Which should you do first: Take the LSAT, or decide where to apply?


    When it comes to applying to law school, timing is everything. When you take the LSAT matters, just like when you submit your applications. Getting your letters of recommendation on time is completely dependent on when you ask for them, as is getting your transcripts. Timing is as big a factor in the process as anything else you can think of.

    I was considering this point earlier this week, amidst all the frustration surrounding the delays with October LSAT scores, and it got me thinking: Once these students finally get their scores, will they immediately turn around the submit their completed application? Or will they only then start the rest of the process--choosing schools, getting LORs, requesting trascripts? Which of those two is the best option? Or is there a better, third option that's being overlooked? 

    Here's my take.

    I think that there's a magic third option that would benefit students the most. In a perfect world, this is what students would do:

    1. Ask yourself: What are your dream law schools? Write them down. Try to be realistic, but don't deny yourself by thinking you might not fit the criteria for any particular school. Make a list of these dream schools, as well as the GPA and LSAT scores they typically look for (you can find this information on LSAC's Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools). Don't simply think about ranking. Think, also, about other things that are important to you, such as geographic location, availability of programs, and size of the school (among others). This list will let you see what you're looking for in a school, which can be very helpful as you make final decisions on where to apply.
    2. Take a practice LSAT. This will give you an idea of where your initial LSAT score is, and can also give you a general idea of where your score might be after studying. We've found that students in our Full-Length and Live Online LSAT Courses, for example, go up an average of 10-12 points on the LSAT with studying. Having this initial number on hand will be helpful for the following steps. 
    3. Based on this initial score, make a list of schools where your GPA and initial LSAT score put you in a good position of gaining admittance. You can consider these your "safety" schools. 
    4. Assume that you can improve your LSAT score with studying (which you definitely can). Assume an increase of 10-12 points (which we know for a fact is possible based on the average performance from our students). Now, make a list of schools where your GPA and your increased LSAT score give you a good shot of admittance. Depending on how optimistic you are, you can consider these your "target" or "reach" schools.
    5. Sit down and--based on your initial score, your schools and their LSAT requirements, and your increase potential--decide what you would like to score on the LSAT. Having a score goal is one of the most effective ways to prepare your mind for the grueling task ahead.
    6. Study your tail off for the LSAT. If you attend one of our courses, you'll take multiple practice tests throughout, so you'll be able to see if you're on track towards your target score. If you're studying on your own with books, make sure you've got plenty of practice tests so that you can periodically track your overall progress and guage your improvement with specific sections and question types. 
    7. Take the LSAT (preferably once you're scoring at or above your target score on practice tests). 
    8. Wait for your score. This is, arguably, the hardest part of this whole process.
    9. Once you've gotten your score, review your school list. You may have to do some adjusting to your safety, target, and reach schools based on your score--but now you not only have your score in hand, you also know which schools you'd like to attend. Two birds, one stone. 

    ...and voilá! That would be my LSAT/application plan. Don't do one ahead of the other--instead, do them concurrently, so that each one helps and informs the other. This will make sure that the schools your choosing are realistic in terms of your numerical indicators, and that your LSAT score is given a boost of intensity and confidence by your school choices. It's a win-win!

    __________________________

    Have a question about applying to law school you’d like me to answer? Send me an email.

    Check out the Admissions Tip of the Week archives!

    Find PowerScore on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.