protect their yield.

Unlike undergraduate the timeline for admissions decisions and when you find out about merit/aid money is problematic in that seat deposits at some law schools are due mid April even though NYU and Stanford are taking their sweet time

My kid applied to both Columbia and NYU in Oct. She heard from NYU first and then Columbia. She was able to get NYU gave her money after she wrote to them about amount of money she was getting from Georgetown, and then she contacted Columbia about her merit at NYU. Columbia came back with some merit money.
My kid didn’t have very good LSAT score (relatively), but had very good GPA, work experience, LORs.
There are some schools that like few years of work experience.
Congrats on your kid’s acceptances.

@oldfort: In order to get merit money at Georgetown & two top 6 schools, your daughter must have had something exceptional on her resume if she did not exceed by at least one point each school’s median LSAT score.

What I am asking is did your daughter’s LSAT score fall below median at Columbia & NYU ? And, if so, what type of work experience ?

Her lsat is 1 point above columbia’s median but her gpa is high. Columbia gpa distribution is lower than other schools in the T6. Nothing remarkable other than both gpa and lsat relatively high. Probably more common to have one or the other. I’m surprised that either NYU or Columbia would respond to Georgetown scholarship given that it’s at the bottom of the T14

Median LSAT for Georgetown is 167.

Median LSAT for NYU is 170.

Median LSAT for Columbia is 172.

@Wje9164be : That makes sense. I am unaware of any t-14 law school other than Northwestern for which work experience is a serious admission factor. And not aware of any elite law school for which work experience is a merit money / scholarship factor.

small nit: both schools will Wait List strong applicants to protect their yield.

Mostly some really useful pieces here- esp the OP’s post. But there is some misinformation:

This is not accurate- the trend is very much towards 1-2 years work experience before law school. More than 80% of last years HLS intake had been out of college for a year; 60+% for two.; at Yale only 14% were K-JD; Penn Law 25% were K-JD (and average intake age was 25). You will find similar stats at most of the top law schools.

Not sure why the poster thinks that female is a tip- it definitely is not. Although the acceptance rate is higher for men, and men outnumber women at most law schools, it is not at such a massive differential that the law schools are staying up nights worrying about it. It does, however, point to the relative weight of LSAT and GPA: men tend to have higher LSATs and women tend to have higher GPAs.

Guessing that this is a mistake- b/c UMi is an accredited college! but as the rest of that post and the next one go on to point out GPA >> name of undergrad. Will HY notice if the undergrad is HY? yes- and they like to accept their own & the other- but even so they are a minority of the accepted class, and beyond those 2 the name of the undergrad and the major are barely/not noticed.

My kid’s LSAT was not at median of T6 schools, and her GPA was a bit north of 3.9.

She interned at a well known USA attorney’s office and 2 attorneys gave her very good LORs. I also think she wrote an excellent essay (she worked on it the whole summer). She submitted all of her applications by Oct. We heard by submitting early to Columbia was more important than applying ED.
She was accepted by NYU during their first round, and Columbia before xmas. She was accepted at Columbia without an interview, which is rare based on what I read on blogs.
As far as merit, NYU considered Georgetown’s offer, and Columbia considered NYU’s offer. I think if my kid had gone to Columbia with Georgetown’s offer she would not have received any money from them.

Many lower tier schools either WL or rejected her, and she did better with higher tier schools. The ones (lower tier) that accepted her gave her a lot of money.
My kid’s results were not as good the first round when she applied while still in college - same GPA and LSAT.

My is just a data point.