T3 law school chance

My daughter is a junior in a T10 non-ivy college. She took her first LSAT test this summer and got 174. She wants to go to T3 law school and is not happy with her score. Her practice test scores average around 178 and she thinks she can get a better score if she takes another exam. So far her GPA is 4.0. Should she take another LSAT test? Does it make a big difference if she scores a few more points? Is there anything else she could improve to get into T3 law school? Is it worth to spend more time on LSAT?

well, 1) her score is over the median for all three of the T3, but more importantly 2) what is your role in this? ie, what do you want?

As crazy as it seems, a 174 is at median for Harvard and Yale, though you can’t do much better than a 4.0. There could be some risk in retaking the LSAT, particularly if LSAC were to return to the non-flex test format, as dropping a couple of points would not be a good look (some schools say they only look at highest score, and others say they look at all of them but don’t specifically average them). Once someone is testing above about a 173, there is just always some randomness about whether you max out your potential score or miss a few random points. Common wisdom is that, in the actual test, most test takers perform at least several points lower than their practice test scores.

Head over to reddit and Law School Numbers for more experience and data. But at this point, my advice (as the parent of a T3 law student) is to protect that 4.0, and then pick up some good research/internship experience to fill out her application. And focus on building those relationships with professors for strong LORs.


Here we go again with rank. Let’s, for example look at Harvard. Her GPA is 4.0 but what does she study? Engineering is different than poli sci which is what most do.

174 is Harvard’s average. It’s excellent but they admit 7%. What if she scores lower. Per their website it would be reviewed.

What are her extras? For example 73 members of a class of 560 previously worked for congress members. So what besides GOA and LSAT does she offer?

The scary part of all this insanity is what if she doesn’t get into a top 3.

What if she ends up at #6 Penn or #15 Gtown or #22 Minnesota, will she not want to be a lawyer ?

I suspect no different than undergrad you need to have a range, especially when targeting reaches.

The danger in taking is a lower score. As you can barely move higher I would not retake. Would 2 points higher matter ? Maybe. Would lower matter ? Maybe. Seems like some schools only use the highest and others use all. Your score is already near the top for nearly every law school in America…nearly not all.

I think the statement of wanting top 3 is fine but if you’ve done everything you can and likely someone applying out of undergrad hasn’t, it’s gonna be tough no matter what. It’s top 3 for a reason.

Good luck.

Thanks for the advice. She does get a law related internship recently. Hope she can keep the 4.0 GPA. I will let her decide if she wants to take the LSAT exam.

Also be aware that fewer applicants are being accepted straight out of college at Harvard and Yale.

For example:

  • 8% directly from college
  • 37% 1-2 years out
  • 33% 3-4 years out
  • 21% 5+ years out

82% at least one year out of college
63% two or more years out of college
19% four or more years out of college


I totally agree. She knows T3 is hard. If she tries her best and ends up in some other law schools, it is not the end of the world. There are so many factors to determine whether we will be successful in life or not. I support her to aim for the best, we live our lives only once. If she didn’t try, she may regret later.

My husband and I are 1st generation immigrants and engineers. Unfortunately she is not interested in engineering at all. As parents, we knows very little about law career and can’t give her much advice. I hope I can get some practical advices in this forum. But I know it is probably luck at the end even with high scores. Thanks!

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Is the LSAT still offering score choice? This past cycle was particularly brutal because 1. The online LSAT was shorter than the traditional paper test and 2. Score Choice allowed students to cancel their first score if they weren’t happy with it.

The result was a very large percentage of applicants with near perfect scores and law schools struggling to figure out how to adapt as far as admissions and yield. Those scores are good for 5 years.

Sample size of 1: close friend’s S top 10 LAC, GPA 3.9, LSAT 176.
Rejected by Harvard, Yale, NYU, UChicago, Fordham.
WL: Stanford, UVA, UMich
Accepted: BU, Columbia

Attending Columbia

I’d also suggest thinking about where she might want to practice law and choose a safety or 2 from that area as many law firms hire locally too.


Her professional opportunities coming out of Columbia or Penn or NYU are not meaningfully different than coming out of T3. If she is gunning for the elite track after law school (clerking, working at a top firm, then Federal Prosecutor) she’ll need the same profile coming out of Columbia (or any other of the top schools) as she would coming out of Harvard.

So encourage her NOT to fixate on any single one or group of the top law schools. Her LSAT scores could go higher- or lower.

Why is she interested in law school?


Yes, scoring higher than a law school’s median LSAT score can make a significant difference regarding one’s chances of admission. A higher LSAT score will make her more competitive for major merit scholarship awards at Columbia & at Chicago.

If your daughter is disappointed with her score of 174 and is confident that she under-performed, then retaking is fine. A score of 174 is just median at Harvard & Yale law schools, but above median for all other law schools.

Applying to just Harvard, Yale, & Stanford is unreasonable as Chicago & Columbia should result in similar opportunities for any law student.

LSAT scores were notably higher this application cycle as students had more time to prepare for the LSAT. Applications to law schools were up this past cycle.

Typically, one with your daughter’s numbers (GPA & LSAT) would apply to all of the top 14 law schools plus any in-state option (in your daughter’s case that would be UCLA & UCal-Berkeley).

No one can predict admissions chances for Stanford & Yale law schools as both admit small numbers of students to each class. Harvard Law is a much larger school and, therefore, more predictable with respect to admissions. Your daughter has an average chance for admission to Harvard Law School based on her numbers.

Many take a year or two off after completing undergraduate school in order to prepare for, take,and retake the LSAT in order to achieve a high score. In your daughter’s case, a high score would be 175 or above as the medians at two of her target schools are 174.

Attending a high ranked law school is very important for those seeking the highest paying & most prestigious opportunities during & right after completing law school.

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I agree with your points, though will add a cautionary note that going from the recent 3 section, at home, “flex’” test to the current model which re-introduces an experimental, ungraded section introduces some risk of a high score bouncing around a bit because it introduces the possibility of uncertainty and fatigue. In the “old” days of a 5 section, in-person test, there was a lot of anxiety post-test about which was the experimental section, and which crazy hard section was ungraded or counted. So for any student accustomed to the 3 section flext test, there could be some adjustment to the longer test with the stress of not knowing which “extra” section counted.

But in a perfect testing environment, yes, moving the needle from median at HLS and Yale to, say, a 176 would give a student some breathing room. And yes, anyone with a 4.0 and 174 should be lining up their LORs and preparing to blanket the T14, and can then decide on what the merit vs. full pay balance is among the schools they get into. The past 2 years of law school admissions have been a wild ride, with number of applications way up, and and no one is sure whether that will continue though there are various online observers, such as Mike Spivey, who review the data and discuss trends and project possibilities for the future.

edited to add: out of curiosity, I went to see what Spivey is saying about test score trends, and apparently with Aug '21 being the first 4 section test, there is some drop in the number of 175+ scores. There is some commentary that LSAC is figuring out how to get the LSAT “curve” back on track so we can expect a decline in the 175+ scores. For me, that would suggest the decision whether to retest in the hope of scoring 175+ would take some serious reflection and should not be automatic.


Agree that the shortened version of the LSAT brought on by pandemic related concerns / issues resulted in an upward spike of LSAT scores.

With respect to OP’s daughter, your advice is sound, but human nature suggests that she should retake so as to avoid feelings of regret. Almost all law schools consider only one’s highest LSAT score. Of course, the problem is that if any law school considers all LSAT scores, it is probably among the top 3 law schools. But, targeting just the top 3 law schools is not wise & is not necessary.

One situation in which targeting just the top 3 law schools might make sense could be when an applicant is undecided between attending MBA school & law school and has already been accepted to the top 3 MBA programs (Harvard, Stanford, & Wharton).


It’s definitely worth an application, but never something to hold your breath on. Even with a 178, there’s still well over a 90% chance she would get rejected from these schools. The best thing to do is cast a wide net, and make sure there are a couple safety schools in there.


Thanks for all the information! I also want to know if getting a 4.0 GPA from a t10 universities weighs more than lower ranked schools on the application?
Do law schools consider a 4.0 GPA from STEM majors more prestigious than other majors such as humanities or economics majors? I have an engineering degree and know how hard it is to get 4.0 GPA in STEM majors. But I see my daughter working very hard to get a good grade. A lot of her courses are reading and writing intensive. It also requires good analytical skills. It is definitely different.

When you look at the top schools work experience seems to be a game changer…just like B School.

You can probably see the majors admitted on each website. A STEM major might lean toward a patent offering.

I would assume non poli sci is best because they get so many so much of the class will be from there. It’s always good to differentiate.

If you look at Harvard and Yale, they show schools like Boise State and South Dakota State in attendance. So it’s clear you can get in from anywhere with the right credentials.

Will going to a big name give your app more cred ? Hard to tell. Yes most the population will come from big name schools. But that’s because the likelihood of a 174 will be from name your top school vs from Eastern Illinois.

The reality is far more with your daughter’s stats will get rejected than accepted. Besides a great gpa and lsat ? What does she have to offer ?? To me that’s the missing piece.

What internships has she had ? What has she contributed to society during her school years….and like B school it does seem like working after a few years will help.

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LSAC used to publish the stats of whether a second take is likely to increase or decrease your LSAT score. The likelihood of a 174 increasing on retake is maybe 50:50 at best.

The effect of a STEM major or a degree from a T10 will be miniscule. There are plenty of applicants from high ranking schools. She will need to show something extra in her essays, work experience and extracurriculars to get admission to YHS.

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Earning a 4.0 in a STEM major at a top 10 university (such as JHU) should help.

Many–probably most–elite law firms have lucrative practices involving IP (intellectual property), high tech companies as well as companies involved in life sciences. Some firms also have active patent law practices (there is a separate patent bar which requires that one has taken certain STEM courses prior to sitting for the patent bar exam).The top law schools like to produce graduates who are attractive to the most prestigious law firms. A law student with a STEM background should get noticed both in the application process & in the recruiting process.

Building a law school class at a HYS or any T14 is not much different than building a class for an elite college. They are looking for an optimal combination of backgrounds and interests of students with extremely high academic achievement. To the extent that an applicant has a STEM background but has demonstrated an ability to write and digest a lot of reading (e.g. also have great grades and rigor in humanities/social science classes), they may stand out in the applicant pool.

I also believe that having a STEM background, while necessary for patent law practices, is also generally good training for any legal career. The ability to be quantitative and fact and proof driven is a big plus in any practice.


Do law schools consider the rigor of your undergraduate degree, or if you have double major, or duel degrees?

Law school admissions may give some consideration to these factors, but not much.

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