LSAT, GPA, and “Soft Factors”: What Do Law Schools Truly Care About

A key question for pre-law students is: what do law schools really care about?  Is it your LSAT score?  Your grades? Personal Statement?  Letters of recommendation? Extracurricular activities?  

The short answer is that they care about all of these things, but they care a lot more about some things than others. Here’s a brief discussion about the key factors affecting law school admission decisions.  As a preliminary matter, it should be noted that there are two things that law schools tend to care about by far the most:  your LSAT score, and your cumulative undergraduate grade point average (gpa). Those two numbers also will heavily impact your opportunity for merit-based scholarships. Everything else tends to be secondary, and referred to as your “soft factors.”  Here is a brief discussion about the key factors law schools consider:

  1. The LSAT:  Most law schools prioritize your LSAT score above every other factor, including your grades.  The reason is simple.  Grades can differ from student to student for lots of reasons, including the University you attend, the major you choose, and the non-major courses you select.  In contrast, the LSAT is graded on a strict curve-like basis (known as “equating”), so it represents a true “apples to apples” comparison amongst students.  Also, the test is specifically designed to test the “legal reasoning skills” used in law school and the practice of law. Law schools definitely will look at ALL your LSAT scores, but they are likely to focus on your highest LSAT score, so don’t panic if you had a bad day.
  2. Cumulative undergraduate gpa:  The other key factor law schools consider is your undergraduate grade point average.  That gpa includes ALL undergraduate courses taken, including your community college courses.  The gpa you got in non-undergraduate courses (e.g, in a Masters program or extension courses) will NOT count as part of your cumulative undergraduate gpa. Also, the gpa you got in your “major” is not especially relevant – it is that cumulative gpa number they care about.  Also, if you got an A+ in any course, you may be in for a pleasant surprise: it will be counted as a 4.3 in your LSDAS gpa, even if it isn’t counted that way at your school.
  3. “Soft Factors” – basically, this is everything else other than your LSAT score and your undergraduate gpa.  The idea is that your “soft factors” tell an important part of who you are that is not reflected in your “hard numbers.”  The “soft factors” are not likely to get you into a law school if your LSAT score and gpa combination make you unqualified or give a very remote chance to get into that law school.  However, if those “hard numbers” make you potentially viable for that law school, your soft factors will become very important.  Here are the key ones law schools tend to look at:
    • Your personal statement – take this seriously, write it well, and get some expert guidance on how to write an effective one…your personal statement matters!
    • Your letters of recommendation – these matter too, and you should have an understanding of who the best types of people are to write your LOR’s and the types of things that tend to be helpful.
    • Your responses to the law school application questions, including any “addendums” you may write – an addendum may address diversity issues, unusual challenges you have faced in your life, an explanation of a “red flag” (e.g., a low LSAT score or gpa) in your application, and other matters.
    • Extracurricular activities – these can (and typically do) vary dramatically from student to student, but they may be relevant depending upon what they are.
    • The LSAT’s Writing Sample – the sixth and final section of the LSAT is the ungraded Writing Sample, and tests a student’s ability to write a persuasive argument similar to a mini-law school final (except that you don’t need to know anything about the law!).
    • In-person of Skype interview – some law schools will request that you participate in an interview, generally if you are being seriously considered.  Many law schools don’t do that, but some do.  If you get asked to participate in such an interview, take it seriously…just like you would do for a job interview!

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at mark@scoreitup.com. Good luck!

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