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Factors to Consider

The process of choosing law schools is something that most applicants will have to do three times: first when you're preparing to apply to law schools, next after you have an LSAT score, and again when you're deciding among the schools that have chosen you.

In starting your law school search, you should ask yourself some questions; the answers will help narrow your search to a workable twenty or thirty schools. Our Preliminary Research section guides you through this process.

Once you have an LSAT score, you should begin by limiting your search to a manageable 30 or 40 schools, based on your test score and GPA. Once you see who wants you, you're ready to begin the serious work of finding a dozen schools to which you'd like to apply.

How Many!!??

A dozen or so. I try to divide schools into five categories, thus:

  • Safeties: schools where LSAC data indicates you have a very high chance of admission — 85% or higher. If there is no LSAC data available, these are schools where your GPA and LSAT score are both above the ABA medians.
    • Everyone should choose two safeties; you never know what might go wrong with one.
  • Probable Admits: schools where a clear majority are being admitted with your GPA and LSAT score — 75% on an LSAC numerical profile, "Likely" on an LSAC Bar Graph, or both numbers above the ABA medians.
    • Everyone should have two schools in this category as well; these are often the schools that offer you merit money.
  • Target Schools: these are the schools you're most likely to attend, so choose them carefully — look for 40% to 60% admitted on a numerical profile, "possible" on a bar graph, LSAT above the ABA median even if GPA is a bit low.
    • Everyone should choose three schools in this area, so you'll have some options; we all want to be wanted, and to have some bragging rights!
  • Reaches: these are schools where you hope to be wait listed and then look for a late phone call — perhaps as late as August.
    • Choose two or three schools where you have a 20% to 40% chance of admission on the numerical profile, "slight possibility" on a bar graph, LSAT and GPA both above the ABA 25th percentile..
  • Longshots: This spot is for those one or two dream schools where you know you have no real business applying. They usually include the top state school, Dad's Alma Mater, and Harvard or its equivalent — schools at which neither your GPA nor LSAT rise to median, and one is below the 25th percentile.
    • Longshots are the privilege of the very rich and the very poor (who can get fee waivers). If paying for applications is a burden, you can skip this category altogether.

Is a Dozen Enough?

For most people a dozen is plenty. The two exceptions are the applicant with a problem file, and the applicant with something extraordinary to bring to the law school.

Risks

If you have an arrest record, an honor code or disciplinary problem or other risk factors, you should double the number of schools in the Safety and Probable categories. For other categories, rely heavily on LSAT data; schools are more likely to choose an applicant with a high LSAT and a problem than they are a person with a high GPA. If you're interested in the reasons, read this.)

If you have an LSAT score below 145, you should look for schools with summer or conditional programs. But be prepared to tell them something besides, "I'm a poor test taker." The Bar Exam is a standardized test, and telling them why you're likely to flunk it isn't a great strategy.

Rewards

If you have a building named after your family on any college campus, a family member on the board of trustees, or a personal accomplishment that's at least at the state level for a regional school (for instance, MVP, ACC Regional Championships) or at the National Level for a Regional-National school, you can increase your number of Reach and Longshot schools. But remember the limit of value on a perceived reward; a lot more people think they have pull than actually do.

I Can't Afford This!

If a dozen schools will break the bank, but you aren't eligible for a fee waiver, consider applying to schools on the "Free Application" list. If you have the chance to speak to an admissions representative, double-check this data; many schools have added free electronic apps, and I won't be able to update this list until after I attend a full year's Law Forums, out of fairness to all schools.

Which Schools?

Now that you know how many schools to target, it's time to consider how to choose them; and that's what the rest of this section elucidates. So start in the lower left corner and work your way around.

 

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