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Before we go much further, you should understand some of the basic concepts in law school admissions. Law schools consider a variety of factors in reviewing law school applications. If candidates have a strong enough application, in light of these factors, they are offered a seat. The most important of these factors are the undergraduate GPA, and the LSAT score. These are considered “hard” factors by all schools, and are used to compute a score called the admissions index by most schools. But, no school relies solely on the index. All schools attempt to view the applicant as a whole.
Understanding the Admissions Index
Most law schools begin evaluating an application by assigning a grade to the application. This grade, called the index number, is calculated with two variables: undergraduate cumulative GPA (as calculated by LSAC) and LSAT score. The exact formulas vary from school to school and are kept secret, though a little internet research can usually give you a good idea of what the school uses. The formulas also change from year to year. They are developed by looking at each class’ actual performance and attempt to predict first year success. Most law schools set a target range, which they use to offer seats. Schools do not release information about the index number ranges and what they mean so the actual index number is of limited use to applicants.
In general, schools place more weight on the LSAT score than the GPA. The majority of law schools’ formulas seem to make the LSAT worth at least 60% of the index number. This is because the LSAT is more objective and the GPA allows the school to apply more subjectivity.
“Soft” Factors Used in Admissions
In addition to the index value, law schools consider other factors in determining who to offer seats to. Law schools want a strong, diverse, law class. Law school attrition rates (% of dropouts) depend on the quality of law students, and the quality of education depends on having a diverse mixture of experiences and opinions in each class. “Soft” factors are anything other than your GPA/LSAT that positively reflects on either goal. Some of the more common soft factors are:
• Underrepresented Minority
• Unique Life Experiences
• Strength of Undergraduate Institution
• Rigor of Undergraduate Coursework
• State of Residency
• Work Experience
• Extracurricular Activities
• Letters of Recommendation
• Military Service
• Overcoming Significant Personal Hardship
• Extensive Community Service
• Graduate Work
• Improvement in Grades
• Personal Statement
• Leadership Experience
• Personal Talents
• Foreign Language Proficiency
In many schools, the admissions officer has the power to make certain decisions without consulting the whole admissions committee. In general, this power lies outside the school’s admissions index range. If an applicant’s index number is above the range, she is a presumptive admit and can be offered a seat by the admissions officer. This applicant will be offered a seat unless the admissions officer sees something in the application that requires rejection or further consideration.
The admissions officer can also independently reject an application if the index number is below the schools range, or the application has some major flaw. In the case of a low index number, an applicant will be rejected unless there is a pressing reason (a soft factor) to give the applicant further consideration. Some schools will automatically deny students who have incomplete applications, major mistakes in the application, or a questionable character.
This group of applicants is made of those whose index number falls within the law school’s range. The admissions committee thoroughly reviews these applications. In this group the admission decision is going to be a result of looking at the total application. In this group, soft factors are the most important. The two most important soft factors within your control are your personal statement and letters of recommendation. But, all of the soft factors are considered in conjunction with where your admission index number falls within the range. The higher your index number, the weaker your soft factors can be. Similarly, if your index number is weak, you need very strong soft factors to be offered a seat.
Most of your law school applications should probably fall into this category. At the very top law schools, there are no presumptive admits. These schools have such a high-caliber applicant pool that the soft factors always come into play.