Those law school deadlines will be here before you know it. Will your application impress the admissions committee? Here’s what they want to see, according to New England Law Director of Admissions Michelle L’Etoile.
Even though each law school is a little different, we’re all looking for similar things. Ultimately, we want to know if you have what it takes to succeed in law school and, eventually, pass the bar exam and practice law. We use the criteria below to make that call.
Keep reading to improve your chances of your law school application landing in the “accepted” pile...
1. Strong academic record and LSAT score
There’s really no way around it—your LSAT score, GPA, and the rigor of your undergraduate course work are basically the most important things law schools are looking for. Also keep in mind that your LSAT score and GPA can make a huge difference in the scholarships and grants you’ll be eligible for. So study hard for the LSAT before you take it (or take it again, if you’re confident you can improve). And if you’re still an undergraduate student, put in the time and effort now to do as well as you can in your classes.
That being said, law schools often look at your GPA and LSAT within the context of the rest of your application. So these stats aren't necessarily the final arbiters of whether or not you'll be admitted.
If your LSAT score or undergraduate GPA aren't quite as strong as you’d like them to be, you may want to include an addendum with your law school application to explain why. Don’t make excuses, but if you made mistakes, own up to them. If you weren’t focused on your studies, for example, explain that you’ve matured and your priorities have changed. Try to demonstrate your hard work and commitment to succeeding in law school in other ways, like strong grades in your senior year or a demanding job. You should also include what you did/are doing to turn your grades around if you’re still in school.
2. Extracurricular involvement
Law schools want to admit motivated, energetic students who get involved and try to improve the campus—and world—around them. The admissions committee will be looking at your undergraduate extracurricular activities to get a sense of how involved you might be on their campus too.
Make sure you highlight any leadership positions, long-term commitments, and results you achieved through your extracurricular activities. For example, if you ran a major fundraising campaign, you might mention how many people and vendors you managed, how much money you raised, etc.
3. Excellent writing and reading abilities
In law school, you will be reading and writing—a lot. Those skills need to be on full display in your law school applications.
This means your personal statement and long-form answers need to be clear and thoughtful. Your overall application should be accurate and free of grammatical errors. And you should follow all directions to the letter.
That’s also why you should give yourself plenty of time to complete—and copyedit—your law school applications. (Tips from our editor: read your application very, very slowly; read your writing out loud; and ask people you trust to give your application a second or third look!)
4. Personal growth
Remember when you applied to college? You’re probably a completely different person now...which is good, because law schools look for people who grow, change, and push themselves.
Think about lessons you learned, obstacles you overcame, or challenges you pursued in recent years. It can be from during your time as a college student or working professional. The personal statement or other long-answer questions are great places to tell a story that demonstrates growth.
For example, if you needed to work to help pay your college tuition, that might have cut into your study time (and maybe even your GPA). But it also shows how dedicated you are to achieving your goals. And that’s exactly what we law school admission folks want to see.
5. Strong recommendations from people who actually know you
Choose recommendation writers who can genuinely speak to your strengths and character. This means asking people who actually know you, whether it's an undergrad professor, employer, or mentor. Whatever you do, don't ask a "VIP" like your state's senator, college dean, or that celebrity professor to write you a recommendation unless they know you personally. (It's decidedly not impressive to get a letter that says "I don't know this student very well," believe me!)
Don't be afraid to give your recommendation writers some guidance too. For example, you might ask a professor to highlight how you worked hard to improve your grade in her class or how you're a consistently strong writer.
6. Something special…
What sets you apart? It could be an unconventional hobby, an unexpected achievement, or even a unique background. Everyone has their something. Whatever it is for you, include it in your law school application. You’ll give admissions folks a better understanding of who you are and what makes you tick. And it can help us remember you in a competitive field of applicants.
7. Demonstrated interest in the law school itself
Just like undergrad institutions, law schools track your interest in their school, whether you requested information, came in for a visit, or just emailed the admissions office with questions. This gives admissions staff a meaningful sense of how interested you are in attending the institution. And that's relevant because we want to admit the students who truly want to be here.
Of course, visiting your potential law schools won’t make or break your application, but it might give you a little boost.
Bonus: What law schools aren’t looking for
Think you need to be pre-law to go to law school? Think again!
It’s totally fine if you weren’t technically in a pre-law track as an undergrad. In fact, an “unexpected” undergrad major (think art history, microbiology, or Japanese studies) might make your law school application even stronger, since you’ll stand out amongst applicants and bring a unique academic perspective.
Michelle L’Etoile is the Director of Admissions at New England Law | Boston. Want more specific examples of what law schools are looking for? Take a look at New England Law’s admissions requirements.