Survey Says: It’s Not Just Your LSAT Score and GPA That Matter for Law School Admissions

I work hard with clients on their LSAT preparation and post a lot of LSAT-related blogs.  I’m also clear that law school applicants should not fixate on the LSAT to the exclusion of the rest of their application package.  While the LSAT is a key piece—often the most important piece—of the application puzzle, “most important” isn’t the same as “only important.”

A recent survey highlights the importance of reference letters, and especially negative reference letters.  It also demonstrates the importance of telling the truth in your law school application package but all I’ll say about that is: well, yes, and the last thing the legal (or any other) profession needs is people who fib at the start.

I’ve talked before (the link to the last post follows) about the unique place of reference letters in your law school application—they occupy an important spot between your personal statement and your résumé—and about the need to make absolutely certain that you trust your letter writers, since you likely won’t be able to see the letter in its final form.  Some people take their letter-writing jobs seriously, some don’t, and others are just not good letter-writers, often because they lack a certain common sense to understand that certain well-intentioned parts of their letter can be damaging.

So, it’s no surprise that an even slightly negative reference letter can hurt you, badly.  A lot of law school applicants have been disappointed not to have received admissions—or financial aid—that people with similar, or even less favorable, LSAT scores and academic records did receive.

Equally important is that a great law school application—letters of reference, resume, personal statement, everything—can lift you into competition with people who, judging purely by the LSAT/GPA matrix, have qualifications superior to your own.  You shouldn’t construct your application just to avoid it hurting you—it can help you considerably.

Here’s one way to think about the components of your application.  Your LSAT score, GPA and demographic characteristics will place you in a broad cohort of applicants (let’s call it your “initial cohort”).  In the current market, with applications having risen in the last two years, the number of people in every such cohort is larger than it used to be, but it was always big.  Even with sparkling academic and LSAT credentials, top law schools will get hundreds or thousands of scores and GPAs that look similar, and those numbers obviously increase as the credentials become less exceptional.

But a sparkling law school application package, one that artfully paints a true and compelling picture of you for admissions reviewers—and (what is largely the same thing) one that admissions personnel want to keep reading—can do the following things.  First, it can solidify your position in your initial cohort, making it more likely that you will gain financial aid and admissions opportunities at more law schools than others who are in the same cohort.  Better still, it can move you into the next-highest cohort (and more rarely, you can jump multiple cohorts) so that you will have at least some admissions and financial aid opportunities that most of the people in your initial cohort, and many in your achieved cohort, won’t have.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the converse is also true, and this is what the survey emphasizes: you can weaken yourself in your initial cohort and your achieved cohort can be below as well as above your initial cohort.  Still, the best reason to make your application package as perfect as you can isn’t to avoid the downside possibilities but to capture the upside.  That’s why you should never be satisfied with an application package that’s “good enough”—if you want to maximize your opportunities, you and your consultants and advisors should take as long as needed, and put in as much work as required, to make it great, not just ok.  Otherwise, you won’t get maximum value for all your academic hard work and LSAT preparation—and you might notice someone else with less powerful hard data take a spot, or get merit-based aid that you were not offered, often because that person had a more artful and effective full application.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on September 20, 2010.

One Response to “Survey Says: It’s Not Just Your LSAT Score and GPA That Matter for Law School Admissions”

  1. […] applying a hard data grid.  It’s unlikely that they’re all being untruthful.  There’s recent survey data, for example, regarding the importance of letters of reference.  It’s even more unlikely that […]

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