Law school is a postgraduate educational program that typically involves three years of full-time study, and is designed to prepare students for careers in the legal profession. It provides students with a comprehensive education as well as the opportunity to learn legal research, writing, and advocacy. Many programs also include clinical programs that allow students to gain hands-on experience in their desired legal fields.
After completing law school, graduates must pass the bar examination in order to become licensed attorneys. The specific requirements are different for each state, but most require that graduates pass a written exam, character exam, and fitness evaluation.
Though it varies slightly by school, JD applications generally require a resume, personal statement/essays, LSAT/GRE score, CAS report, transcripts, letters of recommendation, optional statements/additional information, character and fitness information, and an interview.
The application process is lengthy and requires a lot of work; as such, it’s typically wise to choose a set number of schools to apply to so that you can dedicate your energy toward making those applications as polished as possible. In this article, we’ll guide you through how to narrow the many options down to a realistic goal.
How Many Schools Should You Apply To?
Though there is no magic number of how many programs you should apply to, we recommend landing somewhere between 5-15 schools. The range is broad because it will depend on a lot of personal factors like your academic/professional background, test scores/GPA, goals, what you’re looking for in a program, timeline, etc.
If you have limited time to prepare your application, specific program(s) that you are set on, or a certain location you want to be in, then you’ll be on the lower end of that scale. If you aren’t rushed for time, are unsure of where you want to go, or have a slightly less competitive candidacy, then you’ll be on the higher end of the scale.
Whatever side you land on, apply to a mix of “reach,” “match,” and “safety” schools. If you’re not sure how to classify the different programs for your candidacy, look at your top choices’ class profiles–almost every school publishes this information online each year. If you’re at or slightly above the average on most statistics (GPA, LSAT score) and believe you have a strong application in other areas (resume, letters of recommendation), then it’s probably a match. If you’re way above average, it’s a safety. And, if you’re below the average or have a mix of strong/weak parts of application, then it’s probably a reach school. As a disclaimer, every applicant’s profile is unique; what is a “reach” school for one will be a “safety” for another and vice versa.
There’s a balance to be met between applying to enough schools to give yourself a great shot at getting into one you’d actually want to go to, and not applying to so many that you don’t have time to give each the attention it deserves. A law school coach can help you figure out what is the right balance for you.
How to Choose Which Law Schools to Apply To
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the schools to apply to. This process should take time–it’s important to choose programs that are a good fit for you as it will improve your experience there. Here are some things to think about when deciding on schools, in no particular order.
Most law school programs are three years long, which is a significant period of time to place yourself somewhere new. Do you prefer urban or rural environments? Do you need to be somewhere warm or is it alright to be somewhere cooler? How important is being within walking distance of the school? Or having a good public transportation system?
Also, geographic location is particularly important for law school, as opposed to other graduate degree programs, because the bar exam is unique to each state. As many JD programs partner with firms/organizations in their state for recruiting, it’s wise to think through where you want to eventually work post-law school. Different cities, states, and regions are known for different specialties of law and offer different opportunities. Do substantial research and have a good idea of what kind of law you want to study and where you want to work long-term before starting the application process.
Personal learning styles will determine how important size is in your decision-making. Through your undergraduate program and other activities, you likely have an idea of whether you prefer large or small classes, or, whether this factor isn’t as important to you. This extends to both the number of total students in the program and in individual courses. Talk to current students, admissions committees, or look online to find this information.
3. Cost and Financial Aid
Graduate programs are expensive and cost can be a barrier for many potential applicants–no one wants to be paying off loans for a decade. The scholarships or financial aid packages that schools offer vary–many times, there are opportunities available for certain demographics. We recommend researching the programs you’re interested in to see if you fit any of the criteria for scholarships, and to see statistics regarding what percentage of students are eligible for or receive financial aid.
For example, Harvard states that over 40% of all JD students qualify for law school grant assistance. Yale Law School writes that 76% of the student body received some form of financial aid and 64% qualified for scholarship grants in the 2021-2022 academic year. The University of Chicago Law School writes that 80% of students receive scholarships and 60% choose to take out loans.
Culture is difficult to measure and encompasses a lot of different qualities. Some programs are known for being more academically rigorous while others are more social or laid back. The best way to find out about a program’s culture and to decide whether it’s a good fit for you is to talk to current students and alumni. They’ll be able to answer first-hand and provide key insights into what it’s actually like to be enrolled.
Law School Resume Template + Example
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Having a variety of backgrounds, interests, identities, specialties, and skills improves the classroom experience and, eventually, the broader legal field. Lawyers interact with people from many different perspectives and having experience navigating diversity in class strengthens the ability to do so in professional environments. Though this field is one which has been notoriously homogenous and slow to change, schools are now actively looking to foster diversity. Class profiles provide statistics on this and the admissions committees can also give information.
As mentioned, geographic location is an important factor in the consideration of law school. Relatedly, certain schools and areas are known for different specialties of law. For example, most of the T14 schools–and especially the most high-ranking ones like Yale, Columbia, and Harvard–are known for corporate law and placing a lot of students in “Big Law.” Columbia Law School has also received accolades for real estate law, tax law, environmental law, and intellectual property law, among others.
Most schools publish employment reports each year. These include information on the number of students who received full-time offers, what industries they chose, the size of the firms that students entered, and the geographic region of those positions, etc. The Stanford Law School Class of 2021, for example, placed 75 students in law firms, 62 of whom went to one that had 501+ employees. There were also 48 students who went into federal clerkships and 11 that went into government.
7. Classes and Faculty
Finally, the classes and professors at a given school will have a major impact on the overall experience. Research the curriculum of the schools to see what specific courses are offered in your areas of interest, what first-year courses are required, the percentage of classes that are electives, and other relevant information. Also, look into the school’s top faculty–are there certain professors who you’d like to work with or learn from? Are there any who have made an impact in your field of choice? Or those who had a career similar to your aspirations? Though subjective, this aspect can elevate your time in law school from good to great.
These are some of the things that you should consider, but not all. Every applicant’s situation is unique and certain factors will matter more than others. At the end of the day, it’s incredibly important to take time to research the various programs, talk to students and alumni, tour the campuses, ask the admissions committees questions, attend events or lectures, and really get to know the schools. It will not only ensure that you have a great experience wherever you go, but will also help you convey a convincing argument in your applications.
The internet will only get you so far in your research and applications. The best thing that you can do to make sure you have a concrete application strategy and compelling story is to work one-on-one with an expert coach. Check out four Leland law school coaches below. They are graduates of some of the best programs in the country and will be able to help you navigate this difficult process.
Here are a few other resources you may find helpful as you put together your law school applications:
- Early Decision Application Deadlines of the Top Law Schools (2023-2024)
- JD Application Deadlines of the T20 Law Schools
- Acceptance Rates & Class Profiles of the T14 Law Schools
- LSAT vs. GRE for Law School–Which to Take and How to Ace Both
- How to Get Into a T14 Law School
- Everything You Need to Know About LSAC and the CAS Report for Law School
- The Top 10 Environmental Law Schools in the US
- Pepperdine Caruso School of Law: Program and Application Overview
- The Role of Internships in Law School Applications
Leland provides you with the content, community, and coaching that you need to get into your dream law school and accomplish other ambitious goals. Sign up today to gain access to additional free resources, community events, small group classes, world-class coaching, and more.
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