Five Questions to Ask Yourself When Applying to Law School

This was originally published as an expert guest post on TippingtheScales.

Since elementary school, people have told you that you would make a good lawyer. Or maybe you are in your senior year in college and, for the first time, are considering a career in law. If either of these scenarios sound familiar, now is the time for some critical self-reflection.

While applying to law school can be stressful, it is important to remember the reasons why you decided to apply in the first place. Remaining focused on your goals can help you demystify the experience. To that end, ask yourself the following five questions and consider writing down your answers as an exercise to help to shape your personal statement.

1. Do I really want to be a lawyer?

This is a threshold question when applying to law school.

A personal statement that doesn’t evidence a clear intention to become a practicing attorney will not be well-received by Admission Committees (AdComms).
Try to talk to some lawyers in your life who are at different stages of their careers and who practice in different sectors (law firms, government, in-house, public interest). Ask them what they love about the law and what they find challenging. Your university Career Services office can often connect you with alums who have become lawyers. You can also reach out to the local Bar Association in your area.
Your personal statement should evidence a clear and specific desire to work as a lawyer, even if you are pursuing a joint degree or have other academic and professional interests outside the law.

2. Why does the world need a lawyer like me?

Make sure your personal statement isn’t over-focused on what a career in the law can do for you, without articulating why the legal profession would benefit from your work. For example,

  • You may speak a foreign language and want to provide legal services to under-represented people who also speak that language.
  • Perhaps you trained as an engineer or a scientist and you think the profession could benefit from having more lawyers with a quantitative, data driven approach to the law.
  • Highlight whatever is unique and special about your skills and upbringing that you would bring to the table as a lawyer. Having a nuanced understanding of the profession and what you might contribute to it in a unique way will help distinguish you from other applicants.
3. Where do I want to live and practice law?

Considering whether you have a geographic preference for law school and your life after graduation can help you narrow down your choice of schools. If you:

  • are uncertain where you want to live or are focused on working in major markets, then attending the highest ranked school that admits you will generally offer you a range of post-graduate practice options.
  • want to be on the East Coast, then Harvard, Yale, NYU and Columbia might be your top reaches.
  • are a Midwesterner at heart, maybe set your sights on University of Chicago or Northwestern.
  • plan to practice on the West Coast, then Stanford or Berkeley might be your top reach schools.
  • are from a less populous state and you are interested in local politics, it might make sense to stay close to home and apply for a merit scholarship, rather than venturing further afield.
  • know you want to practice in New York City, and a top-tier program is a reach, then consider schools with strong regional reputations, like Fordham, Cardozo and Brooklyn Law School, instead of a similarly ranked program in another state.
4. Where do I have a realistic chance of getting in?

This question weighs most heavily on students’ minds. I generally advise students to aim for an LSAT score and a GPA in the top 25 percent of students who were admitted in the prior year.

  • Students with grades and scores in this range have a solid chance of acceptance and even getting merit-based aid, as long as their essays are as strong as their academic record.
  • Applicants whose GPAs and LSAT scores put them in the median 50 percent range of their top choices will heavily depend on letters of recommendation and essays to stand out from other applicants.
  • Students with an LSAT score and grades that are split or with scores in the bottom 25 percent should still apply to “reach” schools. But, these applicants should realistically identify schools with stronger admission prospects, while still working on a “moon shot” personal statement and written addenda. This will help the AdComms see you as an exceptional candidate who is more than just the sum of your numbers.
5. How am I going to pay for this?

The good news is that financial aid programs can often be very generous for students from low-income families or those who have been financially independent from their parents for some time.

  • Pay attention to deadlines. FAFSA and other scholarship deadlines tend to be quite early in the application cycle.
    Many schools offer merit based scholarships for students with high GPAs and LSAT scores. Others offer scholarship programs for students who want to pursue careers in public interest, like the Root-Tilden Public Interest Scholarships at NYU.
    If merit scholarships and income-based grants are not available to you, educate yourself about private and public loan options and the various repayment programs available under them. Many schools now have debt forgiveness and low-income protection programs for students who choose jobs in the public sector after graduation.
    Once you have strong answers to these questions, not only will you feel more confident in your choice to apply to law school, but the answers will help inform your applications.

Most importantly, your responses will enable you to put your best application package together and convey a clear sense of why law schools should admit you.

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