What do law schools evaluate? What are the most important admissions criteria?
Law schools view your four-year undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score as the primary criteria in the admissions process. Studies have shown the GPA and LSAT scores are the most valid predictors of first year law school performance. Other factors that distinguish among candidates of equal numerical qualifications include: course of study (credit-nons should be at a minimum), the quality of your college, an improvement in grades over the course of the undergraduate experience, faculty letters of reference, personal statement, college activities, experiences after graduation, and ethnic background. Law schools vary in the weight they give these factors. In the most competitive schools, post-graduate work experience is not likely to offset poor grades and/or a low LSAT score.
What should I major in? What courses should I take?
Law schools do not require any particular undergraduate major. A Wellesley student should select a major because she finds it intellectually challenging and enjoys studying the subject matter. The choice of a major is far less important than the intensity and rigor with which the student studies. The law schools look for intellectual rigor (which Wellesley provides) and for students who challenge themselves, including, for example, completing more than the required number of 300-level courses, completing an independent study and writing an honors thesis. None of these challenges trump the applicant’s ability to manage first a full, four course credit load per semester, taking all courses for credit whenever possible.
Courses that focus on research, writing, and analysis of dense text are considered valuable. Math and science courses are also valuable, particularly in intellectual property law. If the sciences are not your strong suit, you may wish to focus on courses in which you excel and enjoy! Extracurricular activities that involve debating, public speaking, or any sort of writing are helpful as well.
There are a number of Wellesley academic departments that offer legally-related courses, most notably the Department of Political Science (see course catalog); M.I.T. offers such courses as well. While taking these courses may help you determine whether or not you like the subject matter, they are not required for law school. Alumnae surveys have revealed that taking an economics course and a philosophy course can be helpful to the law school experience.
When should I take the LSAT?
Undergraduates planning to attend law school in the fall after graduation should take the LSAT in June of the junior year. This makes it possible to select law schools earlier in the application process. The early fall test is also timely, although you will not be able to choose your schools (based on your scores) until November, the last preferred month for submitting applications. If you take the December test, you will probably be applying to schools without test results and will not have positioned yourself optimally for admission.
Those planning to apply some time after graduation need to keep in mind that while some schools will accept LSAT scores for up to five years, others prefer a limit of three years. You only need register for the Credential Assembly Service (CAS) in the year that you are planning to apply. Further information on the LSAT and CAS can be obtained online at the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).
How should I prepare for the LSAT?
A motivated applicant can adequately prepare for the test by using the Official LSAT Sample Prep Tests, SuperPrep Test, and previous tests available for purchase at the LSAC. Commercial prep courses are expensive and while there are no data that assess their positive impact, most applicants feel these courses provide the confidence, test familiarity, and discipline they need. Major commercial prep courses offer financial aid. Decide how much outside study assistance you need, based on your previous experiences with standardized tests and using the practice LSAT as a guide. Six months of preparation time is generally recommended. Practice, practice, practice by taking full-length, timed practice tests.
If I am unhappy with my test scores, should I retake the test?
It is best to take the LSAT once, when you are ready. A few added points will usually be attributed to test familiarity and will probably not enhance your chances. The LSAC will automatically report the results of all LSATs in your file, including cancellations and absences, for the last five years.
When should I apply? Should I consider taking time off before law school?
If you are applying for fall admission, your application should be complete and ready for consideration by November of the year prior to the anticipated September entry date. "Complete" means your transcripts and LSAT score are on file with the LSAC, along with your recommendations; in addition, you must have submitted a completed application, a dean’s certification (only for a handful of schools) and sent an application fee to each school.
If you take time off before applying to law school, you may benefit from submitting your final transcript, with hopefully your highest grades, and any honors you may have received. You would also have a break from school and an opportunity to explore other career options. The average age of law school students is 26.
To what law school(s) should I apply?
Research information resources. Spend time on the LSAC website reading about the legal profession, reviewing law school web sites, and scanning The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools. Reports by alumnae who have attended law schools may be found in the Resource Library of MyCWS.
Consider those law schools whose student body profiles, particularly the median LSAT score and GPA, most closely match yours. Also build your list based on location, size, cost, general reputation. Use the grids in The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools and the UGPA/LSAT search mechanism, both available at the LSAC, to estimate your chances. State schools usually give preference to residents. If you know the geographic area in which you are going to practice and are not competitive at top-ranked national schools, apply to regional schools. Check Martindale-Hubbell, a directory of law firms worldwide, to see where lawyers in your chosen geographic region have attended law school.
To how many schools should I apply?
Wellesley undergraduates usually apply to seven to ten schools while alumnae usually apply to seven to nine schools. Applicants should apply to a cross section of schools, including four or five at which acceptance chances are competitive (50th-75th percentile), along with a "safety" school and one or two "stretch" schools.
Should I waive my right to read my letters of reference?
If you choose not to waive your right of access, most law schools will not take your letters as seriously as a letter written in confidence. Remember that faculty members have the right to decide to write confidential letters only, and may refuse to write a letter that is not confidential in nature.
What do law schools want to see in a personal statement?
Let your personality shine through. What would you say if you were asked to respond to the statement "Tell me about yourself." Use your essay to say something that is not evident elsewhere in your application. Talk about your unique interests, whether academic or extracurricular; your approach to a particular problem/event; a person who has been a role model or mentor (be careful to write the essay about yourself, and not entirely about the other person); or an unusual and compelling life experience.
If you have overcome serious obstacles or had a poor academic record, but can offer some tangible evidence that you are a "new person," tell the admissions committee in an addendum rather than addressing these experiences in the personal statement.
Is it possible to defer admission to law school?
Some law schools will require you to reapply if you choose to not to enter immediately. Others will defer admission for a year. Check with each school. If you are certain you do not plan to attend in a given year, do not apply.
If I take time off what kind of a job should I get?
Approximately 60% of first-year law students have taken time off before entering law school. They work in a wide variety of jobs in every field. Taking time to explore the world of work and carefully considering your future plans is important. The choice to work should not be made because you think it will enhance your chances of admission.
Some prelaw candidates find it useful to experience the atmosphere of a law firm or other legal environment to assist in their decision-making about a legal career. Others prefer to work in another field and conduct information interviews with lawyers in various specialties and settings, attend a law class(es), or perhaps "shadow" a lawyer.