How Much Should You Invest in LSAT Preparation?

A lot of LSAT talk on social media and websites is about the price of LSAT prep programs.  There are two basic service-delivery models available, whether online or in person: large classroom instruction and per-hour tutoring.  (Advise-In’s single-fee structure, with no pre-set limit on consultations with me, is an exception designed to overcome what I think are significant educational shortcomings of the per-hour and classroom models.)

Like any investment, you should decide on an LSAT preparation program based on an expected return.  “Expected” is important.  Whether your expected return is realized depends on a lot of things, including whether your expectations were realistic (think of home buyers who didn’t do much investigation of their theory that real estate prices would always rise).  Careful investigation matters.

Classroom programs are cheaper because they’re volume-based.  You pay less because you get less of the instructor’s time and commitment.  On the other hand, as examples, Kaplan’s top-line per-hour tutoring program costs $4500 for a set number of hours in instruction; if you go beyond that number of hours, you pay an additional per-hour charge.  For a similar program (with more hours built in), TestMasters charges $8750.  Other companies’ tutoring packages fall between these extremes.

If you’re a prospective LSAT taker, can these amounts be a worthwhile investment in LSAT prep?  Can a program costing $5000-$9000 (or more, if you need or want additional hours) be worth that much more than lower-priced classroom programs?  Two answers.  First, yes, it can be, for several reasons.  Second, whether any class or program is worth the money you’ll pay depends on a lot more than price—above all, it depends on the quality and simplicity of program design, your instructor’s knowledge of the material, and her or his ability to teach, experience as a teacher, compatibility with and adaptability to your learning style and commitment to your individual success.

Let’s start with the first question—could $5000-$9000 for LSAT prep be worth it?  If you attend law school, you’ll pay (not accounting for in-state tuition), over $100,000 in tuition alone for three years of law school.  The average number is closer to $125,000.  When you add in fees, costs and living expenses, you’re nearer $200,000-$225,000.

More important, the difference between the amounts you’ll pay to go to a top 5 school as against a school out of the top 25, on average, will be only about $10,000 per year ($30,000 total).  And you’ll come out of law school (again, on average) with virtually the same debt no matter what rank of law school you attend (not taking into account merit-based financial aid).

As a proportion of $200,000, $5000-$9000 is 2.5-4.5%—in other words, 2.5-4.5¢ for every dollar you’re anticipating spending anyway.  That’s not much.

On the other hand, the difference in career and earnings potential between law schools is huge.  As we’ve pointed out on our website, the average difference in tuition costs for students of top 10 schools as against students at schools ranked 26-100 (even before the current market downturn) was covered by less than three months of salary right out of law school by a median graduate earner from a top 10 school.  Over the length of a career, the payoff differential can easily reach into the millions of dollars.

So, how much is LSAT prep worth?  The price itself isn’t the real question; your return is.  Your returns on LSAT preparation investment, if any, are your enhanced law school admissions options and financial aid opportunities, on the one hand, and your career options and earning potential, on the other.  Your LSAT score is an important means to those ends—it has no independent value.  Remember that most people will spend about the same amount on law school no matter where they go.

Let’s say you’re considering a $1500 classroom program or a $7000 program (the midpoint of our $5000-$9000 range).  The key issue is whether latter is 4+ times better than the former.  Let’s also say you knew the end result of your LSAT prep, and you obtained a 4-point improvement under one program and a 10-point improvement in the other.  Here’s the surprise.  It’s a fair estimate that the 10-point program is worth, at virtually every point on the LSAT scale, exponentially more (I’d estimate 7-9 times more, depending on the person) than the 4-point improvement (although arithmetically, it looks like it’s only 2.5 times better).

In other words, improvements in your LSAT have ever-escalating (almost geometric) impacts on your admissions and financial aid opportunities.  You will vastly improve your options with a 10-point improvement, and will, in today’s market, generally only marginally improve them with a 4-point change.  If you obtained a 15-point increase (my own was 18 points, from a 162 to a 180), the impact becomes so large it’s hard to even guesstimate.

Now the level of expected improvement doesn’t necessarily depend on price.  More expensive goods can be beautiful and well-made or just as cheap, brittle and ugly as lower-priced goods (after a lot of investigation, I didn’t use any LSAT test-prep companies or tutors to obtain my own score increase because I firmly believed they would actually hurt me more than help me).  The key is program quality.

A lot of people who want to be my clients contact me because they were dissatisfied with their initial LSAT prep courses or tutors, and often have taken more than one such program before contacting me.  Their investment in those programs, however large or small, has generated zero return.  They threw money and time away and, since almost all of this group took the LSAT previously, may have damaged their law school admission prospects.  They invested poorly whether they spent $750 or $8000.

On the other hand, if you’re able to substantially improve your score (not just by 4 or 5 points), you’ve spent pennies extra on your law school education to obtain vastly expanded options.  When you take the average earnings between graduates of law schools into account, the price of an LSAT program means very little in the long term, except if you choose a career-limiting class or program when you could have obtained real value.

As with any investment, value is the key.  When the potential long-term returns in career alternatives and earning ability are so substantial, then in the long run, the difference in cost between LSAT prep programs is insignificant; what matters is whether the program you choose is effective—for you—to obtain your highest LSAT score.  It’s no bargain to buy something, at whatever price, that doesn’t work or works only a little.  You don’t get LSAT points for paying less—or more—for an LSAT prep course.  You only get points for getting points.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on July 12, 2010.

5 Responses to “How Much Should You Invest in LSAT Preparation?”

  1. […]             –be smart about your LSAT preparation (keep it simple, take the LSAT once (ideally), don’t over- or under-prepare and don’t try to save yourself a few dollars now that may cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in…); […]

  2. […] And you should do everything you can, within reason, to improve your admissions prospects.  Investing in the best LSAT preparation and application advising you can find is a front-end investment that can pay off in many multiples […]

  3. […] Small variations in LSAT scores can make a tremendous difference to admissions and financial aid opportunities.  The difference depends on where an individual is on the LSAT score spectrum, of course, but here’s a little illustrative data.  The median LSAT score of the 21st- and 41st-ranked law schools differed by a total of 6 correctly-answered questions.  That’s 1.5 questions per graded section.  Not much.  That’s why investing in the best LSAT prep program for you is just that—an investment in future earnings potential and career flexibility.  […]

  4. […] best LSAT preparation available.  Hire the best application and admissions advisor.  There’s no point in scrimping on these investments—because that’s what they are, investments in your future that will pay dividends in multiples […]

  5. […] LSAT prep.  It can’t be “good enough.”  It should be the best LSAT prep you can find.  LSAT prep is an investment and the question is what return you can expect if you do your part.  A one-point or two-point […]

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