Presumptive Admit,
Presumptive Deny, and Discretionary

High, Low, or In-between?

The admissions officer usually has the power to make many admission decisions (pursuant to the school's guidelines) without consulting anyone else. If the gpa and LSAT score are above a certain level, and there is no pressing reason to reject the applicant, the admissions professional can offer the applicant a seat in the incoming class. Likewise, if these numbers are below a certain level, and there is no pressing reason to accept the applicant, the admissions professional can reject the applicant. Law schools call these two numerical ranges the "presumptive admit" and "presumptive deny" numbers. Between these two numbers is the "discretionary" range -- applicants whose files are worth looking at, but about whom no automatic decisions can be made.

What numbers do they use?

In establishing presumptive admit and deny ranges, law schools usually aren't looking at grades and LSAT scores separately; instead, they use a numerical formula to combine the two into a single Index Number. Some schools establish their own Index formula; others ask Law Services to calculate a formula for them which correlates grades and LSATs to first year grades in last year's entering class. The formula a school uses may weigh grades and test scores equally, or it may emphasize one over the other; the vast majority of Index formulas emphasize LSAT scores.  The average index formula is weighted so that .1 in your gpa equals 1 LSAT point.  An "index point" is thus 1 LSAT point or one-tenth of a grade point.  

Who gets accepted because of their numbers?

In the context of the World Series model, presumptive admits are all those people whom we assume can help our USNews ranking -- that group of people with both GPA and LSAT score above median.  (Of course, many of these fabulous people will have better things to do -- like joining Harvard's team -- so they'll fill only a few of our spaces.)  (For a quick look at the approximate medians of different law schools, LSAC's FREE "Official Guide" info is the best place to go. If you plan to spend a lot of time browsing, you might want top buy the paper book. ABA-LSAC Official Guide is available from Amazon for a mere $30 or less, depending on whether you have to pay for shipping.

At law schools which place a high degree of importance on the quality of the undergraduate institution, an applicant who appears to be a presumptive admit might be rejected if the school or course of study is believed to be too easy.

Most other presumptive admits who are not accepted have something negative in their file which causes their rejection. This could be an arrest record or honor code violation, a poor recommendation, or a poorly completed application. These factors are discussed further in "Minimizing the Risks."

Who gets rejected because of their numbers?

Most presumptive denies and many discretionary applicants get rejected. Presumptive denies are applicants whose numbers do not warrant consideration. In the context of the World Series model, they are the people who will not add anything to the team. Their grades and LSAT score indicate that they are not brilliant enough to be a benefit, and there are no overriding reasons to accept them.

Many discretionary applicants will be rejected simply because there is no room for them. People whose numbers are close to the medians must show that they have something else to offer besides their numbers.  Of course, the further away from the medians you are, the more you need to offer to be competitive.

Who gets accepted despite their numbers?

People who get admitted with numbers lower than presumptive admit encompass the many other goals of the admission process.  Most racial and ethnic minorities will be considered in this category, as will other people viewed as disadvantaged -- applicants with a physical disability, from an impoverished background, or who did not speak English as their first language.

The rationale in giving these applicants special consideration is that their lower numbers do not necessarily indicate less of an ability to succeed. In addition, the admissions officer may consider the diversity these students will offer to the student body. Applicants over the age of thirty may also be given special consideration for their diversity.  A truly remarkable background may merit consideration for the diversity it will offer; however, "remarkable" is very difficult to define.  

A good general rule is that if you personally know another person with a similar background or accomplishment who is applying to law school, you're not remarkable.

The admissions professional may admit applicants recommended by influential people despite their numbers, or a separate procedure (like sending the file to the Dean or to Alumni Giving) may be established for them. For more information on these applicants, see "Maximizing the Rewards."

Who gets rejected despite their numbers?

The vast majority of people aren't rejected because their numbers are too low; many applicants are close to the presumptive admit mark, but offer nothing the school wants besides their numbers.  Then sheer volume forces them to be rejected in favor of someone with the same numbers plus a little something extra.  (For a look at how many applicants nationally have which index numbers, click here.)  

What counts as "a little something extra" varies from school to school.  By interviewing admissions officers and reading catalogs, I've amassed quite a bit of data about this, and put it up as my holiday gift in December, 1997.  For a peek at what each law school seems to want, click here.


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