Maybe the law is your calling, a career choice you’ve been planning for years. Or perhaps law school is a stepping stone on a path you expect may lead to something else—politics or government service, banking and finance, or running your own business someday.
Regardless, getting that Juris Doctor is bound to take a big commitment—in time, energy, and money.
And it’s tough from the very first step. Getting into law school isn’t easy, especially for those aiming for the top tier. So the sooner you can attack the application process, the better.
Here’s some background on how the process works:
Creating an LSAC Account
The Law School Admission Council is a not-for-profit organization that offers services and programs to help students manage the law school application process. Creating an account at the LSAC.org website allows applicants to track their progress and manage deadlines as they connect with their selected schools.
Preparing and Registering for the LSAT
Because the LSAT is the only test accepted for admission purposes by all ABA-accredited law schools, most American Bar Association-approved law schools in the U.S. require students to take the Law school Admission Test . The half-day, standardized test is administered six times at designated testing centers around the world several times a year, and students can register and choose a testing center by logging on to their LSAC.org account. It is good to note that starting September 2019, the LSAT will be administered digitally in North America.
Many law schools require applicants to take the test by November or December in order to be admitted the following fall. However, organizations like the LSAC and The Princeton Review, a college admission services company that offers test preparation services and admissions resources, recommend taking the test earlier—preferably in June or September/October.
Taking the test in June will give you time to retake it if you aren’t happy with your score—but if you’re still in college, you’ll have to prep while you’re busy with coursework.
If you take the test in October, you’ll have the summer to prepare, and you can take the test again in December if necessary. But your applications will be submitted later than other test takers—and some schools already will have started filling their seats. Some students may choose to take a year off between college and law school to prep for the LSAT and work on their applications.
Test takers may want to look for some free prep materials online, or may decide to sign up for paid online classes, in-person classes, or tutoring sessions.
At a minimum, the LSAC recommends taking a practice test , including a writing sample, under the same time constraints allowed for the actual test. The results could give you some idea of your strengths and what areas need improvement.
Those who plan to take the practice test and/or sign up for classes, will probably want to leave enough time before their LSAT test date. The LSAT and your GPA are the most important numbers to law schools. LSAT scores range from 120 (lowest possible) to 180 (highest possible).
Though other factors are considered, if you want a good chance at getting into a certain law school, your LSAT score and GPA should be at or above the LSAT and GPA medians of that school.
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Registering for CAS and Submitting Paperwork
The Credential Assembly Service, which is provided by the LSAC, is required by most ABA-approved law schools. For a fee (currently $195), the CAS will put together a report containing transcripts, LSAT scores, and letters of recommendation.
Students must contact their college (or colleges) to have transcripts sent to the CAS. And it’s up to them to find professors they believe will provide positive evaluations of their past and future performance to send recommendation letters to the CAS. (It’s a good idea to do this in August or September, when college offices and faculty are back in full swing.)
You’ll only have to do this once. Then, when you apply to your chosen law schools, they can contact the CAS and request a copy of your report. Each report sent costs $45.
Deciding Where To Apply to Law School
There are several factors that could go into your school choice. Just as with your undergraduate education, you may want to apply to a mix of “reach” schools, “safety” schools, and a few that land right in the middle.
But the application process can be pricey, so if you’re on a budget, you may want to narrow the field. When you’re deciding how many law schools to apply to, here are some things to consider:
Location: If you’re hoping to go to a top law school, you’re probably prepared to relocate. If not, you may want to start your search by thinking about where you’ll want to practice law someday. After all, you’ll be building a network with your fellow students, professors, and people you meet in the community.
Reputation: Starting out, fellow attorneys (and potential employers) won’t know much about your mad skills or big brain. Instead, they’ll likely regard you as a “Duke grad” or a “Harvard man” (or woman) … and judge you by what they know about your law school. That doesn’t mean you have to go to a big, prestigious school—but you may want to look for a respected school.
Interests: By attending a school that offers classes that focus on the type of law you think you’ll want to practice (sports and entertainment, criminal, business, health care, etc.) you’ll likely be better prepared for your career. And you’ll probably have an opportunity to find mentors who could help you as a student and in the future.
Recruitment, Tours, and Alumni Events: If you have the opportunity, you may want to attend a meet-and-greet event in order to touch base with recruiters, former students, and faculty who can fill you in on what law school and a law career have in store. You also may be able to get an idea if the campus and community are a good fit for you.
Let the schools find you: The LSAC’s Candidate Referral Service (CRS) allows law schools to search a database and recruit students based on certain characteristics (LSAT score, GPA, age, geographic background, etc.). Registration is free for anyone with an LSAC.org account.
Working on Your Personal Statement
Stellar LSAT scores and grades are important to a law school application, but a personal statement could also tip the balance in your favor. The goal of a personal statement is to explain to the admissions committee why you would be a valuable addition to their student body.
Start early so you have a chance to show your work to others who might help you fine-tune it–advisors, teachers, parents, friends … and any grammar snobs or professional writers/editors you might know. This is your chance to stand out from the crowd, so use your personal statement to explain what makes you, you. And if you’re applying to multiple schools, you may want to take the time to tailor your piece as needed.
Applying to Law Schools
When you have everything ready to go, you’ll have the option to apply to as many U.S. law schools as you like through your LSAC.org account. Make sure all the information on file is accurate and up to date, and keep good records of every step in the process.
And be patient: Many schools practice rolling admissions, which means the earlier you get your application in, the sooner you’ll hear back. But there’s no set timetable, so you may have to wait a while.
Taking Stock of Personal Finances
Before school begins, students may want to estimate how much they’ll need to spend on tuition, living expenses, and other costs. A law degree can be a costly investment.
Among the 188 ranked law schools that reported tuition and fees data from the 2018-2019 academic year to U.S. News, the average annual tuition and fees was $49,095 at private law schools; $27,591 at public, in-state schools; and $40,725 for public, out-of-state schools.
After exploring scholarships and financial aid, you may want to consider a private student loan to help pay for any gaps in your school tuition, fees, or living expenses.
Private student loans are often used to make up the difference between what a student is able to borrow in federal student loans and their remaining need after things like grants, work study, or part-time jobs are factored in.
Private student loans lack some of the benefits and protections federal loans offer, such as income-driven repayment programs and loan forgiveness opportunities. But they can come with competitive interest rates and flexible repayment terms. And if you’re set on attending law school, a private student loan may help make your ambition a reality.
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