I answer lots of admissions questions throughout the year, but one of the most prevalent (surprisingly so, at least to me) is the amount of times I've answered this question:
"I'm only a [junior/senior] in high school, but I already know I want to go to law school. What do I need to do to increase my chances of getting into [insert law school name here]?"
On the one hand: Kudos to all of you pre-planning future law students! On the other hand: Wow, you make me feel very underachieving. All I knew when I was a junior and senior in high school was that I wanted to go to college and stop having a curfew.
However, now that I am an oh-so-wise adult, I do have some pointers for you teenaged JDs-to-be.
These are the two basic requirements you need to be able to apply to law school (any U.S. law school):
- You need to have finished high school, and have obtained a four-year undergraduate degree at a college or university. You cannot go straight from high school to law school (this is a misconception I often encounter).
- You need to have taken the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Click here to learn more about the LSAT.
However, there is a lot more to it than that. Keep in mind, though, that there isn't a specific formula for getting into law school. People from many different paths and walks of life end up in law school; there isn't a specific college class you should take, or a college major you should have. What you need to possess is a stellar academic record (the closer you can get to a 4.0 GPA, the better--that will open quite a few doors for you as far as law school admissions go), an exceptional LSAT score (the test itself is scored from 120 to 180, but to really have a shot at the best schools, you need to aim for at least 160+, preferably a 165+...and if you want to go to the very top schools, you need to aim for a 172+), excellent recommendations from your college professors (very similar to the teacher recommendations you'll get for your college applications, and a résumé that shows involvement (no specific type of internship or activity is preferred over another--what you should focus on is demonstrating commitment to and leadership in two or three specific causes over a number of years, rather than sporadic participation in 10+ activities, much like you should do when building your high school résumé and applying to college).
Even with all that, admission will not be a definite thing. You will still face some tough competition, because competition for spots in a law school class is often intense, regardless of their credentials--particularly if you're aiming for top schools. Number 1-ranked Yale Law, for example, has the lowest admissions percentage of all the law schools in the United States (just over 7%).
For now, your aim needs to be to finish high school, and get into the college of your choice. Then, focus on doing the following during your college years in order to create a solid applicant profile that will put you at an advantage in the law school application process:
- Pick a college major that will require a lot of reading- and research-intensive classes. Students aiming to apply to law school often go into political science, history, economics, or sociology, although you are certainly not limited to these disciplines. This will not only prepare you for law classes (which themselves are incredibly research- and reading-heavy), but it will also demonstrate to law schools, when you apply, that you can handle the academic load of law school.
- Keep an upward grade trend throughout college. This means that your grades either get stronger as you go through school, or start off strong and remain there for all 4 years of college. Most law schools will want to see GPAs of 3.5 or above (as I've mentioned, the closer you can get to a 4.0, the better). If you get a B during your freshman year, it's not a deal-breaker, so don't stress too much if you flounder initially; your focus should be to keep your grades as high as you can get them, and then keep them high.
- Take a challenging class load. Intro classes are okay for freshman and (maybe) sophomore year of college, but once you get to junior and senior year, your focus should be on upper-level classes and seminars that allow you to really hone in and focus on your specific interests within the major. And, as always, keep your grades up throughout.
- Establish rapport with your professors (particularly during your junior and senior years of college). You can do this by attending office hours, working for them as aresearch assistant, and talking to them after class. They will be the ones writing your letters of recommendation, and will only be able to write effective, overwhelmingly positive ones is if they have specific, anecdotal knowledge of you and can favorably compare you to other students in your class.
- Work on your extracurriculars. Don't worry about being a part of 30 student groups; instead, focus on 2 or 3. Become a part and get involved during your freshman and sophomore years, and then obtain leadership positions in them during your junior and senior years.
- Take the LSAT either the summer after junior year or the fall of your senior year of college. This will allow you to get the LSAT out of the way and apply as early in the admissions cycle as possible, which is beneficial to your overall chances.
Once you start putting together a list of schools to which you would like to apply (which you should do your sophomore or junior year), start by researching law schools and becoming familiar with their LSAT and GPA requirements as well as their acceptance percentages. A great place to start is LSAC's Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.
For now, focus on doing very well in high school and getting into a great college or university. Once you're there, start applying the tips above to create a solid law school applicant profile. You're already on the right path by starting to think about this so early on, so just keep on being as dedicated as you are now, and you'll do great!
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