The Application Process and Admissions Decision
Among many criteria, the admission decision will be primarily based on your written application and supporting documents, which include your:
- undergraduate cumulative grade point average, "GPA,"
- Law School Admission Test, the "LSAT" score,
- application and undergraduate transcripts,
- personal statement,
- letters of recommendation,
- and in some cases a Dean's letter.
You will also need to understand rolling admissions and acceptance procedures.
The GPA considered by the law school is the cumulative grade point average of every course the applicant has taken at the college level to the date of consideration. It includes all courses taken for credit at all colleges and universities attended. Thus, the ideal time for a student to begin "working on getting a good GPA" is the first day of classes at the first college attended. While the maximum GPA of 4.0 ("straight A's") cannot be a realistic expectation for more than a few highly gifted and highly motivated students, it should be the goal of every pre-law student at the time he or she begins college work, and every effort should be made to come as close as possible to that goal. Since law school is a rigorous academic program, admissions officials want proof (i.e., a high GPA, particularly in your last two years) that you can succeed in college while taking challenging courses. A GPA below 3.0 will harm your chances of gaining admission to law school and may need to be explained. (See personal statement discussion below) back to top
The LSAT is a standardized examination designed to measure skills that are important to the study of law---reading, reasoning, analyzing, and writing. The test’s results, when combined with GPA, are the best predictor of performance in the first year of law school, and it is required for admission by every ABA-accredited law school in the country. You can obtain information about the LSAT and other LSAC services online. The test is administered four times during the year: June, October, December, and February. You should NOT take the exam on a lark, just to see how you might perform. Even though you can retake the exam numerous times, law schools may average your test scores rather than taking the highest score. It is generally advisable to take the LSAT by October of the year in which you are applying. This provides sufficient time to re-take the test if necessary and to change your choice of schools should you test significantly higher or lower (+ or - 4 points) than expected.
The LSAT is NOT a test for which an applicant can cram the night before. Developing and strengthening the skills tested by the LSAT (critical reading, analytical, logical reasoning, and writing skills) are the goals of your entire college career. In addition, you should prepare yourself to take this particular exam. Consequently, it is very important that you thoroughly familiarize yourself with the LSAT by studying the types of questions it asks, learning strategies for answering these questions efficiently, and taking past LSAT sample exams under test conditions. If you prepare for the LSAT on your own, you should purchase one or more books which provide guidelines for and practice in taking the LSAT. If you believe you need more than self-imposed structure while preparing for the LSAT, consider taking one of the review courses available (e.g., Princeton Review, Kaplan, Test Masters) that require you to take practice exams under test conditions, provide analysis of your strengths and weaknesses on the various types of LSAT questions, and provide tips on how to improve your performance. These courses are quite expensive (up to $1500, though some financial aid is available). However, if you typically experience difficulty and score low on aptitude tests, such as the SAT, you should consider investing in such a course. As with a GPA below 3.0, a score on the LSAT at or below the 25th percentile for students admitted to the schools of your choice will seriously decrease your chances for admission there. The SCU Pre-Law Advising Program does not recommend any particular way of preparing for the LSAT, not does it endorse any commercial review course.
When registering for the LSAT, please permit your scores to be released to Santa Clara's Director of Pre-Law Advising. This will assist us in tracking and analyzing LSAT scores of SCU students and giving better advice to future SCU students. The Director is required to keep your individual score(s) confidential.
Register for the LSAT sufficiently early so that you can secure a place at the most convenient testing location. You also should determine whether each law school in which you are interested will accept scores from the February LSAT administration, which is the last test date in each administration cycle. The quickest and easiest way to register for both the LSAT and the Credential Assembly Service (CAS, a service required by most American Bar Association-approved schools) is online at www.lsac.org. For information on fee waivers, for test sites outside of the US and associated fees, and for more detailed information about the LSAT, consult the LSAC website.
You should apply electronically (for almost all ABA accredited law schools) directly from your LSAC.org account. Consult LSAC website for the checklist for the law school admission process. The instructions that accompany the application should be followed exactly, and all responses should be accurate and entered without error.
Virtually every law school now requires a personal statement from the applicant. Be sure to adhere carefully to the requirements or recommendations contained in the application instructions regarding length, prompt, format, etc. unless otherwise specified, the typical statement should be about two typewritten pages, double-spaced. It should reflect the very best grammatical and communicative effort of the applicant because it will be judged both as to form and substance (remember you are applying to professional school). Being simple, direct, and clear will impress admissions officials. Using unusual words and legal terms will not (e.g., avoid "said person told me..."). Consider the personal statement as your personal interview (on paper) with the admissions committee. This is no time to hide who you are, what truly matters to you, or to be shy or modest. You may write about an accomplishment, experience, cause, or belief that is important to you as an individual. Present yourself in a good light, but also be honest and candid.
Applications will indicate how many letters of recommendation are required. Follow them precisely. Although the LSAT and GPA form the foundation of the admission evaluation process, your personal statement and letters of recommendation can provide the admission committee with a different perspective from which to view them. Letters should comment on the applicant's academic abilities and be specific in their comments about the individual. Therefore, they should come from professors who have had significant personal contact with the student applying. You should seek out professors from your major field and those in whose classes you have done your best academic work. General character references, even from prominent judges, attorneys, or politicians, will NOT help your chances and may in fact hurt them because the admissions committee has learned too little about you. Take care in selecting your recommenders, try to be certain that they will write strong letters that discuss you as an individual. You should feel free to supply them with additional information which you may be uncomfortable supplying in your personal statement. For example, a letter-writer could include a notation that, although your overall GPA is a 3.2, your GPA in your major is 3.5 and, excluding freshman year when you were struggling, is 3.6, or could note that your LSAT score does not reflect your overall analytic ability as manifested in the classes you took from the person recommending you.
Some schools, mostly on the East Coast, require a recommendation from the Dean of your school. Typically, this information includes class rank and academic standing. If you have been subjected to any disciplinary actions even in your first quarter at SCU, this will appear on the Dean's Letter and may harm your chances for law school admission. Contact the Office of Student Life to obtain the Dean's Letter.
Most law schools operate on a "rolling admissions" basis, in which applicants are evaluated and accepted continuously over several months, beginning in fall (often October 1) and extending to midsummer for waiting-list admissions (admission off a waiting list is typically an iffy prospect). It is clearly advisable for you to apply at the earliest possible date, generally by about the middle of November. The earlier you apply, the more places will be available. Although schools will try to make comparable decisions throughout the admission season, it is disadvantageous to be one of the last applicants to complete a file–and your application will not be reviewed at all until it is complete according to the school's criteria. Additionally, the more decisions you receive from law schools early in the process, the better able you will be to make your own decisions, such as whether to apply to more law schools or to accept a school's offer.
Applicants whose qualifications exceed the school's admission standards are usually accepted during the first round of decisions. With some exceptions, candidates whose credentials fall below the school's standards are usually rejected. Most applications are not decided upon immediately upon review. If you have strong qualifications, but they do not quite equal those currently being admitted at a particular law school, you may be placed on a waiting list for possible admission at a later date. The law school will notify you of its decision as early as April or as late as August. If you are on a waiting list and can honestly say that you will enroll if accepted, inform the admissions office of this (but don't make a pest of yourself by calling frequently to inquire about your chances). Many law schools use seat deposits to help keep track of their new classes. For example, a school may require a deposit fee of $200 to $500 (some require two fees, one by April 1 and the second by June 1), credited to your first-term tuition if you actually register at the school; if you choose not to attend, the deposit may be forfeited or returned only partially. However, submitting multiple deposits can be risky. Law schools participating in LSAC's commitment overlap reporting service submit to LSAC information on applicants who have made verbal, written, and/or monetary agreements to attend their schools. Therefore, ask each law school about its policy on multiple deposits; some will not penalize applicants for placing multiple deposits, and others threaten to revoke offers of admission for doing so.