According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), there are 237 law schools in the United States. Annually, lists and rankings are published detailing the top law schools in the country. The rankings are based on factors such as GPA, peer assessments, and average LSAT score. In contrast, students who apply to the top law schools, have the top marks, and because of this, they often get accepted to more than one school. Being completely prepared for the LSAT can be the difference between getting into one of these schools or not. Testing.org can help. We’ve compiled the best LSAT prep courses to help you do your best at test time.
In this guide, we will look at the top law schools in the country, what they each have to offer and also the benefits of getting into a top tier law school and what it means after graduation. This list of law schools is not an annual ranking, but rather an aggregate look at law schools that perennially rank in the top 10.
A Look At The Best Law Schools In The Country
|Average LSAT Score
|University Of California Berkeley
|Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
|University of Michigan
|University of Virginia
|University of Pennsylvania
|New York University Law
|University of Chicago
Honorable mention: Georgetown, UCLA, Cornell, and University of Texas – Austin.
With a gorgeous campus located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Berkeley Law is one of the premier law schools in the country. Even if you’re not within the range of the average LSAT or GPA, it is still worth applying as Berkeley takes a comprehensive view of each applicant. So even though the deck is initially stacked against you, you still might have a chance at being accepted.
The process of getting into Berkeley Law has been likened to “organizing a choir,” noting that each student is different, regardless of what their scores are. With that in mind, heavy emphasis is placed on the personal statement which is twice as long as that of most law schools. This is the students’ opportunity to distinguish themselves from other applicants who have similar test scores and came from similar schools.
In addition to what the personal statement says, the students are also judged on how they say it, with emphasis on sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. And it is the assumption that, as a lawyer, you will be writing complex material, so if a student is already doing that prior to admission they are going to be a safer bet.
But they don’t stop at the personal statement. Students are encouraged to submit other writing samples, or even resumes. And don’t forget the letters of recommendation.
The application process is weighed into thirds:
- ⅓ LSAT score
- ⅓ Academic record
- ⅓ Personal statement
Instead of GPA, which “just seems narrow,” they prefer to call it an academic record as things like jobs, extracurriculars, and course rigor are taken into consideration.
If you’re admitted, you can expect a relaxed atmosphere where you are learning the law rather than stressing over failing out of school or getting a job offer after graduation. Students at Berkeley Law aren’t ranked like they are at other schools; rather, they are given one of three grades:
- High Honors, which the top 10 percent receive
- Honors, which the next 30 percent receive,
- Pass, which the remaining 60 percent receive
Failing grades are rarely given out.
Life in Berkeley has an urban-suburban mix feel, with lots of bars, coffee shops, and parks. The “People’s Republic of Berkeley” is an intoxicating place to live where your spirit can run wild in the progressive city that is a half-hour away from San Francisco. But that’s just the beginning. Northern California is full of activities to keep you occupied with staples like wine country in Napa Valley, skiing in Lake Tahoe, or the Santa Cruz beaches.
Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
Northwestern Law School is known as being professional and innovative. According to current students, most people in the school have accomplished something of note prior to their admission, which makes for lively, engaging discussions in the classroom.
In addition to a required personal statement, there are two optional essays that a student can include if he or she chooses. One is a “Why Northwestern?” essay and the other is a diversity statement. As far as letters of recommendation go, Northwestern prefers letters that come from work-related experience as opposed to academics.
About 80 percent of applicants are interviewed by either an alum locally or an admissions staff member on campus. If the applicant has never been to the campus, or even to Chicago, it is probably a better idea to go in person. However, if the applicant wants answers to specific questions, such as “how did your job search go after you graduated?” then a local interview with an alumnus might be a better option. According to students who have gone through the interview process, the questions they are asked tend to be basic. Like “why do you want to go to law school” and “what leadership experience do you have?”
Heavy emphasis is placed on work experience at Northwestern, perhaps more so than at other law schools. Only about 10 percent of the student body has no work experience prior to starting law school so if you are applying with little or no work experience, more emphasis is placed on your interview. Traits like maturity, career focus, and the ability to work well in groups need to shine through here. But almost as much emphasis is placed on work experience at Pritzker as it is at Kellogg, Northwestern’s business school. What they’re really looking for is skills obtained through work experience (wherever it may have come from), that the candidate may not have otherwise obtained had they not had the work experience.
As far as the submission of your application goes, we can tell you that it doesn’t much matter when you apply – a strong application is a strong application at Northwestern – and much more emphasis should be placed on submitting the best application possible rather than submitting the earliest.
As a small to medium sized law school of about 800 students, Northwestern does a good job holding back on competition. “I don’t know my friends’ grades, and they don’t know mine” is the mindset and, as a result of this, there is a more relaxed atmosphere where students share notes and bounce ideas off one another more frequently. Second and third year law students are even able to schedule their own exams.
Because Northwestern prefers students with about two years of work experience, the mean age at the law school is older than most schools. This is another reason for the more relaxed environment. With the blend of work experience and age, you get a place where students are less likely to be “gunning” for each other in class than you tend to get with a room full of 22-year-olds.
The faculty at Pritzker is extremely accessible. The school has one of the lowest student-faculty ratios of about 8:1, which makes for lots of discussions sparking up after class, open doors and office hours, and superlative back and forth email communication.
There is a business school tilt where students give presentations, work more in groups. In some other law schools this rarely happens, but students say that it is incredibly practical.
It costs about $80,000 a year to attend Northwestern after living expenses are factored in. As with other law schools, life for 1Ls is different than life for 2Ls and 3Ls.
Duke Law School is known for its outstanding faculty and scholarship, a curriculum that integrates professional skills development, and a cross-disciplinary approach to learning and teaching. One of the biggest reasons students choose Duke is its collaborative environment, where growth is encouraged through rigorous academics, cooperation, and support. Not only does Duke draw students from every state in the nation, but from all over the world. And its alumni hold positions in top law firms and companies across the globe.
Because the school is small, students are able to interact closely with faculty, as well as their peers. Duke Law professors are deeply dedicated to teaching, ensuring that they are accessible and responsive to their students. Similarly, students take pride in the fact that faculty members are among the most respected in fields such as environmental law, health law, international law, intellectual property law, start-up law, constitutional and public law. This cohesive student/ faculty relationship extends beyond the walls of classrooms to committee work, research, pro bono opportunities, career counseling, and mentoring.
Duke Law is one of the 10 schools and colleges that comprise Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, a place where students can appreciate a welcoming environment, as well as great weather. It may be best known as the law school that produced US President Richard Nixon (who famously inspired the ethics requirements for law students). Duke Law has consistently been a US News and World Report “T14” law school, that is, one consistently ranked within the top 14. In fact, Duke Law has never been ranked lower than 12th by US News, and never less than 7th by Above the Law. The school is one of few that have experienced an increase in applications, despite an overall national decline over the years.
Like at most private schools, tuition at Duke is sky-high. As of 2019, the Law School Transparency (LST) estimated debt-financed cost of attendance for three years is $329,609. Roughly 93 percent of Duke law graduates become employed within 10 months, but the LST also notes that the school provides surprisingly little information about its graduates’ starting salaries and urges prospective students to call the admissions office at 919-613-7020 to ask about its most recent National Association for Law Placement (NALP) report. The 2020 class bar passage rate was 98 percent, the second-highest in the country behind Harvard Law School.
Admissions at Duke are highly selective, with a typical acceptance of about 20 percent. Applicants are required to submit a resume, a personal statement, and two letters of recommendation, along with the usual LSAC application. There also is the option to submit an extra essay, either a “Why Duke?” statement or a broad diversity statement. Two rounds of binding Early Decision review are offered, with Round I applications due in November and Round II in January.
Duke offers many opportunities for dual degrees and about a quarter of its students participate. But a word of caution here – traditional employers don’t necessarily consider more degrees to be better. In fact, dual degrees could actually hinder the job seeking process rather than help. So be sure to have a specific, well thought out plan before adding more time and money (a lot more!) to the pursuit of your already expensive and time-consuming JD.
First-year Duke Law students focus on core classes, including constitutional law, civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property, torts, and a year-long legal research and writing course. Second and third-year students can choose from a wide range of electives, seminars, and clinical programs. Upperclassmen must complete a substantial writing project, an ethics course, and a professional skills requirement.
Within the Duke Law School curriculum, students are further allowed to pursue a specific field of interest. Strong programs include corporate and commercial law, public policy and public interest law, plus intellectual property law, international and comparative law, and tax law, among others.
Cultural diversity is encouraged on campus, as is gaining international experience. Duke participates in summer institutes hosted in Geneva and Asia, as well as offering exchange programs with several foreign universities. Students pursuing a joint degree in international and comparative law have the option of starting their studies the summer before their first-year matriculation.
In their free time, Duke Law students have some great, and beneficial, extracurricular activities from which to choose, including moot court competitions, student government, volunteer work, and nine academic journals. Students can also take advantage of the numerous lectures, seminars, and series hosted by the law school and Duke University.
Located in the bustling college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Michigan Law is a perennial top 10 law school that attracts bright minds from all over the country and the world. Students have nothing but good things to say about their experience at Michigan and employers often gloat about the friendliness and aptitude of its graduates. Unlike other top law schools, Michigan is not in the proximity of denser urban markets, a testament to how good it is given that its graduates consistently receive jobs in California, New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. And because of its location, the cost of living is drastically lower than at other law schools which can be a determining factor for a lot of aspiring lawyers.
There is perhaps no other law school where you will find as many current students urging their peers to apply than at Michigan Law. “They have to turn people away who want to volunteer to give tours” exclaimed a first year law student.
With a rolling admissions process, students are encouraged to apply as early as possible without detriment to their application. Michigan does offer a binding Early Decision option for students who have deemed Michigan Law as their top choice. While they adhere to the same admission process as other candidates, students who choose the Early Decision option must withdraw applications from other schools if accepted to Michigan Law.
In addition to a personal statement, students have the option to write one or two optional essays and are, of course, encouraged to do so. The “Why Michigan?” essay is the most popular, but others include topics like:
- How your education will affect your future
- Whether or not your marks are a predictor of becoming a successful lawyer
- A time in your life that you overcame failure or setback
- Your take on the skills and values of a good lawyer
- How your perspectives and experiences will enhance your legal profession
- The pros and cons of your educational experience thus far
As far as the LSAT goes, if you take the test more than once, Michigan will look at all your scores, and accept the highest one.
Michigan Law offers scholarships that are primarily based on GPA and LSAT scores and even offers a few rides in the form of the Darrow Scholarships.
Michigan’s total enrollment makes it the fifth largest of the top 20 law schools, but only about 20 percent of its students come from the state of Michigan, which makes it different from most public law schools where more applicants are in-state.
The collegiality associated with Michigan is almost unheard of. To curb competitiveness, class rank isn’t even posted until graduation and GPAs are kept private. Professors, students, and alumni rave about the school and city of Ann Arbor and, as a result, students experience a more laid back culture than at most law schools. Oftentimes, graduates will associate more with Michigan as their alma mater than with the school where they completed their undergraduate degree.
Contrast this with law schools that are located in big cities, for example, where more reasons come up for both professors and students to not be on campus. In Ann Arbor, everyone is around campus which makes for a certain connectedness that you don’t find in the bigger cities. Just what does this mean? It’s pretty easy to forge relationships with the people you’re in school with, relationships that you want to continue beyond law school and extend, in many cases, for the rest of your life. We do offer one caveat regarding the professors, and it’s that they don’t stick around after class as much and aren’t as accessible as they are at other law schools. But according to students, if you make an effort to get to know them more, you certainly can. But you’ve got to be persistent. For example, go ahead and ask a professor to lunch.
Every professor is different; some use powerpoint and some don’t even use email. Some students have said that while the classes tend to be a bit bigger than those at most law schools, the professors will usually learn your name as the semester progresses. About half the professors at Michigan Law don’t allow laptops in classes, which students don’t seem to mind.
One of the coolest is things about Michigan Law is the mini seminars; pass/fail classes where students get together at a professor’s house to discuss law during the evenings. Food is usually served and this is often the professor that you’re going to get to know the most during your time at Michigan.
There is a reason why Michigan constantly ranks as one of the best college towns in the country. The streets are lined with cafés, shops, bars, and theaters. As noted above, the cost of living is reasonable compared to other big city law schools. Most law students live off-campus to save money and distance themselves from other uproarious undergrads. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your way to Detroit, which is a 45-minute drive away.
Did you know that the University of Virginia School of Law (Virginia Law), was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, making it one of the oldest legal institutions in the United States? Students there can enjoy the attractions of Charlottesville and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains while attending school near major east coast legal markets like Atlanta and New York. They also know that Virginia Law has a national reach in placing its graduates with a strong network of alumni in the judicial system and the private sector.
Current students say there is nothing like living in Charlottesville, a city that has been rated one of the best places to live. A low cost of living, compared with that of other cities with top schools, helps make the law school experience less stressful for students; graduates of Virginia Law carry less debt than from any other top school. More important than its chill vibe, however, is the fact that Virginia Law offers an exceptional legal education, outstanding faculty, an intelligent and diverse student body, and superb opportunities for employment upon graduation.
LSAT and GPA medians are competitive at Virginia Law. But it’s more than numbers that influence an application. Ideal students are the ones who demonstrate a commitment to their community and have done well in their studies, activities, and jobs to date, and can provide strong letters of recommendation to help assess the relative difficulty of their undergraduate majors.
The Admissions Committee offers a few recommendations that can help make your college application shine and increase your chances for acceptance:
- Make your undergraduate work exceptional. GPA is something you have the most control over for the longest amount of time.
- Submit only stellar letters of recommendation. A lukewarm letter, or one that conveys a somewhat low degree of positivity, will do no good. Always keep in mind that it’s better to ask someone who knows you well over someone with an impressive-sounding title who doesn’t.
- Apply early. Think about it – you have a better chance if you apply when no offers have been extended instead of when several hundred are out there.
- It’s ok to make your personal statement generic, allowing a broad narrative about why or how law became your chosen path. However, stating a specific reason for wanting to be at Virginia Law can be super persuasive. “Why Virginia?” statements also are accepted, although not required or asked for.
- Communicate why you’d be a great fit. Successful candidates demonstrate an understanding of what makes Virginia Law an outstanding place to learn, as well as what they can contribute. Put this forward on paper, in interviews, and during Law School outreach events.
As you apply, try to anticipate and eliminate possible questions in the reader’s mind. For example, let’s say you have a downward GPA trend. Submit an addendum. Or maybe there were periods when you weren’t in school or working. Submit an addendum. In short, don’t leave room for the Admissions Committee to make negative inferences. Similarly, if you sat for the LSAT more than once, submit an addendum explaining why one score should be weighed more strongly than another. The committee reviews all of an applicant’s LSAT scores, but will often take notice of the highest score if there is an addendum.
The curriculum at Virginia Law includes programs in law and business, law and public service, international law, legal and constitutional history, criminal law, human rights, race and law, environmental and land use law, immigration law, intellectual property, public policy and regulation, health law, law and humanities, and animal law. Programs also are available to help students build skills, like the legal writing program, courses in professional ethics, trial advocacy and public speaking, to name a few.
The options for prospective students are pretty much all-encompassing. But getting in is more restrictive. Virginia Law is one of the most selective law schools in the nation and, as such, one of the toughest to get into. The school aims to enroll around 300 or so first-year law students every fall. That’s out of more than 5000 applicants.
Forty percent of their seats are reserved for residents and the remaining 60 percent for non-residents. Although every effort is made to build an appropriate balance of Virginia residents and out-of-state-residents, this can place non-residents at a slight disadvantage with regard to acceptance.
Regular Decision applications for the JD program are accepted beginning in early September. The school also offers what it calls a Binding Expedited Decision. Those who opt into this must submit a completed application in early March and will receive notification of acceptance within 21 business days.
Each year, thousands of highly qualified students apply for the obviously limited number of seats in the first-year class. The admission process is designed to ensure the selection of students who will best contribute to the Virginia Law community during their three years of residency and, ultimately, to society and the legal profession.
Located on the 250-acre, Ivy League University of Pennsylvania campus, Penn Law’s close-knit campus is state of the art, with four fully interconnected buildings surrounding a lush, green courtyard. Being adjacent to the city center, there is access to some extraordinary amenities, including several gyms, libraries, museums, theaters, and student centers.
It’s said that students at Penn Law truly own their educational experiences, actively contributing to a collaborative and supportive environment where they learn to solve problems while developing vital professional skills. By taking risks in the classroom, they learn to challenge their own thinking. By working with colleagues on and off campus, they learn about management, leadership, and networking. And by investing in the full life of Penn Law, they discover their strengths and sharpen their talents.
So, how good is Penn Law? This school has the best placement into large law firms, if that’s your goal. Career services is uber functional and features one of the best cultures out there. Get a degree from Penn Law and you’re pretty much guaranteed a job!
Highly competitive applicants typically have LSAT scores in the high 160s range and an undergrad GPA in the 3.7+ range. But the Admissions Committee here looks way beyond good test scores and transcripts; they’re in pursuit of accomplished professionals and bright minds.
To apply, the following materials must be submitted via the LSAC, not directly to Penn Law: a completed application form; a personal statement; two letters of recommendation; a resume/cv; transcripts from each degree-granting post-secondary school attended; a personal statement; Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores (or a waiver); plus an application fee. SJD candidates also need to submit a scholarly project proposal and a writing sample. At no more than two pages, the personal statement should not simply repeat the accomplishments listed on your resume. Instead, the committee wants to learn why you are a good candidate for the program and what you have in mind for post-graduate plans.
Any LLM or LLCM applicant who’s looking for early notification needs to submit the required materials by mid-November and will be notified of the committee’s decision by early February.
To be considered for regular notification, materials must be submitted by mid December for a decision by mid-March.
Applications to the SJD program are due in mid-March. However, these applications are accepted beginning in early November.
The Applications Committee at Penn Law considers every part of a candidate’s academic history when making their decision, including the breadth and rigor of your curriculum, grade trends, and any advanced coursework. They also evaluate your writing ability based on the personal statement, optional essays, and letters of recommendation that you submit. Other components the Committee looks at are your work experience, personal background and experiences, service, leadership, how you may have overcome challenges or disadvantages, and any other factors that make you unique. And, of course, they want to be assured that you will positively contribute to the life of the law school and legal community. The Applications Committee doesn’t use matrixes or indexes in their evaluations and has no statistical cut-offs for review. Each file is read from cover to cover in a very holistic approach.
New York University Law
Located in the Greenwich Village section of lower Manhattan, NYU Law is the oldest law school in New York. One of the biggest draws of attending NYU is being able to experience life in New York, a city that is home to the biggest and most prestigious law firms in the world. The school has a track record of solid job placement and is consistently ranked as one of the best law schools in the world. NYU Law is known for its dedication to the public sector, diversity, location, and extremely high cost of living.
As with every top law school, admissions are highly selective at NYU, with over 7,000 applicants competing for 450 seats. If you take the LSAT more than once, they will take the average of your scores, not the highest score like other law schools.
NYU Law has an Early Decision option for students who apply prior to November 15. They also have a waitlist, something that you shouldn’t be discouraged to be on seeing as how they typically admit numerous applicants this way. NYU has even accepted transfer students who were originally rejected, so there’s always some hope if NYU Law is your first choice.
There are several opportunities for scholarships at NYU. This is actually a way that many students choose NYU Law over schools like Yale, Harvard, or Stanford. Receiving a scholarship means you’ve got to write multiple essays but, in the big picture, this is a small price to pay for what can sometimes equate to a full ride.
While it’s strong in many areas, NYU particularly shines in tax law, international law, and public interest law.
For the first year, and part of the second, students are required to complete the required curriculum, after which they can choose elective courses. They can expect larger class sizes of more than 100 students at the beginning, but nearly half of the upper level classes have less than 25 students. The school boasts an impressive 9:1 student to faculty ratio.
After graduation, the job placement for NYU Law grads is terrific. According to our research, about 60 percent of grads stay in the city of New York, with 10 percent going to California, and eight percent to Washington, D.C. The rest scatter (usually on the east coast).
Columbia Law School
Columbia seems to have all the ingredients that make up a top law school: It’s in New York City, it’s in the Ivy League, and it has never been ranked less than fifth on US News & World’s Report annual list of top law schools.
Founded in 1858, Columbia consistently sends more students to the largest 100 law firms than any other school in the country. It also has more members on the Forbes 400 than any other law school. There are distinguished alumni like both Roosevelt Presidents (Teddy and FDR), nine supreme court justices, and countless alumni with esteemed positions in government.
In order to apply to Columbia Law, you need a resume, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and $85 for the application fee. The school accepts your application through LSAC, so there is an additional $25 processing fee here, as well.
According to their website, a typical personal statement is about two pages in length and double spaced.
Columbia prefers academic letters of recommendation, but if you have been out of school long enough, they’ll accept professional letters as long as you make an effort to obtain an academic letter.
The application period opens on September 1 and materials need to be completed no later than February 15. Every application is read by at least two admissions counselors and sometimes interviews are conducted.
Like every top law school, Columbia prides itself on diversity. Because of this, an average of 10 percent of its students are international, a number that is higher than that of most elite law schools.
About two-thirds of law students at Columbia have at least some work experience or graduate studies under their belt.
There are numerous scholarships and fellowships that one can apply to, which is important because the cost of living in addition to tuition reaches over $100k a year, making Columbia the most expensive law school in the country.
One of the nice things about Columbia Law is that you only need to fill out one application to be considered for every scholarship and fellowship offered within the school. There are external scholarships you can apply to, as well, but you’ll need to fill out an application for each of those individually.
The law school is in the Morningside Heights section of the campus which is where the majority of Columbia’s classes are held. According to New York Magazine, Columbia is the second-largest owner of Colibri Real Estate in New York City, after the Catholic Church. As far as social life… it’s New York and the sky’s the limit; take in a Broadway show, go shopping, or visit one of New York’s many breathtaking museums.
University of Chicago Law
The University of Chicago Law School has been called one of the most intellectual law schools in the country with one of the most acclaimed faculties. It’s a true elite. Because the school is situated in south side Hyde Park, near the heart of Chicago, students have ready access to one of the most prominent legal markets, minus the constant big-city bustle.
Surprisingly (or not?), one of the biggest draws to Chicago Law is its institutional culture. Faculty and students alike operate under the expectation that everyone is there to think, argue, learn, and take ideas seriously. The learning community is close-knit with relatively small class sizes. And it’s pretty intense. After all, it is a law school. According to one 3L, “People who go there like it overall and if you’re actually interested in what you learn, you’ll love it.” Even if the less-than glitzy southside location and student life at Chicago Law are not as glamorous as at other schools, the professional opportunities it offers after graduation are worth it.
Students are strongly urged to use good judgment when completing application materials. This means answering all the questions and providing all the information that’s requested, not information that isn’t requested. Regarding personal statements, the Admissions Committee tends to look for insights that indicate what type of non-academic contribution you will make to the class. For example, a statement with a narrow focus, say on one of your personal attributes or experiences, will be a lot more beneficial than a broad statement about the law or a restatement of something on your resume. Although it’s been said that Chicago Law puts a stronger-than-average emphasis on the strength of an applicant’s undergrad institution, no one seems to actually verify or deny this.
Chicago Law doesn’t require optional essays or materials other than your resume. But a “Why Chicago?” essay or something like that can be an asset. You could also say the committee is a fan of addendums, so if there’s something you want them to know that isn’t in your application, an addendum is a good way to go. And like most law schools, Chicago Law will report your highest LSAT score, but look at all of them. If there are big discrepancies, this is another great time to incorporate an addendum.
A rolling application process means applications are reviewed when they are received, so the earlier you can submit yours the better. Applications are accepted beginning in September with the deadline in February. For the best chance of acceptance, don’t wait til then. There’s also a binding Early Decision program where materials are due by the beginning of December with a decision provided by the end of the month. This is the strongest route for students who are set on attending Chicago Law.
Chicago Law offers a JD program, as well as LLM, MLS, and JDS programs for those interested in advanced legal degrees. Admission is highly competitive. For JD candidates, the median LSAT score is around 170; GPA median is about 390. This GPA places Chicago Law second in the nation behind Yale Law School.
When it comes to grades, the school uses a system that ranks students on a scale of 155-186, with the median set at 170 for classes with more than 10 students. Typically, the number of grades higher than 180 is comparable to the number below 173.
The price tag to study at Chicago Law is hefty, as you can imagine. But once admitted, students are automatically considered for merit-based scholarships. Keep in mind, though, that if you want your financial need to be considered, you have to fill out a Need Access candidate and parent questionnaire.
While Chicago Law has a reputation for its students being ultra studious and serious – many do practically nothing but study, a big step up from the level of seriousness in undergrad – most still make time for a little fun. Students say it’s common to go out in some capacity a few times a week, even if it’s just for a bite to eat with friends, or to weekly wine or coffee gatherings that often include faculty. Yes, the atmosphere is intellectually intense. But it’s not cutthroat. Students at Chicago Law seem like they genuinely want to be in law school and have careers in law, and are not there just because they did well on the LSAT.
Harvard Law School
Founded in 1817, Harvard Law school is the oldest continuously operating law school in the United States. In contrast with its peers, the class sizes at Harvard Law are relatively large, and there is a reason for this. According to our research, Harvard is meant to have a “big city” feel where you can meet and interact with others who have different backgrounds. This then prepares you for every imaginable career and, in some cases, unimaginable ones, as well.
The knock on Harvard Law is that because of its large size, it has a certain factory feel; churning out one class of students and then moving on to the next.
So which of these assertions is correct? As it turns out, neither…
When looking at Harvard from a bird’s eye view, one might assume that admission is based solely on one’s GPA and LSAT scores. But this is far from true.
Starting with the class of 2015, Harvard began conducting Skype interviews with its applicants. By doing this, a feeling of community gets established, in many cases before a student even visits Cambridge to take a tour of the campus. This also deducts from the assertion that Harvard Law is a cold factory that is based solely on the numbers.
Harvard admits on a rolling basis so the earlier you apply, the better chance you will have for admittance. But you need to make sure that your application is polished before you submit it. Harvard’s pretty consistent with other law schools in that they require a personal statement and two to three letters of recommendation.
Harvard states that over 75 percent of its applicants are at least one year out of college. What you do with that year is very important as your experiences can, and most likely will be projected into the classroom. If you do choose to take a gap year, or even two, ask yourself:
- What can I do now that I won’t be able to do after law school?
- What will impact how I view law?
- What path did my legal heroes take?
Going further back, your undergraduate coursework should reflect a broad college education that shows thorough learning in your field of choice.
We discovered that on an annual basis, over 170 undergraduate institutions are represented at Harvard Law. So in addition to experiences outside of school, the girth of experience coming from school makes for a wide variety both inside and outside the classroom.
A common theme of all the top law schools is a relaxed, gunner free atmosphere, and Harvard is no different. According to one former student, “If you make a mistake, people won’t look down on you,” adding that “because of the large class size, you get a lot of diversity, which is nice.”
Another knock on Harvard Law is that there are no merit scholarships offered. One might think that because of this, you would find a lot of snobs here, but this simply isn’t the case.
While the student-faculty ratio at HLS is the highest among the “top six” schools, it’s still better than many of the top 14 law schools, which is pretty impressive given its size. There are also programs in place to help make the school feel even smaller. For example, most first year students sign up for 1L Reading Groups, which consist of five to fifteen students and a faculty member, and are usually held over a meal or at the professor’s house. In addition to being a great intellectual opportunity, this also adds to the collegiality of the school.
Harvard Law has made public service an integral part of its mission and, as a result, requires 40 hours of pro bono work prior to graduation.
In the beginning, as a 1L, you are going to be spending the majority of your time with your assigned section. To help get the ball rolling, each section is given $12,000 to host parties and social gatherings which are perfect for building camaraderie that, most likely, will carry beyond graduation. Although typically insulated by section, some of the gatherings are public – like the 1L Cup that pits sections against one another in a fun-filled cookie-eating, balloon-popping, and pretzel-passing contest.
There are seven first-year sections with about 550 students, and each first-year section contains a large, but doable, eighty students. You will study, eat, and play with the other students in your section. During first-year classes – Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, Legislation and Regulation, Property, and Torts – you and your fellow students will really get to know each other and form a bond similar to that of a fraternity or sorority, both socially and academically.
Stanford Law School is one of the most prestigious and elite law schools in the United States, consistently placing in the top three in the US News and World Report annual ranking of law schools.
Founded in 1893, it is located in Palo Alto, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley and just 45 minutes away from San Francisco. The campus is sprawling with plenty of great places to study, network, run or bike, eat, and, yes, caffeinate.
Stanford Law is one of the smaller top-tier law schools and, as such, offers small class sizes and a fairly low student to faculty ratio. In fact, one of the smallest in the country at 7:1. Student-centered and future-facing, its students, faculty, staff, and alumni all support each other to explore and contribute to the world through law.
As with all other schools, the first step to admission at Stanford Law School is submitting a thoroughly completed application. And, as with all other schools, that application consists of several required components.
To begin, the school will need transcripts from every college or university you have attended, including any academic credit you received as a full-time student studying abroad. You’ll also have to submit a resume, one to two pages long, describing your academic, extracurricular, and professional activities. Next, you need to include a personal statement, also about two pages, containing important or unusual information about yourself that doesn’t show up anywhere else in your application. Also required are at least two, and not more than four, letters of recommendation. Keep in mind that Stanford Law places a high value on school-specific letters so don’t just offer up copies of the same ones you send to every other school. Target these to Stanford and only Stanford. The letters should come from instructors who have personal knowledge of your work, preferably through a small class, lecture or a tutorial program. If you’ve been out of school for a while and are unable to rely on instructors, it’s ok to submit letters from an employer or business associate.
And finally, the school requires that you submit a writing sample and, of course, your LSAT scores.
There are a couple of optional pieces you may want to include when applying at Stanford Law. One is a diversity essay. Although admission is based primarily on superior academic achievement and potential to contribute to the legal profession, the Admissions Committee does consider the diversity of an entering class to be important to the school’s educational mission. So if you feel there are factors in your life that would complement the diversity of your class and its law school experience, go ahead and describe them and their relevance in this essay. Some factors might be your background, life and work experiences, advanced studies, extracurricular or community activities, culture, socio-economic status, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression.
You might also want to think about submitting an optional short essay or two. If you opt to do this, the school provides four essay questions and invites you to provide up to two responses of 100 to 250 words each.
Stanford Law is considered to be highly competitive and accepts only about 12 percent of its applicants. To give you an idea, out of nearly 4,000 applicants, only about 400 or so are admitted. These students have a median LSAT score of 171 and GPA of 3.89. Because 1L sections are on the smaller side, students generally receive more individualized attention from faculty. And, interestingly, they are not graded on a traditional system. Instead, students receive either honors, pass, restricted credit, or no credit in each class.
At Stanford Law, students can participate in the JD program, explore how law intersects with other fields through joint degree and cooperative programs with other institutions, and earn Masters and JSD degrees.
Comparatively speaking, the cost to attend is significantly higher than the average cost for law school; tuition is over $56,000 for both in-state and out-of-state students. Plus another $30,000 to $31,000 for living expenses. But we have good news for you. With a commitment to the public interest, Stanford Law touts the most generous loan repayment assistance program of any law school in the country, the most generous financial aid, and the lowest average debt burden of graduates from similar law programs. And, ultimately, a degree from Stanford Law pays off, with grads experiencing a 96 percent employment rate.
Yale Law School
As long as US News and World Report has been ranking law schools, Yale Law has held the number one position every year. Currently, with a student-faculty ratio of 4.3:1, which is the lowest of any of the top law schools, Yale Law continues to remain the preeminent center of legal studies in the world. If you were to assume YLS is the most selective of any law school you’d be correct. There are an average of 3,000 applications a year, of which 250 admits are selected to fill approximately 200 seats in each upcoming class. This equates to a six to seven percent acceptance rate. Yale also has the highest yield rate of any law school in the country of about 85 percent.
There is a stereotype that surrounds Yale Law School That is, it has an academic bent which bleeds through in the admissions process. So what does this mean? How do you differentiate yourself on a Yale Law application?
For starters, you can show that you have serious academic interests and intellectual pursuits with academic publications, have done research assistant work with professors in legal or related fields, and have a strong GPA. This, incidentally, is said to carry more weight than the LSAT like at comparable law schools.
It is also worth noting that Yale Law does have a preference for older applicants, with the median age being 27. The school obviously values years of work and life experience.
Yale Law admissions are different from any other law school because the professors are involved in the selection process. Here’s how it works: the Dean of Admissions first reviews the entire pool of applicants, 50-80 of which are deemed to be “presumptive admits” and move on to the next round which is a final review by the Faculty Admissions Committee chair. The rest are divided into two groups: rejections and faculty review.
The faculty reviewed candidates are randomly chosen and scored on a scale from two to four. There are three readers for each assessment and each is blind to the scores assigned by his or her peers. Each of the first two faculty readers receives about 50 applications and assigns four to the top quarter, three to the second quarter, and two to the bottom half. A cumulative score of 12 is guaranteed admission, and most who score 11 are admitted, as well.
Because of this unique admissions process, applicants are usually “under review” longer than at other law schools.
The required 250-word essay is notoriously difficult to write; it can be a challenge to put something meaningful in that small amount of space. Our research indicates that those who get accepted overwhelmingly write about an intellectual hobby or passion. Learning a new language, playing chess, debate or public speaking are all examples of this. The unsuccessful applications are a bit more pragmatic. This is because a lot of the admissions decisions are made by professors so you basically have to play to that audience, whereas at other schools you are being evaluated by professional admissions officers.
As a 1L, you are assigned to a small group of about 16 students and you take all your classes with them. There is no traditional grading system. Instead, first-year students are on a simple Credit/No Credit system. From there, Yale has an Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail system in place. Most students who graduate reportedly received a healthy mix of Hs and Ps on their transcripts. This type of grading results in a far less stressful environment than what’s found at other top law schools where students are jockeying for position in class rank.
Yale wholeheartedly encourages students to forge their own path within the law school and not worry about being the best because each individual is supported in pursuit of their own endeavors.
The lifestyle in New Haven is simple and relatively affordable in comparison with that at most other top-tier law schools. Thanks to the small class sizes, you will become extremely tight knit with those in the law school and know “pretty much everyone” by the end of the first year. There are regular parties, get togethers, and happy hours which circulate around the student body rather quickly.
The Sterling Law building, which takes up a block of the Yale campus underwent a $110 million renovation in 2016. Besides state-of-the-art classrooms and a law library, the building (pictured above) is highlighted by wood carvings, stained glass, and a beautiful courtyard.
What Does It All Mean?
Indeed, this is the reason why so many students stress over taking the LSAT. Your score is directly correlated with what law school you can get into, and the law school you can get into is directly correlated with your salary after you graduate.
According to U.S. News & World Report, “only about 15% of ranked schools had median private sector salaries that exceeded $150,000 among 2018 grads.” Furthermore, the average law school debt is $145,500 according to nerdwallet. However, the cost of the very top law schools, including cost of living is much higher – in the $250,000-$300,000 range.
Whether you’re just getting ready to take the LSAT, or have been fortunate enough to get accepted to one (or many) of these schools, we hope this guide will serve as an unbiased guide to making a decision that best caters towards your academic and professional goals.
Bryce Welker is an active speaker, blogger, and regular contributor to Forbes, Inc.com, and Business.com where he shares his knowledge to help others boost their careers. Bryce is the founder of more than 20 test prep websites that help students and professionals pass their certification exams.