When students begin to consider entering the legal field as a prospective career choice, thoughts about law school inevitably follow. There are many websites, instructional books, and pre-law advisers that can provide a lot of useful information on how to prepare for the law school admissions process and a career in law in general. But, another sometimes untapped resource is talking to people who have gone through the entire process and actually made it out the other end alive (yes, it is possible.) Here below are six pieces of advice that may help you navigate through this process and come out the other end with successful results.
1. Find out if law is actually the right path for you.
Now, in 2012, going to law school is not a decision that you should make on a whim. Law school requires a great deal of time, dedication, and money. Also, with the job market not being what it used to be (a phrase that has been said one too many times, but is quite appropriate in this context), jobs and high salaries in the legal field are not as abundant as they once were. Are you just thinking about going to law school because it seems like a good idea and you don’t know what else to do after college? Going ahead for those reasons won’t really help you; instead, do some research and get an idea of what you want to use your JD degree towards. Try getting a job working at a law firm in an administrative position or volunteer at a legal aid organization, so you can get a sense of whether or not a legal setting is for you. If that’s not viable, try talking to practicing attorneys and ask them about their law school experience—getting firsthand advice is often the best way to get a real sense of how to prepare efficiently.
2. Map out your study plan for the LSAT—and stick to it.
The LSAT (The Law School Admission Test) is a half-day test that is administered four times a year in the U.S. (February, June, October, and December), and it tests students in three areas: reading comprehension, logical games, and verbal reasoning. It is graded on a scale from 120-180, with 150 generally being the mid-way score. The LSAT, along with your undergraduate and post graduate GPA, is one of the most critical factors in the law school admissions process. Of course, admissions officers also look at other areas of your application, such as your work history and personal essay, but the LSAT is highly important. Yet, because it does not test students on actual legal facts and terms, but on their critical and reasoning skills, preparing for the LSAT takes a lot of practice, rather than simple memorization. First, take a practice LSAT cold, with no preparation at all, just to get a sense of where you are scoring. Secondly, try studying for a couple of weeks on your own. If you are steadily improving towards your goal score, you may continue to improve and do well by studying on your own. If you are having trouble in certain areas, then taking a prep course will certainly help. Speaking from personal experience, I took a Kaplan prep course and it gave me a lot of useful tips and tricks that I would never have known on my own—and it helped increase my score by several points. Do some research and see what course would be the best for you—Princeton Review, PowerScore, and Kaplan are just a few of the options out there. Most people recommend at least two months of studying for the LSAT before making the commitment to take it, but students all progress at their own individual pace. So choose a target goal score that you believe would make you a considerable candidate and one that is also realistically within your reach, and work towards that. When registering for the test, choose a good location. It might seem trivial, but for some students, taking the test in a large lecture hall with ample desk space at a university, rather than in a crammed high school classroom with squeaky desks, can make a big difference.
3. Research and select your list of schools.
Once you have a general idea of what your LSAT score does or will look like, then it will become easier to select a list of schools that you think you have a decent shot of getting accepted to. Much like applying to college, your list should have reach, target, and safety schools. Although law schools DO look at other qualifications besides your LSAT score and GPA, using those two things as guide marks will help you decide what places you can get into. Many websites list median LSAT and GPA scores that their accepted students have, so you can get a sense of where you fall into place numerically. Also, think about where you want to study: do you want to stay close to home or travel to a different city, state, or even country? Consider all of these facts when you create your list and begin applying.
4. Take time to perfect your personal essay.
A lot of factors that law school admissions officers look at when reviewing your application are numbers-related: your GPA, LSAT score, number of previously held jobs on your resume, etc. Your personal essay is one of the rare chances to show aspects of your background or personality and why you are ready for law school and why they should accept you. Most law schools leave their personal essay question open-ended, so you’re free to take liberties with whatever topic you choose to write about. Most of them will usually ask you to discuss aspect(s) of your background that show you are prepared to take on three rigorous years of law school. Your subject matter could be about a job you had, a class you took, or any academic obstacles you had to overcome; as long as it demonstrates qualities that law schools would be interested in. A few tips to keep in mind as you write your essay: keep it brief (most schools make it clear on their website that they don’t want any essays over two pages), make it clear and concise (admissions officers have to read tons of essays from other applicants as well, so keeping your points direct and your language clear will help you stand out from the pack), and get feedback from good writers (the more eyes that get to look over your essay before it’s ready, the better).
5. Apply early.
One of the most critical and important pieces of advice that will help you get into law school is applying early. I cannot say this enough—most schools in the U.S. have a rolling admissions policy, which means candidates can submit their applications at any point within a large time frame. Most schools begin their rolling admissions in September, and end in the spring. So, in all probability, the longer you wait to apply, the less number of seats the law school has to offer. Many students prefer to take the June LSAT and have their application in by early fall. My advice would be to just simply submit your applications in as early as you can.
6. Relax and breathe.
Once you have taken the test, finished all your applications, and submitted all of your materials, you can now relax and just wait for the results! Applying to law school is a difficult and exhaustive process, but if you give it your all and approach it one day at a time, it will be completed before you know it.
Other Tips To Keep In Mind:
-If it didn’t work out the first time, that doesn’t mean it won’t work out for the second time
Many students who applied to law school the first time around, but didn’t get in, applied the second time and saw successful results. If it doesn’t work out the first time, don’t get discouraged. Take some time to think about how you can do things differently the second time around when you apply, whether that means improving your grades, drafting a completely new essay, or taking the LSAT again. Many people I know have taken the LSAT more than once. Although you should really aim to take it once and do your best, if you are not satisfied with your results but don’t want to cancel your score, it is not extremely frowned upon to take the test again. Getting through the law school admissions process is tough, but if you really want it, you could learn a lot from your first round of applications and see a different outcome the second time.
-Perfect and submit your resume
Most schools give students the option to upload their resume in their application, although they do not require it. I would recommend taking advantage of this opportunity and demonstrate your academic and professional achievements (particularly if any jobs or activities you took part in were law related.)
-Take advantage of any other application options
Some schools nowadays allow you to provide additional information about yourself when applying. Some schools offer students the chance to write supplemental information, in addition to the personal essay, about why they would make good law students. One school that I applied to gave students the option to record a video interview, where four questions were listed on their website and you could record your answers and upload them on their website. Take advantage of any of these opportunities; you never know, one additional piece of information about your academic or professional background could make the biggest difference.