The law school application process includes several key components:
Although some law schools will allow applications to be submitted directly through the law school’s website or via a paper copy of the application, many law schools now require applicants to apply through the LSAC website. You will need to set up an account on the LSAC site. After setting up your account, you will be able to complete applications for law schools electronically through the site. You will be asked to fill out a common information form, containing data that all law schools need. After that, you may fill out applications for specific law schools of interest. You may work on your applications over a period of many days/weeks, saving your work as you go. Once your application for a particular school is complete, you may submit it electronically to the law school. Before submitting it, however, you will want to attach electronic copies of your personal statement/admissions essay for that particular school, and perhaps a resume or any other application materials that the school may have requested. (See more detailed information for personal statement and resume below.)
Make sure you read the directions on each application. If a law school states that they do not want a resume attached with your application, then do not provide one even if you think it will be more impressive. If you do have additional information you wish to include in your application (such as an explanation for why you withdrew from a year of school), do so very briefly in an addendum to your personal statement.
Most law schools have a rolling admission policy meaning that as soon as your application file is complete, it can be sent to the committee to be evaluated. In other words, the sooner you send in your applications, the sooner you may be able to find out if you have been accepted. Most law schools will begin accepting applications for fall admission on or around October 1st and continue accepting them until February or March (please read each application carefully to find out the application deadline for each school because they do vary).
By sending in your application early in October, you may be compared with a fewer number of students (since not all students will have their applications in that quickly) and so your chances for acceptance may improve. You may find out you have been accepted before you go home for your semester break. You may also find out that you were not accepted to several of your top choice schools. Depending upon how early you find out, you may still have time to send out one or two more applications for safety schools you had been considering. However, if your application places you in the middle range of candidates, you may still have to wait until all applications are in before yours will be evaluated again.
Note: While most law schools admit students in the fall semester only, there are a few schools that do offer spring or even summer admission. If you are trying for admission to law school in the spring, your deadlines will be different so make sure you know the spring application deadline for each of the schools to which you are applying.
Credential Assembly Service (CAS) file
The Credential Assembly Service is the clearinghouse for your college/university transcripts, biographical information and LSAT score(s). The CAS is used by law schools in evaluating the undergraduate performance of each law school applicant. Through a conversion formula, CAS provides a more accurate way to measure applicants who have gone to different undergraduate institutions with different grading policies.
The CAS file may be set up through the LSAC website. After setting up the file, you should have letters of recommendation, evaluations, and official transcripts from every undergraduate, graduate, and professional school you have attended sent to your CAS file. Your LSAT score will also become part of your file automatically after you take it. CAS will summarize your information and reconfigure your GPA to their standard scale.
Once a law school receives your application, they contact CAS and request your file, containing all of the information you have sent to CAS. Assuming your CAS file (transcripts, letters of recommendation, evaluations and LSAT score) and your application (electronic application, personal statement, and resume, if applicable) are complete, your file can be sent forward to the admission committee for review.
You must send official transcripts directly from every undergraduate, graduate, and professional school you have attended to your CAS file. For example, even if courses that you took at another institution (e.g, dual enrollment at a community college) are shown on your UF transcript, you still need to have an official transcript sent directly from the community college to your CAS file. Transcripts must be sent for any college/university courses that you have taken: undergraduate, graduate, or professional school. Note, however, that even though undergraduate and graduate (if applicable) transcripts must be sent, only an applicant’s undergraduate grades will be used in the calculation of the GPA that will be printed in your CAS file.
Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
The LSAT is a half-day standardized test which must be taken for admission to most law schools, including all American Bar Association-approved law schools and most law schools in Canada. In addition to the undergraduate grade point average, it is the most important factor used in determining admission into law school. The test measures logical analysis and analytical reasoning skills considered important for the study of law. Basically, the LSAT measures your aptitude for success in law school based on how you perform on the LSAT exam. The LSAT is composed of five 35 minute multiple-choice sections. One section is experimental and not counted for scoring purposes. There is also a writing sample which is not scored; however, copies of this sample are sent to each of the law schools to which you apply. The test sections are divided into reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning and logic games. The test scores range from a 120 to a 180. See the LSAC website for complete details regarding the LSAT.
As mentioned above, preparation for the LSAT is essential. The LSAC sells many excellent LSAT preparation materials, including study guides and copies of all released LSAT examinations with complete explanations. You may wish to invest in these resources before you decide to try a commercial preparation course. If you find that you are not reaching your true scoring potential by studying on your own, you may want to consider professional preparation courses such as Test Masters, Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc. Commercial preparation courses may cost anywhere between $500-$1800, with even more intensive (but costly) options for one-on-one tutoring; however, financial aid may be available on a case-by-case basis by each course.
Personal Statement/Admissions Essay
For most students, the personal statement seems to be the most dreaded part of the entire application process. You have probably heard this statement over and over, “Your personal statement is your interview on paper.” While that is true, how does that help you to write it? Well, if you actually stop to consider this statement it really does help you. Remember that the admissions committees are going to be getting many sheets of paper from you including the actual application, letters of recommendation, and your official transcripts. On paper, you may look very similar to many of the students applying in terms of GPA, LSAT score, honors, awards and activities. Your personal statement is your best chance to let these admissions committees know that you are an individual with a variety of ideas and experiences to offer to the class. Think of all the information included in the rest of your application and put it in your mental vault. What’s left that the committee would not know about if you did not tell them? That is what you need to talk about.
The committee has read what organizations you were involved in on campus from your application so do not laundry list them again in your personal statement. What is more important is what these organizations taught you about yourself. This is often easier said than done but the personal statement was not added on to each application as an afterthought. It is a challenge for students to express why their life experiences have readied them for the rigors of law school. What makes it even more of a challenge is that students tend to dislike writing about themselves because they feel they are bragging. However, if you have done something worthwhile, let the committee know.
Most importantly, take the personal statement seriously. At the point in which you are ready to write it, it is usually the last thing you have control over since your grades are already calculated, your LSAT has been taken and your letters of recommendation are written by someone else. Based on feedback from admissions officers at many different law schools, it is clear that a member of the admission committee reads every word of each application. Whether or not that member feels your application is worthy of going forward may be based on a well-written and interesting personal statement to set you apart from a stack of applications with the same LSAT and GPA.
As far as the actual writing goes, do not expect to sit down one evening and have the perfect personal statement written in two hours. You may work on your statement for many hours over the course of several weeks. It helps some students to keep a notepad with them for several days or so and when they think of things to include in the statement they write them down. When the time comes to write the actual statement, they already have most of the body written. It may also help to write a rough draft and put it down for a couple of days. When you pick it up you may see additional things you want to add or think of a different way of saying something. It is a good idea to have several different people read your personal statement. You might find out that what was a clear thought to you is very confusing to someone else. You may even want to ask the professors who are writing your letters of recommendation if they would assist you by critiquing your personal statement.
There are several books available which discuss writing the personal statement such as “Essays that Will Get You Into Law School,” by Kaufman, Dowhan, & Burnham. These books offer examples of personal statements. Use caution when reading them. It seems all of the examples were written by students who discovered the cure for cancer during an independent study lab, or worked for three years in the Peace Corps. Sometimes these examples can make students feel inadequate. While there are some people applying to law school with absolutely awe-inspiring life experiences, the majority of applicants have not had that level of life experience. It is common for students to come in for pre-law advising and express anxiety about getting into law school because they feel that they are, “just average and have lived an average life.” Well, there are many students with average grades and LSAT scores but each life is unique. Whether or not you are able to showcase on your unique experiences for the admission committees is up to you.
Letters of Recommendation (LOR)
Letters of recommendation (LOR) are objective accounts of your academic/employment skills. Depending upon law schools to which you apply, to you may need anywhere from one to three letters of evaluation. Make sure you read each law school catalog carefully to determine how many letters the school wants. Whenever possible, the majority of your letters should be academic in nature and should come from professors who are familiar with your academic work. Although your letters do not need to come from professors in your major department, those are typically your smaller courses and so there is more chance for interaction with your professors.
When you ask a professor or employer for an LOR, make an appointment to see them if possible so you can get uninterrupted time with them. You should bring with you a resume and cover letter (mini-personal statement) in order to give your professors a well-rounded picture of you and what you hope to accomplish with a law degree. It is also helpful to include any anecdotes from class which may jar the professor’s memory as to who you are and what your participation level was like in class. Finally, it may be helpful for your professors if you include any written assignments or exams from that class, especially with written comments from the professor so that they can see, in their own words, what they thought of your class performance.
When deciding who to ask for LORs, the most important quality you can look for is that this particular person can write the best evaluation of your classroom performance. Whenever admissions officers speak about letters of recommendation, they are very clear about this point. They can tell the difference between a professor who simply knows that this student got an “A” and the professor who really knows the academic capabilities of a particular student. Remember that your best letter might not come from a professor who gave you an “A” but a professor who gave you a “B” if he/she can truly speak to your aptitude for a legal curriculum. In fact, some students have had professors for several different courses and although they may have only gotten a “B” in the first class, by the second or third, that student had earned an “A.” Now that would be a letter to have! Bottom line: No matter how impressive the title of the person writing the letter, if it is clear to the admissions committee that this individual merely signed off on a letter written by an aide, the letter will not hold much weight with the committee. Letters that compare you to your academic peers are generally most helpful.
Once you have identified the individuals who will write positive LORs for you, you will need to enter their names in your CAS account. After that, you will be able to download and print out a tailored recommendation letter cover sheet for each of your letter writers. You should give the respective cover sheet to each writer, and he/she must include that cover sheet with your letter when he/she mails it in to the LSAC to be posted to your CAS file. The letters need to be sent to the LSAC directly from the letter writer and cannot be submitted by the applicant.
In your CAS file, you will need to stipulate which letters should be sent to which law schools. For example, if you arrange to have three LORs submitted on your behalf, and you apply to a particular school that accepts a maximum of two letters, you will need to decide which two of the three LORs should be sent to that school.
Most law schools will invite applicants to submit a resume along with their applications. This can be attached electronically to your applications when you submit them online through the LSAC website. The Career Resource Center in the Reitz Union is an excellent resource if you would like some assistance with creating a resume. They also provide resume critiquing services to provide feedback on a draft of your resume. While most law schools do not care if your resume is one or two pages, it is critical to read the instructions for each particular law school.
Dean’s Certification Letter
You may be asked to have a Dean’s Certification form or letter of good standing sent in with your application. These types of forms are completed jointly by the Registrar’s Office and the Dean of Student’s Office. Complete instructions are available on the Dean of Students website. On this form, they will list any violations of the Student Code of Conduct including academic dishonesty violations. Often times, the certification forms from the law schools ask for your class rank. The University of Florida no longer ranks students, so mark “N/A” or “Not calculated at UF” for this question. As with your other application materials, you want to make sure this form is filled out and sent as early as possible.
The cornerstone of the legal profession is truth. It starts with the application process. There is no excuse for falsifying any information on your law school application and if a law school uncovers any attempt to do so the consequences can be severe including the rescinding of an acceptance or of your law degree if you have already graduated. It is better to over-disclose than under-disclose. This goes for anything from an alcohol violation as a freshman to any misdemeanor or felony offense. Just because it occurred when you were a freshman does not mean it should not be disclosed. Many violations are not something that would prevent a student from being admitted to a law school; however, failure to disclose such violations would be. Therefore, when in doubt, disclose.
Once your applications are in and your file is complete they can go to committee and you can be considered for admission. All of your hard work is done and now comes the nerve-racking part—the waiting and waiting and waiting. For some students the wait may not be that long. If your application is very competitive, you may find out you have been accepted to a law school before the Thanksgiving break depending upon how early your application was sent in. On the other hand, if you are not competitive for certain schools, you may find out you have not been accepted fairly quickly. The positive spin to this is that you may still have time to apply to another school you were holding back on. Most students, however, will be placed in that middle category where the law schools want to get a look at every eligible application before they make their final determination about the make-up of the class.
You may find out from one or several law schools that you have been placed on a waiting list if your application is not as competitive as those who are currently being admitted. You may find out about being placed on a waiting list as early as April or as late as July. At this point you have some tough decisions to make. Are you going to accept an invitation from a school that has already accepted you or are you going to “hold out” for the school(s) where you were put on a wait list? One thing you should seriously consider doing is contacting the law school(s) which put you on a wait list. Most law schools rank order their wait list and it might be possible for you to find out where you are on that list. You may also want to ask how far down on the wait list the school usually gets so you can gauge what type of chance you have at eventual acceptance. You may also want to ask when the law school(s) will make their final determinations about the wait list. Please note that each law school may have their own policy about telling students their rank on the wait list. If a school will not tell you such specific information, they may be willing to let you know how many students have been placed on the wait list entirely.
Once you have been accepted to a law school, you may be required to submit a seat deposit to reserve your space in the class which will be credited to your first year tuition. Seat deposits are one way a law school can anticipate who will become a part of the first year class. By submitting your seat deposit, you are essentially accepting a law school’s offer of admission. Most law schools request seat deposits to be made on April 1st. By allowing students to wait until April 1st, students will hopefully have found out decisions from all of the schools to which they applied. Additionally, they may have a better idea of the financial aid package being offered by each school so that they can make a better informed decision about where to go. If you decide not to attend a particular school after you have submitted your seat deposit, that money may be forfeited to the school depending upon their policy. Before submitting your seat deposit, make sure you know if it is refundable, how much is refundable and if there is a deadline date for a refund of your deposit.
Some students may have been accepted to one or more schools but have not yet made their final decision about where they wish to attend. Sometimes students are tempted to pay seat deposits to several of their schools to save a seat for themselves until they can make their final decision. Out of courtesy, please remember that by saving a seat for yourself you take away a seat from someone who may not have been accepted anywhere else. To avoid this problem, please do not accept admission offers from multiple schools. It’s a good idea to rank order your law school choices while you are waiting on your acceptance letters so that you know your top choices when you acceptance letters arrive.