To prospective law school applicants, few questions are as confusing as whether law schools use the average of all your LSAT scores or whether they use just the high score. The confusion exists because law schools will see an average score if you take the LSAT more than once, but the all-important US News rankings use only the high score. And some schools specifically state they take the high score whereas others talk about an average score. So, what's the real story?
The definitive answer is good news for all law school applicants: every law school uses the high score when making admissions decisions, and we know of no law school that uses the average score. That's easy enough to say, so let's provide some facts to back up this claim.
Rankings Use the High Score: The USNews rankings are the standard by which law schools are judged, and law schools are required to report only the highest score an applicant receives. Thus, if a school uses just the average score, they place themselves at a significant disadvantage compared to all schools using the high score. That's an illogical path to take, and so on the face of it there's no sense in taking the average score.
We've Yet to Talk to a Law School Dean that Uses the Average: We're in a fortunate position to speak with law school deans about various admissions practices, and when asked this question, thus far no dean has told us they use the average score; all have stated they use the high score. This covers schools in the T6, T14, T25, and all the way through the rankings.
Even Schools that Have Websites Referencing Averages Use the High Score: This is the one counterpoint that often comes up when discussing this issue, namely that some schools appear to reference the use of averages (such as NYU), or holistically considering all available scores (like Yale). I'll let our good friend Mike Spivey from Spivey Consulting explain why schools still reference averages:
"The easiest answer is that we used to average in admissions because all scores used to go to USNews. But around 8 years ago that changed and USNews started only taking the high score. Some remnants of the prior averaging language still exists online, however. In other words, the wording is exactly as it was 8+ years ago. So again that is the easiest answer and simply something that hasn't been cleaned up entirely online.
More deeply, I honestly think some Adcoms almost believe it when they say 'we average scores.' What they are really saying, though, is that they SEE all scores (which is true). I think it sounds good to them to say 'we average' because it sounds more holistic, and there is sort of a pathway dependency to saying that and hearing others say it over time.
The fact of the matter is this: I know of not a single school, including Yale, that averages. I've written extensively on this topic, and the 'averaging' myth is the is single hardest falsehood I have had to combat with the hundreds of other law school admissions myths out there, and probably the most damning to applicants that believe it."
I'm not sure you can get a more emphatic affirmation that law schools use the high score than his statements above.
The bottom line is that if you've taken the LSAT once and think you can do better, there is no downside whatsoever to retaking the test. If you can post a higher score, you increase your admissions chances and increase your chances to receive improved financial aid offers.
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Image credit: "Vibrant Hot Air Balloons" by Nicolas Raymond.