- I’ve always loved to argue, and my teachers tell me I would be a good lawyer. Should I consider law school?
- So if I do well in literature courses and other subjects that involve writing and reading, will I will do well in law school?
- I’ve never taken a law course, so how do I know if I will love the law?
- What is the best undergraduate major to prepare for law school?
- If I can major in anything I want, then I’m confused about what the first year of law school will involve. Could you clarify that?
- How do I get started if I decide to apply to law school?
- What is the most important part of my application for law school admission?
- I’m majoring in chemical engineering, so my GPA may be lower than those of other applicants. Will law schools consider my challenging major, or are the numbers more important?
- I’ve heard about the middle 50th percentile in the first round of law school applications. How does that work?
- Could you give me some examples of the middle 50th percentile?
- I was a straight-A student in high school, and my parents have told me I should go to Harvard Law School. What are my chances there?
- Which is more important, my GPA or my LSAT score?
- How can I find GPA and LSAT information for all schools?
- Okay, I understand that I have to make good grades, and I know how to do that. But I don’t know how to study for the LSAT. Could you explain what that involves?
- What happens if my LSAT score isn’t as good as I hoped?
- Do law schools care if I retake the test?
- Once I’ve received my LSAT score, how do I know what my chances are at a given school?
- What is the personal statement for law school, and what should I try to accomplish?
- Since I’m writing about myself, I have a lot to say. How many pages should my statement be?
- What are diversity and supplemental statements?
- So all I need to apply to law school are grades, an LSAT score, and a personal statement?
- So that’s all I need?
- Law school costs a lot of money. How do I finance that?
- How do schools decide whether to give merit money?
- I’ve been accepted to five law schools, and I have to make a decision. What should I do?
- Who do I talk to if I have further questions?
- Who can answer questions on the Mason campus?
1. I’ve always loved to argue, and my teachers tell me I would be a good lawyer. Should I consider law school?
Arguing a position is important for lawyers, but to do well in law school you need to excel at the core elements of the curriculum – writing, reading, and research. Also, keep in mind that law school can be expensive, and the law is a competitive profession. If you can find job satisfaction in another field without incurring debt, you may want to consider it. But if you are drawn to the law, then you should go to law school.
2. So if I do well in literature courses and other subjects that involve writing and reading, will I will do well in law school?
Not necessarily. Court cases, statutes, and other legal documents may not have the same entertainment value as Shakespeare. Also, writing assignments in literature and other undergraduate courses often involves papers with length requirements, and students are encouraged to elaborate. Legal writing, by contrast, emphasizes clarity and conciseness. And when you write for a legal audience, you must synthesize information analytically to reach whatever conclusion best represents your clients’ interests. In other words, you may not have a choice on what conclusion you reach. This shouldn’t be a problem, however. Most clients have reasonable positions, and a good lawyer can argue them effectively. That, after all, is the essence of being a lawyer.
3. I’ve never taken a law course, so how do I know if I will love the law?
Your best option is to take courses that contain legal content. The Schar School has many offerings, among them:
- GOVT 301: Public Law and the Judicial Process
- GOVT 407: Law and Society
- GOVT 422: Constitutional Interpretation
- GOVT 423: Constitutional Law: Civil Rights and Liberties
- GOVT 443: Law and Ethics of War
- GOVT 446: International Law and Organization
- GOVT 452: Administrative Law and Procedures
You will find other courses in Schar’s Legal Studies Minor.
The Philosophy Department offers several options for students interested in the law, including a Philosophy and Law Minor, a BA in Philosophy with a concentration in Philosophy and Law, the course Philosophy of Law (PHIL311), and PHIL 173, Logic and Critical Thinking, which can help students preparing for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). You can find other law-related courses in Criminology, Law, and Society, and the Legal Studies Concentration in the School of Integrative Studies.
Beyond legal content, students should know that the law is a writing intensive profession. A recent survey of law professors by the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors found that the overwhelming majority preferred that college students learn writing skills above all else. All Mason students will take English 302, Advanced Rhetoric and Composition, but you should consider Shakespeare, poetry, creating writing, literature courses, or anything else that will help you master the English Language.
4. What is the best undergraduate major to prepare for law school?
The American Bar Association (ABA) has issued a definitive statement on this topic:
The ABA does not recommend any undergraduate majors or group of courses to prepare for a legal education. … You may choose to major in subjects that are considered to be traditional preparation for law school, such as history, English, philosophy, political science, economics or business, or you may focus your undergraduate studies in areas as diverse as art, music, science and mathematics, computer science, engineering, nursing or education. Whatever major you select, you are encouraged to pursue an area of study that interests and challenges you, while taking advantage of opportunities to develop your research and writing skills.
U.S. News and World Report says that law school hopefuls should “focus on rigorous undergraduate majors they find fascinating and where they have a strong academic aptitude. It is a mistake, experts warn, to choose a major simply because it seems easy, since law school admissions officers consider the difficulty of your courses when evaluating your grades.” The periodical goes on to say that liberal arts disciplines “teach aspiring lawyers the abstract thinking skills they will need to excel both on law school entrance exams and in law school courses. Disciplines like linguistics and the classics emphasize thoughtful interpretation of language, which aids prospective law school students with reading comprehension, experts say. And disciplines like math and science help them hone their reasoning abilities.” See this link for more detail.
Whatever your major, you should learn how to analyze complicated information concisely and clearly. The Schar School’s law-related courses will help you develop these skills. Traditional majors such as history, philosophy, English, business, and economics can also help.
One of Mason’s strongest undergraduate options for pre-law students is the concentration in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. This program’s rigorous coursework provides students with analytical skills in several disciplines, and it is explicitly focused on helping students prepare for law school.
Finally, you may consider art, music, math, computer science, engineering, or any other field you love. These disciplines will present no problem so long as you understand what sort of content you will encounter in law school.
5. If I can major in anything I want, then I’m confused about what the first year of law school will involve. Could you clarify that?
Most law schools require a year-long writing class that explains how to write memos, advocacy briefs, and other types of legal writing. Several schools, such as Scalia Law, require a second year of writing.
The other first-year law school courses involve reading court cases in contracts, property, torts, and other fields. Students then discuss them in class, often using the Socratic method – professors will ask questions of random students, whose answers will show whether they understand the cases. Students take only one test in many of these courses, and it often involves a hypothetical scenario crammed with issues from the course. Students must then must write a timed essay analyzing those issues.
6. How do I get started if I decide to apply to law school?
You should open an account with the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) – see this link for more details, and check here for a detailed description of the application process. LSAC administers the LSAT, and it processes students’ applications to law school through its Credential Assembly Service (CAS). The LSAC website also provides a wide array of information about many other related topics.
7. What is the most important part of my application for law school admission?
Law schools focus primarily on GPA and the LSAT in the first round of the admissions process. That’s because U.S. News considers those two metrics in its all-important rankings – see the discussion here. If a school admits students with lower LSATs or grades, its ranking can drop, and with it the school’s ability to attract more qualified students and faculty. See this link for a discussion of the ranking methodology.
8. I’m majoring in chemical engineering, so my GPA may be lower than those of other applicants. Will law schools consider my challenging major, or are the numbers more important?
The numbers are crucial. If the LSAT scores are the same, an Art History major with a 4.0 GPA may do better than a Chemical Engineering major with a 3.3. If you can make it past the first round, however, a rigorous major may help you when an admissions committee is reviewing your complete application.
9. I’ve heard about the middle 50th percentile in the first round of law school applications. How does that work?
Law schools considers thousands of applications during an admissions cycle. To manage this load, schools use GPA and LSAT as rough proxies to place you in the middle 50th percentile of applicants.
A brief primer on percentiles may help clarify this issue:
- Percentiles are a way of comparing test takers. If you score at the 60th percentile on the LSAT, for instance, you will have scored better than 60 percent of test takers.
- The middle 50th percentile is the range from the 25th percentile to the 75th.
- If your numbers are below the 25th percentile for a school, your chances of getting in are not good.
- If your numbers are above the 75th percentile, your chances are very good.
- If your LSAT and GPA place you in the middle 50th percentile, you have a reasonable chance of getting in.
- You can find a discussion of this topic here and here.
10. Could you give me some examples of the middle 50th percentile?
The following are examples from D.C. area schools for the year 2018-19:
George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School
- 50th Percentile LSAT – 163. The 25thto 75th percentile range is 157-164.
- 50th Percentile GPA – 3.76. The 25thto 75th percentile is 3.45-3.88.
The George Washington University Law School
- 50th Percentile LSAT – 165. The 25thto 75th percentile is 160-166.
- 50th Percentile GPA – 3.71. The 25thto 75th percentile is 3.37-3.80.
- 50th Percentile LSAT – 153. The 25thto 75th percentile is 150-156.
- 50th Percentile GPA – 3.41. The 25thto 75th percentile is 3.17-3.58.
American University Washington College of Law
These numbers aren’t absolute barriers, but if you want to attend Scalia Law, a 153 LSAT and a 2.9 GPA will likely end your chances.
11. I was a straight-A student in high school, and my parents have told me I should go to Harvard Law School. What are my chances there?
The higher a school’s ranking, the higher the LSAT and GPA requirements. At Harvard, the 50th percentile GPA is 3.9, and the 50th percentile LSAT is 173, which is higher than 99 percent of those who took the test. These numbers are extremely difficult to reach – the average LSAT at Mason is about 152. So be realistic when considering your options.
When you’re studying for the LSAT, you should have a pretty good idea where you stand going into the test. With that you can create a list of schools where you can apply. When your official score arrives, then you can apply to schools were you have a realistic chance of getting in. You can also apply to several reach schools and see what happens.
13. How can I find GPA and LSAT information for all schools?
The ABA requires schools to provide this data in “509 Reports,” which you can access at this website. Click on “509 Required Disclosures,” and you will see a search tool that allows you to find any school’s LSAT and GPA numbers.
You can also google the name of the school and “median LSAT and GPA.” If we do that for the University of Virginia, for instance, you will find this link.
Finally, you can find the full range of GPA and LSAT medians at this 7Sage link.
14. Okay, I understand that I have to make good grades, and I know how to do that. But I don’t know how to study for the LSAT. Could you explain what that involves?
The LSAT is a 3.5 hour test consisting of four sections: one reading comprehension, one analytical reasoning, and two logical reasoning. LSAC provides an overview of the test here, and it explains the types of questions at this link.
Some of this material is unlike anything you will see in college, so a rigorous study schedule is crucial. Keep in mind the following points:
- Before you start working, you should get a sense of what the test will demand. LSAC has some excellent information on preparing for the LSAT here. U.S. News offers an overview of the effectiveness of the various preparation options here, and it offers its own approach here and here. Michigan State also offers an overview.
- One of the more demanding plans is a four-month study option. The private prep companies also suggest lengthy study hours. See, for instance, Kaplan, Princeton Review, PowerScore, and 7Sage. Spending several months to study for a test may seem like a lot, but it often take that long to master the material. Whatever your approach, you cannot buy a prep book a few weeks before the test and expect to do well.
- GMU has a contract for LSAT prep with Kaplan, and out terms are extremely attractive – half-price for a variety of Kaplan options. See this link for details.
- Private prep companies offer classes and private tutors, and the prep can be in person or online. They can be effective, but they can also be expensive. See the links above for more details.
- If money is a barrier, you can self-study, or you can use less expensive programs such as 7Sage. For these approaches to work, however, you must be very disciplined.
- A new entry in the test-prep world is the free Khan Academy, which has partnered with LSAC in preparing for the LSAT. While Khan is new to the field, the company has a lengthy history of test prep, so it might behoove you to start with them.
15. What happens if my LSAT score isn’t as good as I hoped?
You can retake the test, but keep in mind that scores often stay the same or even drop. So unless you study a great deal, it’s difficult to improve your number. See this link for a discussion. Moreover, taking the test a second time can exact a tremendous psychological and physical toll. With that in mind, treat the first time you take the test as if it will be your last. And if you do repeat the test, develop a schedule that will give you a lot of time to study.
Most schools accept your highest score. But you should draw the line at three attempts. See this link for a discussion.
17. Once I’ve received my LSAT score, how do I know what my chances are at a given school?
LSAC offers an excellent resource for determining your odds at a given school. Just enter your GPA and LSAT at this website. If you enter a 3.5 GPA and 159 LSAT, for instance, your chances of getting into American University’s College of Law are 83 percent to 93 percent. The chances at George Mason’s Scalia Law School range from 25 percent to 63 percent.
18. What is the personal statement for law school, and what should I try to accomplish?
Once you’re in the middle 50th percentile, law schools turn to personal statements, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and other factors to decide on admissions and funding.
The personal statement may be the most crucial part of this process. Many law schools don’t interview, so you present yourself through your statement. This involves identifying an important aspect of your life and telling a story about it in the same way a fiction writer would. In effect, you are writing a one-page autobiography with the goal of differentiating yourself from everyone else in the applicant pool.
These documents can be wide open as to content. For instance, Yale Law School describes the statement this way:
We … require a personal statement that highlights aspects of your background that you believe will be of interest to the Admissions Committee. We are particularly interested in aspects of your background that may not be evident from other parts of your application.
Georgetown Law‘s approach is the same:
You can write your personal statement on any subject that will enable the Admissions Committee to get to know you.
As these descriptions indicate, schools aren’t necessarily trying to understand why you want to become a lawyer. They want to know what kind of person you are.
When you’re ready to write, a few pointers may help:
- Don’t restate your resume. Law schools already have that information, so they want to know who you are and what you will bring to the campus. To do that you have to sell yourself with a compelling story.
- Law schools also want to know if you can write, and this document shows them what kind of language skills you have.
- Admissions committees consider thousands of statements during every admissions cycle, so you have about 10-15 seconds to catch their attention with well-crafted sentences and a fascinating story.
- A statement filled with errors can destroy your chances, so proofread carefully. And if you’re not confident with your writing, seek help.
- The Patriot Pre-Law Program has posted a wide array of information on the personal statement here and here.
- US News has been writing about the personal statement for several years, and you can find some of those discussions here, here, here, here, here, and here. Spivey consulting has posted several sample statements here.
You cannot ignore the personal statement even if you have high grades and test scores. As U.S. News notes, “your grades may get you through the door, but your personal statement is what will seal the deal.” See this link for more detail.
19. Since I’m writing about myself, I have a lot to say. How many pages should my statement be?
Keep in mind that admissions officers have stacks of applications to read, so the more concise and focused you are, the better. One single-spaced page should be plenty of room.
Here is what a few law schools have said about length:
GWU Law: The personal statement should be no more than two pages, double-spaced. See this link.
Georgetown: Georgetown Law does not have a minimum or maximum length for the personal statement, though we recommend around two pages double-spaced. See this link.
Catholic: The application clearly states that the personal statement should be no longer than two pages. We do not recommend exceeding the two page limit. See this link.
Harvard Law School: Please limit your statement to two pages using a minimum of 11-point font, 1-inch margins, and double spacing. See this link.
20. What are diversity and supplemental statements?
Most schools allow students to write a statement to discuss diversity, explain grades or an LSAT score, or anything else that would help an admissions committee make an informed decision. These documents can be just as important as the main statement, so don’t take them lightly.
The diversity statement is particularly important for students who can bring a distinct perspective to a law school. You can find an excellent overview of this statement here, and additional discussions are here and here. You will find a good discussion of writing addendums to explain grades, low LSATs, and other issues here.
21. So all I need to apply to law school are grades, an LSAT score, and a personal statement?
You will also need letters of recommendation. Most law schools require two letters, and they sometimes suggest that at least one should come from professors who can describe your academic ability. The other may come from a work supervisor. In college the best way to increase your chances of a good letter is to cultivate relationships with professors. You can do this by sitting in the front of the class and asking questions. Visit the professor during office hours. Most important, do as well as you can in the course. And if you have the chance, take a second course with the professor. This will ensure that she will remember you when the time comes to write a letter.
Finally, be sure to notify the professor well before the letter is due. If you’re applying in the fall, for instance, ask the professor during the preceding spring semester. She doesn’t have to write it then, but she needs to know that she will be writing it.
You will find a good discussion of this topic here.
Letters of recommendation are submitted through the LSAC system. If a student names a professor as a recommender, LSAC reaches out with an email, and the professor uploads the letter to LSAC’s system. See this link (same as above) for more detail.
22. So that’s all I need?
You will also need a résumé, and you have to request your transcripts from your undergraduate institution.
LSAC assembles these and other components of your application through CAS. See this link for details.
23. Law school costs a lot of money. How do I finance that?
Most schools provide merit money, but if you don’t quality, and if your family can’t help, then you will have to take out loans.
LSAC provides an overview of financing law school at this link. U.S. News also provides helpful information here. The U.S. Department of Education offers loans, and you can check that information at this site. You may also inquire with Access Group Education Lending about their options.
Remember that borrowing to pay for law school is perfectly acceptable, but before taking on debt, be absolutely certain that law school is what you want to do. You should also understand that your salary may be contingent in part on where you can get into law school, and once there how well you do.
24. How do schools decide whether to give merit money?
This is where your personal statement, letters of recommendations, and extracurricular activities can make a big difference. If your numbers are about the same as several other candidates, these three components of your application are the only way a school can differentiate among applicants.
25. I’ve been accepted to five law schools, and I have to make a decision. What should I do?
- A school’s rank is very important, but you also should check a school’s employment record, which the ABA requires law schools to provide. You will find data for any school at this link. Click on “Employment Outcomes,” and you will see everything you need.
- You can google the phrase “ABA required employment Data” and the name of the school. If you enter that search for Georgetown Law, for instance, you will find this link.
- You can also find employment data at this link, created by Transparency at U.S. Law Schools, and at the National Association for Law Placement’s website.
- Remember that the better a school’s employment record, the higher the likelihood that you will find a job when you graduate. But this has to be measured against cost, the region where you want to practice, and a host of other factors.
26. Who do I talk to if I have further questions?
Most law schools have extensive information about JD Admissions, and you can often find what you need on their websites. See Scalia Law, for instance.
27. Who can answer questions on the Mason campus?