A genie appears and grants a law school applicant one wish. What do they wish for? Chances are, wanting to know their chances of getting into a certain law school is near the top. It’s likely followed by having a stellar GPA, LSAT score, and personal statement. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical genie that can help you figure out your chances. Although it’s almost impossible to predict with any certainty your chances, there are things you can look at to ballpark probabilities.
LSAT and GPA percentiles
Applying to law school is largely (although not solely) a numbers game. Knowing the numbers for each school’s most recent incoming class can help you determine where you fall in the ranks. It can also help you figure out how likely your admission to the school is… numerically-speaking. You can find these numbers at LSAC’s Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. This tool gives you the 75th, 25th, and median LSAT and GPA percentiles for each school’s incoming class.
For example, this is what Harvard Law’s looks like:
How to Figure Out How You Stack Up.
- If your numbers are at or below the 25th percentile, your chances of admission (numerically-speaking) are low. To get an acceptance letter, you basically have to write your way in. Using your personal statement (and addenda), you need to convince AdComs that, despite your law numerical indicators, you’d be a solid addition to their incoming class.
- If your numbers are at or around the median, aka no-man’s land, your chances of admission are, numerically speaking, solid. You’ll be considered. The strength of your personal statement, résumé, LORs, addenda, and supplemental essays are key factors that will make the difference.
- If your numbers are at or above the 75th percentile, your chances are high. Your job is to make sure the rest of your application is good enough that they don’t ding you. In essence, you’re doing the opposite of those with low percentile numbers are doing. You’re making sure you’re not writing your way out of the school.
Remember That Numbers Aren’t Everything.
Now, here’s the thing with using these numbers. For many law schools, particularly highly-ranked or “elite” schools, numbers are not all they look at. The higher up the law school food chain you go, the more those little things start to matter. The essays, the letters the additional submissions play a key roll in acceptance versus rejection. It’s why, for example, in 2009 Yale Law admitted one person with an LSAT score between 155 and 159 and three people with GPAs between 3.25 and 3.49. This is despite the fact their LSAT and GPA percentiles were 170-176 and 3.82-3.96 for that incoming class. The rest of your application matters.
While you may breathe easier knowing you’re numerically above the 75th percentile at a school, never assume it’s a sure thing. Relying too heavily on numbers as a predictor is a bad idea. They give you a general guideline, but never consider them as a sure indicator. On the flip side, it’s why you should never count yourself out of a school just because of your numbers. There’s always a chance the rest of your profile is what tips the scale.
Another number you can use to determine your chances of admission are acceptance rates for each school. Some schools provide this information directly on their website under the most recent incoming class profile. However, for most, you’ll have to:
- Consult the trusty Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools and do a little quick math. It’s very doable, but takes some time.
- Consult the Internet Legal Research Group’s acceptance rate data. They get their info from the Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools and do the math for you.
Once you have the acceptance rate in hand, you can eyeball your own chances of acceptance. Of course, this is not particularly scientific. But, it can give you a good idea of how selective a school is. Therefore, you can ascertain how likely your admission is in combination with your LSAT/GPA numbers.
Let’s assume Harvard Law has an acceptance rate of 11.8% for the previous year. This puts them in the “extremely selective” category. What does this mean for the standard applicant? Well, unless you’re in the percentiles they’re looking for or an extremely special case, chances of admission are dismal. To be honest, they’re dismal even if you do have the numbers they’re looking for. This is yet another reason you need to focus on making your application absolutely stellar. On the flip side, consider a school like Thomas M. Cooley. They usually have the highest admissions percentage on the list. For a school that accepts almost 74 of every 100 applicants, your admissions chances are excellent regardless of your numbers. The higher your numbers, the more certain your chances are. To nobody’s surprise, the more selective the school, the higher the numbers you need to have are. There is no silver lining when it comes to acceptance rates and how they relate to LSAT and GPA numbers.
The third prong in the admissions chances fork comes in the form of law school rankings. There are many different law school rankings systems out there, but the most widely used and accepted are the U.S. News & World Report rankings. No complex interpretations here. With very limited exceptions, the higher a school is ranked, the lower your chances of admission. This phenomenon goes hand-in-hand with acceptance rates and LSAT/GPA percentiles. The higher the school’s rank, the lower the acceptance rates, and the higher the LSAT/GPA percentiles. Although you shouldn’t use a school’s rank as the only predictor of your chances, its position within the system is certainly a good starting place.
These Are Still Predictions
Can any of these aspects, even combined, give you any sort of surety of admission? Of course not. Every year there are literally hundreds of applicants with perfect GPAs and LSAT scores that are rejected from top schools. Then there are students with numbers well outside the percentiles that are offered admission. Schools with very, very high acceptances rates also reject students! Believe it or not, it’s true. Nothing is guaranteed and no set formula exists which will give you a definitive answer. Make your application decisions based on existing information, some intelligent deductions, and the understanding that nothing is a “sure thing.”