While you are evaluating whether a legal education is the right step for you, it is important to make sure that you are on top of all application requirements—from the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) to the application fee. The law school admission process can be arduous, so you should go through each requirement well in advance of any deadlines. Look into the financial aid requirements of each prospective school as well. As you start making your list of potential law schools, note the LSAT and undergraduate grade point average (GPA) ranges for each of them. While every school will state that there is no minimum LSAT score required for law school applicants to be accepted, as you go through the admission numbers, you will start to get a sense of where it might make sense to apply. It is also helpful to have an understanding of the graduation requirements of each Juris Doctor (JD) program you are considering. This information will help inform what your next few years pursuing a legal education will look like. This information will also help you assess if there is an ABA-approved law school with an online program that best suits the level of flexibility you may need to complete the JD degree.
With the pursuit of a legal education comes a series of prerequisites. This section will provide a general overview of each of those requirements as well as insight into how best to approach them.
TL;DR / Key Takeaways
- There is no GPA or LSAT score that will guarantee admission to your top choice law school, so think about applying to multiple places.
- While some colleges offer pre-law tracks, there are no specific courses, majors or extracurriculars that are required in order to apply to law school.
To start with the very basics, what education level and testing are required in order to be eligible for law school admission?
You must have received your bachelor’s degree by the time you are planning to enroll in law school.
There is the testing component. The Law School Admission Test or LSAT is accepted by every ABA-approved law school.
What is the LSAT?
The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council (better known as LSAC). LSAC is a non-profit that provides products and services to help each ABA-approved law school (over 200 in total) and all law school applicants with the admission process. The LSAT was first given to prospective students in 1948. That version of the LSAT took an entire day to administer and consisted of 10 sections.1
Today, the LSAT is made up of two parts:
A multiple-choice exam, which has been administered digitally in North America since September 2019.
The LSAT Writing, which is a written essay. A law school applicant can complete the LSAT Writing on a personal computer using secure proctoring software.
An LSAT score is determined by the number of questions answered correctly. This means that there is no deduction for an incorrect answer, so you are always better off guessing than leaving a question unanswered.
The highest a prospective student can score on the LSAT is 180 and the lowest is 120. An average LSAT score is considered to be 150 (with some margin of error).
The role of the LSAT is twofold:
The LSAT helps each ABA-approved law school compare its pool of law school applicants.
An applicant’s score on the LSAT is an indicator of potential performance as a law school student, as there is a correlation between one’s LSAT score and first-year grades in law school.
What is the GRE?
While the LSAT has long been the sole test for admission to law school, there has been a shift in recent years. Currently, 53 different law schools, including Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, New York University School of Law, Columbia Law School, and the University of Virginia School of Law, also accept the Graduate Record Examinations or GRE.2 In addition, most of these schools will also consider GRE scores when offering scholarships to admitted law school applicants. The GRE is administered by Educational Testing Service (instead of the Law School Admission Council) and test dates are offered almost daily throughout the U.S.
The GRE evaluates verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills. Three scores are reported on the GRE:
130-170 scale, in one-point increments
130-170 scale, in one-point increments
0-6 scale, in half-point increments
Transcript & Letters of Recommendation
Your college or university will need to provide your official transcript from your time as an undergraduate. Likewise, you will likely want to ask a faculty member from your undergraduate institution to provide one of your letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are a helpful way of presenting a side of you that numbers alone (i.e., your LSAT or GRE score and your GPA) cannot. Think about asking a faculty member who can attest to your drive, intellectual curiosity, and problem-solving abilities as a student. You want to make sure to present a cohesive and compelling story to the admission committee—one that will distinguish you from other law school applicants. Your letters of recommendation can help you stand out to the admission team.
Each admission team has its own criteria for evaluating law school applicants, whether those applicants are prospective full-time students or part-time students. There is no score, whether on the LSAT or GRE, that will guarantee your admission to law school.3 Similarly, even a high college GPA does not mean you will necessarily be admitted to your top choice law school. Once you have your test score (or scores, if you elect to take the LSAT or the GRE more than once), you should look at the incoming class profile for different law schools on your initial list. Each school will provide a range of scores, which will help inform where it may make the most sense to apply. A helpful tool to accomplish this task quickly is the UGPA and LSAT Score Search offered on the LSAC website. Once you enter your undergraduate GPA and LSAT score, LSAC will compare these numbers to the admission data for the full-time students who were admitted to each of the ABA-approved law schools for the fall of 2017 (this is the most recent data available).4 There are a number of different courses you can take that are designed to significantly increase your LSAT and GRE scores. It is worth looking into these different test prep courses and study aids to see if one matches your learning style at a price point that makes sense for you.
While some colleges and universities offer a “pre-law track,” there are no courses an undergraduate student is required to take in order to apply to law school. There is also no specific bachelor’s degree with which a student is required to graduate in order to attend law school. It can be helpful to take one or more law classes while you are still a college student, but your interest in the legal profession should not dictate which undergraduate courses you take. Similarly, there are no social or extracurricular requirements you must fulfill as a college student in order to apply to law school. If you are still an undergraduate and interested in a career in the legal profession, schedule a meeting with your school’s pre-law advisor. Talk to the pre-law advisor about the admission process and work with the advisor to prepare a schedule that will ensure you meet all of the admission deadlines.
Financial Aid Fast Facts
Financial aid is another incredibly important piece of the law school admission puzzle. Depending on where you ultimately enroll, annual law school tuition can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Therefore, it is critical to know as early as possible about your financial aid options.
Cost of Attendance
When calculating the cost of law school for financial aid purposes, law schools establish what is referred to as the “Cost of Attendance”. The Cost of Attendance includes not only fixed costs, like tuition and fees, but also costs like school supplies, books, and living expenses. The Cost of Attendance represents the maximum financial aid that a student may receive, from any source, for an academic year. Each law school sets its own Cost of Attendance, so it is worth noting that the amount will vary on a school-by-school basis. If you need financial aid, you are eligible to receive, at a maximum, an amount equal to the Cost of Attendance that has been established by the law school you attend that academic year.5
If you plan to take any need-based financial aid, whether in the form of federal loans or work-study, you will have to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
Length of JD Programs
With respect to the length of each JD program, the ABA has clear standards6 that limit a student can take to complete their course of study: the program must be no shorter than two years and take no longer than seven years.
JD programs may be structured differently, depending on whether they are designed for part-time students or full-time students. By way of example, JDinteractive, the online JD program offered by Syracuse College of Law is designed to be completed in roughly three years and three months, with each student taking an average of nine credits per semester.7 In contrast, Seton Hall Law School’s Part-time Weekend JD, which allows part-time students to attend classes both online and in-person, takes four years to complete.8 While you are going through the law school admission process, consider what type of program will work best for you and what kind of flexibility you will need.
Externship and Moot Court Requirements
In addition to having their own admission criteria, every law school also has its own externship requirements. At University of Dayton School of Law, every Online Hybrid J.D. student must complete an externship in order to graduate.9 Northeastern University School of Law’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program ensures that each student who graduates will have a year of full-time work experience, in the aggregate.10 Moot court, law review, and clinics are also invaluable ways of gaining hands-on experience necessary for a career in the legal profession. Some law schools require every student to participate in moot court. For example, in the spring semester, each first-year Columbia Law School student must participate in either the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Moot Court Program or one of the approved, first-year competitions in the Winston & Strawn International Moot Court Program.11
Just as with extracurricular activities, each law school also has its own graduation requirements. What is most important is confirming that your law school’s requirements also qualify you to sit for the bar exam in your state.
After finishing an academically rigorous JD program, the last thing you want is to be ineligible to sit for the bar exam, so be sure to review the bar exam eligibility requirements of your state prior to graduation.