If law school applicants could be granted one wish, I'm pretty sure that knowing their chances of getting into a certain school would be right at the top of the list, right after having stellar LSAT/GPA numbers and a killer personal statement. Unfortunately, when it comes to your chances are of getting into a specific school, it's almost impossible to predict with any sort of surety how likely you are to get in. There are, however, things you can look at to to give yourself some ballpark probabilities to work with.
LSAT and GPA percentiles
Applying to law school is largely (although not solely) a numbers game. Knowing the numbers that each school's most recent incoming class had can help you figure out where you fall in the ranks, and can also help you determine how likely your admission to the school would be, numerically-speaking. A great place to get these numbers is LSAC's Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, which 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:
When it comes to interpreting percentiles and medians and relating them back to how you stack up, this is what I usually tell students:
- If your numbers are at or below the 25th percentile, your chances of admission (numerically-speaking) are low. You basically would have to write your way into the school, using your softs to try to convince AdComs that you'd be a solid addition to their incoming class, despite your low numerical indicators.
- If your numbers are at or around the median (the place I've heard some students call "no-man's-land"), your chances of admission (numerically speaking) are solid. You'll be considered, and it will be strength of your softs (personal statement, résumé, letters of recommendation, any addenda and supplemental essays) that will make the difference.
- If your numbers are at or above the 75th percentile, your chances are (numerically-speaking) high. At that point, your job is to make sure your softs are good enough that they don't ding you--in essence, you're doing the opposite of what you'd be doing if your numbers are at or below the 25th percentile: You're making sure you're not writing your way out of the school.
Now, here's the thing with using these numbers, though: For many law schools, particularly those that are highly-ranked or are considered "elite," numbers are not all they look at. The higher up the law school food chain you go, the more all those other little things (the essays, the letters, the additional submissions) start to matter. 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, even though the school's LSAT and GPA percentiles were 170-176 and 3.82-3.96 for that incoming class. Softs matter. So, while you might be able to breathe a little easier knowing that your numbers place you above the 75th percentile at a school, you should never assume it's a sure thing--and it's also why relying too heavily on numbers as a predictor is a bad idea. They can give you a general guideline, but they should never be considered a sure indicator (and, if you need further proof of that last statement, consider this: Out of 214 people with LSAT scores between 175 and 180 and GPAs of 3.75+ that applied to Yale in 2009, only 101 got in). And it's also why you should never count yourself out of a school just because your numbers aren't quite up to snuff--there's always a chance the rest of your profile is what will tip the scales.
Another number you can use to determine your general chances of admission are the acceptance rates for each school (or, at least, the rates for the most recently-available class). 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 (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 and, therefore, how likely your admission is (particularly when combined with your LSAT/GPA numbers).
Let's continue with the Harvard Law example: According to the ILRG, Harvard Law had an acceptance rate of 11.8% for the class admitted in 2009. This puts it in the category of "extremely selective" (in fact, only two schools--Stanford and Yale--had acceptance percentages lower than that). What does this mean for the standard applicant? That, unless you are an extremely special case, chances are very good that if your numbers are outside the percentiles they're looking for, your chances of admission are rather dismal. Heck, they're dismal even if you do have the numbers they're looking for (and this is yet another reason why even those applicants with stellar numbers shouldn't rest on their laurels).
On the flip side, consider a school like Thomas M. Cooley, which has the highest admissions percentage on the list: 73.8%. For a school that accepts almost 74 out of every 100 applicants, chances are excellent that you'll be admitted regardless of your numbers--and the higher your numbers, the more certain your chances.
Of course, the more selective a school, the higher the numbers you need to have, and vice-versa. 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 (as well as the most maligned) 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 when determining admissions chances.
Can any of these aspects, even combined, give you any sort of surety of admission? Of course not. As I mentioned above, every year there are literally hundreds of applicants with perfect GPAs and LSAT scores that are rejected from Harvard, Yale and Stanford, and there are students with numbers well outside the percentiles that are offered admission. Schools with very, very high acceptances rates also reject students (consider, for example, Western New England College School of Law--a school with a 71% acceptance rate--which in 2009 rejected a student with an LSAT score between 170 and 174, and a GPA of 3.75+). 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 no one is a "sure thing."
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