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Getting in to Law School

Planning for your future

While there is not a "Pre-Law" major at Calvin College, students can gain an excellent liberal arts education, culminating in a Bachelor's Degree that prepares them for the rigors of law school. Advance planning as you consider a career in law is important, including when to enroll for various courses, when to register for and take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and when to apply at law schools (see Timelines to Prepare for Law School).

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

Everyone applying to a law school in the United States or Canada must take the LSAT, which is offered four times each year:

  • First Monday afternoon in June
  • First Saturday morning in October
  • First Saturday morning in December
  • Second Saturday morning in February

Generally, students are advised to take the LSAT in February or June, a full year before they plan to attend law school. You would then receive your score in the spring, allowing you to make decisions about whether and where to apply.

You may take the LSAT more than once, and most schools now take the highest score, although some law schools average multiple scores or take the lower of the scores.

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Law school applications

The written application plays an important role in decisions made by law schools about whom to accept. The application gives you an opportunity to represent yourself in the best possible light, and schools carefully review applicants' personal statements to determine writing ability as well as potential contributions to their school.

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Your personal statement

The personal statement is both an analytical writing sample as well as a presentation of yourself as an applicant. You need to sell yourself while not sounding arrogant, and also demonstrate excellent writing skills. A good personal statement is not easy to craft, but the following can help you:

  • Identify two or three incidents in your life that were pivotal in your decision to go to law school
  • Decribe why you are unique (most law schools are looking for a broad spectrum of people)
  • Tie your reasons for going to law school with some particular strength of the school to which you applying
  • Keep your statement well organized and mechanically correct
  • Do not repeat things that are readily apparent in the rest of the application (GPA, honors received, LSAT score); instead make it an interesting picture of yourself as a candidate
  • Allow yourself enough time to prepare at least four or five drafts before finalizing the statement

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Deciding where to apply

Law schools are ranked in three categories: national, regional and local.

  • National schools recruit their students from the whole country and place their graduates in jobs across the country (some of the top ranked schools are listed in the sidebar)
  • Regional schools recruit and place students from the states which are contiguous to its geographical location, for Calvin this would include: Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), Indiana (Bloomington), Iowa, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Wisconsin
  • Local schools typically recruit and place their graduates in a particular city or region of a state. Strong local schools in Calvin's area include: Case Western Reserve, Chicago-Kent, Cincinnati, Cleveland State, DePaul, Indiana (Indianapolis), Loyola (Chicago), Marquette, Michigan State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Wayne State

Law School Forums are a good source of information to help you decide where to apply. Representatives from numerous schools are featured, and they provide information on a wide variety of law school-related questions. (Upcoming Forums scheduled near Calvin)

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How many schools to apply to ...

Consult the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) website or www.lawschoolnumbers.com to determine where you might be competitive for admission (based on your GPA and LSAT score). Then, apply to two or three of the highest ranked schools you believe you would be accepted to, two or three more that fit your scores, and one or two additional options that are a bit below your hopes but would be useful as fallback possibilities.

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Law school is expensive!

A three-year law school education can cost nearly $195,000 in tuition, books, fees and room and board.About 80% of law students rely on educational loans as their largest source of revenue to pay for law school.

  • The average law school student graduates with between $75,000 (for public school) and $125,000 (at a private school) in debt.
  • Repayment of that debt can be more than $1,300 per month on a ten-year payment schedule.
  • The national median salary for law school graduates in 2012 was $90,000 per year (about $7,500 per month). However, salaries vary widely and according to the National Association of Legal Professionals, one third of graduates earn less than $65,000 per year (about $5,400 per month). The median salary for government jobs was $52,000; for public interest organization positions was $44,600; and for judicial clerkships was $52,600.

New York University Law School financial aid officials composed the "Golden Rules of Financing Your Education." Their top recommendations were:

  • Budget your money as carefully as you budget your time
  • Not all loans are alike; know the differences and borrow wisely
  • Limit your use of credit cards to emergencies only
  • Pay your credit card debt off completely before you start school
  • Don't pay tuition with credit cards! Find out about payment plans available at your school
  • Maintain complete records of your loans; keep track of your debt
  • Being independent has its limits -- accept any offers of assistance

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Fast Facts

What do law schools look at when choosing students?

  • Your Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score
  • Your prior academic performance (GPA)
  • Your application form
  • Your personal statement

Is there a minimum LSAT score for acceptance into law school?

No, but as a general rule, if your score is below 144 (or your GPA is below 2.8) you are probably not best prepared for law school

student looking at catalogue

How do law schools use my LSAT score?

Law schools combine your GPA with your LSAT score to determine a composite ranking. They strongly consider this ranking when determining who to accept, but they also weigh individual factors, strong letters of recommendation and compelling personal statements in their decision

Published reports of average GPA and LSAT scores at law schools

Law schools list the statistics for their first year students at www.LSAC.org. Use this information to help you determine where to apply, as compared to your own GPA/LSAT ranking

The top fifteen law schools in the nation:

Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, University of Chicago, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, University of California Berkeley, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Duke, Northwestern University, Cornell, Georgetown, and University of Texas Austin (according to U.S. News & World Report, 2013)

For alternative rankings and discussion, see the "Educational Quality Ranking of U.S. Law Schools" by Brian Leiter, www.top-law-schools.com, or www.abajournal.com

Talk to the placement office at your top choice schools.Ask them what percentage of their graduates were employed (and where) the first year after graduation; look at another school if those answers are not promptly responded to by the placement office

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Books in Calvin's Pre-Law Library that can help you determine whether to pursue a career in law:
What Can You Do With a Law Degree?
Should You Really Be a Lawyer?

The difference between a J.D. and LL.M. degree explained ...

Specific courses at Calvin to help you prepare »
More about timelines to prepare for law school »
The NALP publishes information about starting salaries for law school graduates »
400+ things you can do with a law degree (other than practice law)
LawCareersNow.com offers clear unambiguous information to help you decide whether the legal field is for you.