You’ve finally got your application all together — LSAT score, transcript, letters of recommendation, and personal statement all uploaded to LSAC and ready to be sent out to the 203 ABA-accredited law schools. But clearly you don’t want to waste valuable time and money on all of them, so you’re going to want to prioritize that list down to schools that are both good fits for you, personally and professionally, as well as ones that you have a good shot at being admitted to.
As you may already be aware, law schools are ranked by U.S. News & World Report. This ranking is the clearest indication of the prestige of a given school. Although these rankings are not perfect, they provide a decent enough picture of the likelihood, everything else being equal, of a new graduate being hired by a law firm. This is important since you’re going to need a good job to keep making payments on the soul-crushing debt incurred over the three or four years it takes to become a juris doctor, so you’ll want to go to a school that gives you the best chance of being gainfully employed even before sitting for the bar exam.
So how to know if you have a chance at Harvard or Yale? Go by the numbers. The same logic that goes into choosing undergraduate choices applies to law school. If your LSAT and GPA are somewhere between the 25th and 75th quartiles, you’ve at least got a decent shot. Below the 25th percentile is a reach, but if it’s a school that interests you it may be worth taking a flyer on it and seeing what happens. Just know the odds are against you in that situation. And if you’re a splitter (high GPA, low LSAT) or reverse splitter (high LSAT, low GPA), you still may have a shot, depending on the school. You can input your numbers into our law school predictor (well, we call it a Law School Compass) to see your chances of admission to any law school in the country when you make a Blueprint account.
Lastly, if you’re determined to go to law school next year, then have at least one or two safety schools where your scores are comfortably at the 75th percentile or better for their admissions. There are other factors that go into admissions (life story/experience, race/ethnicity, veteran status, undergrad major, etc.) so any specific individual’s chances are highly variable, but LSAT followed by GPA are by far the two biggest contributors, on average.
There is one note on the overall rankings, if you have a particular specialization in mind already, look at the specialization rankings. These often differ from the main rankings, and can provide some hidden value in the admissions process. Most law students don’t specialize until their summer internship after their second year and are hoping for a job offer, so these rankings only apply to most students in retrospect. However, if you already have a specialization in mind, you might be surprised to find you’re a competitive applicant at some law schools that are highly ranked in the field you’d like to practice.
Another major concern, especially for older law students, is geography. If you need and/or want to be in or near a specific city, your choices will be naturally narrowed down. This will also likely be the city in which you do most of your internship work and networking, which are crucial efforts to getting a job offer out of law school if you’re not graduating from one of the T-14 schools. Try and visit as many potential schools as possible, and make sure that you’re only applying to ones you’d be happy to be at for at least the next three years, if not the rest of your career.
Last, but certainly not least, is cost. The most highly ranked schools tend to have high tuition, although some with large endowments also offer quite a bit of financial aid. The simple truth is that all law schools are quite expensive, and almost all new lawyers graduate with tons of debt. There are only two ways to effectively deal with this problem (as currently the federal student loan forgiveness program is broken): pay less upfront, or make more on the backend (i.e., the job market). So know the current tuition fees at the schools you’re applying to, and also any financial aid or scholarships they may be able to offer you. In the long run, your best chance at making enough money to pay off your debt is to go to the best possible law school and then get the best possible starting salary afterwards. So apply to the best possible schools you have a reasonable shot at getting into, and take advantage of any and all possible financial aid.