Do You Want to Go to Law School Next Year?
People are applying to law school in record numbers. Applications
to law school were up 10 to 30 percent across the nation in 2001,
with an average increase of nearly 20 percent. In 2002, they were
even higher: the number of LSAT test takers on the June 2002
examination was up by another 18 percent, and more people took the
October 2002 LSAT test than there were available seats in all of the
nation’s law schools combined! Some law schools saw a 100% increase
in applications in the 2002-03 academic year. Initially, 2004-05
proved to be just as bad, with a record number of people taking the
June LSAT exam. However, by the late spring there were some signs
that the applicant pool was relaxing: law schools began admitting
students off of their wait lists, which had been unheard of in the
previous 2-3 years. Still, the demand to attend law school remains
very high. Thus, if you are graduating this year and would like to
attend law school next year, or if you are already out of school and
thinking about attending law school in a year or two, YOU NEED TO
CAREFULLY CONSIDER WHETHER TO WAIT.
Why are applications up so much?
The primary reason is that the economy has
been relatively stagnant, unemployment is higher, and in the wake of
September 11th many industries have been hard hit. The technology
sector of the economy is currently weak, and many high tech workers
have been laid off. Moreover, job prospects for new college
graduates are not as good as they were just a few years ago. To
avoid trying to find a job in a tough economy, people flock back to
school. They seek to obtain a degree that will help them in their
job search while they wait out the bad times. Consequently,
applications to law school are sky-high; applications to college and
graduate/professional programs in general are up significantly, too.
Indicators suggest that this trend may ease somewhat in 2005-06, but
you should not count on it.
What should I do?
If you are thinking about law school right
now, your timing is unfortunate, because the competition is fierce.
Still, there is always a place in law school for someone who
performs well on the LSAT exam. A person with a good score may have
fewer choices this year, but will still be able to attend law
school. What is a “good” LSAT score? It depends primarily on where
you want to go. For the University of Minnesota, you generally need
a score of 160 or higher to be competitive. For William Mitchell, a
score in the mid-150s is in the ballpark. Such a score should make
you competitive at Hamline and St. Thomas, too. If you are looking
for scholarships to these three schools, a score in the high 150s
will make you competitive. Bear in mind, however, that law schools
can more easily pick and choose these days, meaning that last year’s
median scores are likely to be somewhat higher than in the past.
What if my LSAT is low?
Some schools accept students with LSAT scores
below 150, but your options are limited. If you are not happy with
your score, you need to think seriously about waiting to apply to
law school in this admissions climate.
Truthfully, it’s almost always a good idea to
wait awhile between college and law school. Remember, law schools
are looking for mature students who know that they want a legal
career, and have had relevant experience outside of college. The
median age of law school entering classes is around 26 (yes, 26!),
and two-thirds of those folks have taken time off. Many applicants
have earned advanced degrees or have had other careers. So even in a
good year, law schools are not necessarily welcoming to graduating
In a competitive time, graduating seniors are
at even more of a disadvantage. Simply waiting to go to law school
is the easiest way to make your application stronger. You will gain
maturity and experience while you wait out the competitive
application years. Law school applications are cyclical, and we are
presently in an upward cycle. In a few years (how many is uncertain,
as it depends on the economy and other factors), the number of
applications will drop, and the competition will ease.
What should I do in the meantime?
The short answer is, almost anything. You do
not have to have legal experience or a legal job; it’s nice, but
certainly not required. You need to do something productive that you
can later discuss on your law school application—even if that
“productive” thing is backpacking around Europe. If you need to be
in school, you can consider a master’s degree* in some field or,
better yet, an ABA-approved paralegal certificate program, which can
be completed in as little as four months. If your job has nothing to
do with law, you should consider volunteering for a legal
organization in your spare time. Any volunteer work that you do will
be worthwhile for you personally and for your application when the
time comes. Quality is better than quantity—give your time to one or
two groups, rather than a host of them. (*Generally, I do not
recommend obtaining a master’s degree unless you really want it or
have some substantial justification for it. You can use that year or
two to work and earn money for law school, and that will likely help
you more than having an advanced degree on your resume.)
If you have your heart set on a law school
out of state, move there after graduation. Some states make it tough
to claim residency for law school, but if you plan to take one to
three years off, you would likely qualify in most of them. You’ll
need to check with each school to determine when and how you can
become a resident.
I just don’t want to take time off, and my parents don’t want me
to take time off.
If this is true, you need to have a
heart-to-heart talk with yourself and with your folks. Is law school
worth waiting for? If it’s your dream career, isn’t it worth the
wait? The old saying is “a dream deferred is better than a dream
unrealized.” If law school is not worth the wait, then are you
really sure you should be thinking about it in the first place? Law
school requires a huge commitment of time and money; you should
think about this fact very seriously before you make the decision to
If your folks do not want to wait, ask them
to fund your application process. Give them this handout, and inform
them that you do not want to spend your hard-earned money unless you
have a reasonable chance of success. If they still push you to
apply, then let them write the checks to the schools and pay the
related fees. If you succeed in being admitted, hooray! If you
don’t, your initial decision to wait will have been vindicated.
Either way, you’re not out any money, and you can apply again when
YOU think the time is right.
If I wait, can I use SCSU’s pre-law advising services as an
Yes! Contact us at least six months before
you plan to take the LSAT, or a year before you plan to enroll.
Should I at least take the LSAT this fall, or should I wait?
The answer to this question is always the
same: you should take the LSAT when you are absolutely ready. If you
are not ready, do not take it. If you have been studying and feel
very prepared, go ahead. Your LSAT score is good for 5 years, so you
can take the test now even if you do not plan to apply right away.
There is one new LSAT wrinkle for this
competitive time. If you are planning to apply to law school this
fall, YOU SHOULD TAKE THE OCTOBER LSAT. In the past, our students
have been able to take the December LSAT exam and still be
competitive. Things are different now. Some admissions committees
are advising students to get their completed applications in by the
end of NOVEMBER, rather than the standard January 1st deadline.
Applications that come in late are going to be at a severe
disadvantage again this year. If a school claims to have rolling
admissions, and will accept applications until March or April,
please understand that it is highly likely that all of the available
seats will be taken early, despite the late deadline. Schools begin
to read applications right away, and when the spots are gone—well,
they’re gone. Also, the first persons to be admitted are also the
first persons to receive financial aid offers. If you apply late in
the game, the money will be long gone.