How do I select a law school?
With more than 200 law schools accredited in the United States by the American Bar Association (ABA), making a decision about which law school to attend can be a challenge. To make this decision, you need to consider which schools fit your credentials (primarily CGPA and LSAT score) and your goals and interests well.
What schools will likely admit me based on my credentials?
While schools review your entire application, your CGPA and LSAT score are the most important factors for admission at most law schools. Each school will disclose its 25th/50th/75th percentiles for CGPA and LSAT score of its entering class. You can find these statistics for each school by locating the “ABA Required Disclosures” link on the home page of the school’s website and looking for the Standard 509 Info Report. These are the statistics schools must provide to the ABA. You can also go to the ABA Official Guide to Law Schools to find this information.
If you are at or above the 50th percentile in both CGPA and LSAT for a given school, you have a strong chance of admission assuming the rest of your application is equally strong (but there are no guarantees in the process). If you are low in one of these categories, then you want to be high in the other. For example, if your CGPA is just below a school’s 25th percentile, then you need a strong LSAT score (preferably at or above the 75th percentile), to offset your lower CGPA.
Apply to a range of schools based on these credentials. Penn State students apply to an average of seven schools each but the number varies depending on the selectivity of the schools and each student's comfort level.
What school is the best fit for my goals and interests?
Many students make the mistake of skipping this step and simply applying to the most highly ranked schools they think they can get into based on their credentials. “Neither the American Bar Association nor its Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar endorses, cooperates with, or provides data to any law school ranking system.” ABA Statement on Law School Rankings.
If you plan to use any ranking system to help you determine the schools to which you will apply, make sure you understand the methodology used to determine these rankings. Do the criteria align with what you think is important in a law school? Also, look at several years’ worth of rankings; they change significantly every year.
Rather than rely on existing rankings, make a list of those factors that matter to you in a law school and then rank them in order of importance. Create your own ranking system or spreadsheet to compare your schools of interest on these factors. Here are just some examples of factors to consider in a law school (in random order):
- Size and student/faculty ratio
- Program for particular interest (only if you are certain of your interest in that type of law)
- Employment outcomes (more on this below)
- Clinics, internships, co-ops (experiential learning)
- Cost: tuition, living expenses, likelihood of grants/scholarships
- Bar passage
- Attrition rate (how many students leave after the first year?)
- Student organizations
- Diversity (in students and faculty)
- Part-time option (not every law school has a part-time option)
- Religious affiliation
- Culture (high stress v. less stress, conservative v. liberal, corporate v. public interest, commuter v. campus, etc.)
How do I learn more about a school’s employment outcomes?
Each school is required to disclose detailed employment outcomes for its graduating class. Most of these statistics reflect employment rates ten months after graduation (after new lawyers find out if they passed the Bar Exam). You can find these statistics for any accredited school at ABA Statistics. Make sure to look at several years’ worth of data. When you are looking at these statistics, take the number of graduates and divide it by the number of students who have full-time, long-term jobs practicing law (assuming this is the type of job that you want). Compare that percentage to the national average, which is approximately 70 percent. Go to the national ABA Employment Statistics for details.
Do I have to go to law school in the state where I plan to practice law?
No! The law school you attend does not limit you to a particular state bar. Most students study for the bar separately in the summer after graduation, in particular the state-specific portion of the bar exam. In addition, many states now use the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE).
You should consider attending law school in the region you ultimately want to live/practice law in (unless you are applying to top-tiered law schools, which are known as national law schools). This is not because of bar passage but rather the connections you make while in law school to potential employers in the region and to your colleagues in law school who will become your colleagues in legal practice.
How can I learn more about law schools to help with my selection?
- Professional and Graduate School Week. Every October, Penn State Career Services hosts a Law School Fair that brings more than seventy law schools to campus. The schools send admissions officers, recruiters, recent graduates, and even alumni to Penn State to provide you with information and answer questions about their school.
- LSAC Forums: The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) hosts forums across the country that provide workshops for potential law students and includes a law school fair at which most schools in the country are represented.
- Visit schools. Once you have narrowed your list of schools to those you plan to apply to, visit as many schools as possible. After you receive acceptances, visit your finalists. On your visit (if possible):
- Meet with admissions
- Check out career services
- Stop by financial aid
- Sit on a law school class
- Take a tour
- Hang out where the students study
- Read the bulletin boards and announcements
For more ideas on what to ask your schools of interest, review NALP’s “Pre-Law- What Questions Should I Ask?”