Law school professors insist that students do three things well: read, write, and think critically.
There is no "pre-law" curriculum equal to "pre-med" curriculum.
There is no "pre-law" major at Saint Anselm College. Pre-law is an advising category or career-related label. Students who are interested in pre-law intend to enroll in law school for the study of law.
Pre-law courses simply encompass a broad array of liberal arts courses.
Law schools prefer you reserve your legal study for law school and prefer you engage in challenging and diverse courses.
As a pre-law student you will receive advice on how to be a competitive law school applicant (curricular and extra-curricular) and guidance on selecting law schools and the application process. You will also receive important law school information and invitations to events and workshops throughout the year.
The American Bar Association states: "The core skills and values that are essential for competent lawyering include analytic and problem solving skills, critical reading abilities, writing skills, oral communication and listening abilities, general research skills, task organization and management skills, and the values of serving faithfully the interests of others while also promoting justice ."
Making the Most of Your Undergraduate Education
Your GPA is a number, which may or may not reflect the extent to which you challenged yourself. Admissions will look beyond the raw number and evaluate the depth and rigor of the courses you selected. A high GPA through non-challenging courses will not help you develop the appropriate skills or study habits and will be a strike against you in the admission office.
Law schools want evidence that you can master the basic skills required of a lawyer. The goal is to be a better thinker, writer, and reader. Saint Anselm College recommends you choose a program of study based on your interests while developing the requisite skills to prepare for law school: reading comprehension, analytical thinking, and effective written and oral communication.
At Saint Anselm College there is no specific pre-law program of study nor are there any specific courses required for students planning to attend law school. Moreover, law school admissions officers inform us that no one major is any more attractive in terms of gaining admission to law school than another. The business of lawyers covers all fields and they recommend only that students pursue challenging courses in an area of interest to them. Almost any course of study that engenders mental discipline and intellectual curiosity can lay the foundation for a successful legal education and professional career.
Along with numerical average, trends are evaluated. A student who started out average but finished strong may be favored over a student who started out strong and then faltered over time.
Get involved. Law schools are looking for evidence that you spent time in activities outside of academics. Leadership activities in organizations is looked upon favorably. Tips:
Activities need not be law related (i.e. student government, political groups, the debate team)
Quality not quantity; depth not breadth
Assume leadership positions among a few
Through activities you want to demonstrate your ability to:
Work with others
Achieve and master the basic skills of lawyering
Dive in, but not at the expense of your grades
Develop relationships with faculty early, particularly those who will stimulate you intellectually and who are in a position to observe your best work. You will need at least two recommendations, which means you will need two recommenders. It is best to ask someone with whom you have taken at least two classes. Developing a relationship is not something that can be put off.
The two most important factors in law school admission decisions are the GPA of your undergraduate work and your LSAT scores. To find out if you have a reasonable chance of getting into law school, you should look at the median GPAs and LSAT scores of selected schools (e.g., the Boston College Law School Locator), or refer to the binder AdmissionDecisions for New England Law Schools, located in the Academic Advisement Resource Library.
In general, you need around a 3.0 GPA and an above average LSAT score (150+). This does not mean that if you have a GPA under 3.0 or a low LSAT score that you won't get into law school, many do, but these are numbers to shoot for. All grades will be factored into a GPA, including summer school courses and courses transferred from another institution. Although your Saint Anselm cumulative GPA does not include grades from other institutions, the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) will factor in all grades.
For many law schools, your score on the LSAT will be as important as your undergraduate GPA-if not more important. If you are serious about getting into law school you will take this test seriously and prepare for it diligently. A good LSAT score can dramatically improve your chances for admission. A poor LSAT score can likewise severely damage an otherwise strong application. Visit the FAQs: LSAT Web page for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions concerning the LSAT.
Make an appointment with the pre-law advisor, Stephanie Fernandez, Director of Academic Advisement
Take core courses
Take courses that interest you. Do not take courses because you think they are related to a particular profession
Get involved in extra-curricular activities. Volunteer. Law schools want to see involvement outside the class and evidence of varied talents beyond academics. Show your leadership skills. Focus on a few organizations as opposed to many (depth not breadth). Lay the foundation to obtain leadership status. See the Campus Life web page
Get to know your faculty members
Work hard. Your GPA is 50% of your law school application
Take courses that will develop your communication skills, reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and analytical skills. There is no pre-law curriculum other than taking a wide array of liberal arts courses.
Pick a major that you will enjoy. The more technically included your major (math or science), the more important it is that you take courses that force you to write. Do not pick a major because you think it will increase your chances of acceptance at a law school. Law schools seek diversity in majors.
Seek leadership positions in selected student organizations. Remember: depth not breadth.
Develop relationships with faculty members.
Purchase the Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools from LSAC or your local bookstore. Determine the schools to which you might apply.
Take challenging courses. Not only do law schools look at your overall GPA, they also evaluate your transcript to see evidence that you challenged yourself (i.e. you avoided "easy" courses).
Register for the June LSAT (the deadline is generally in early May).
Prepare for the LSAT. Take full length practice exams. Research LSAT prep courses if you intend to enroll in one. Purchase prep materials. Invest 150-200 hours of study time because the LSAT is the other 50% of your law school application.
Identify who might write your letters of recommendation.
Register with the Law School Data Assembly Service. The LSDAS is a clearinghouse which summarizes academic records, LSAT scores, and letters of recommendation for law schools.
Give the transcript request form to the Registrar's Office . Send transcript request forms to any other undergraduate schools you have attended.
Write a draft of your personal statement.
Update your resume. See Career Services
Decide on safety, competitive, and reach schools.
Schedule an appointment with the faculty members writing your recommendations. Distribute recommendation forms. Give them a deadline.
Attend the Law School Forum in Boston.
Take the October LSAT if you need to (if you did not take it in June).
Visit schools if you have a chance.
November - January
Make final revisions to your personal statement.
Remind recommenders, if you need to.
Complete and submit your applications (November 1 - December 1).
Send first semester grades to the law schools via the Transcript Request Form to LSDAS (transcripts must come directly from the institution).
Submit any financial aid applications due early to the schools that request them.
February - April
Complete all applications for financial aid several weeks before the due date.
Visit schools to which you have been accepted; attend classes; speak with current students; receive Alumni
Questionnaires; compare financial aid packages.
Review financial aid notices from the law schools and project your resources and costs.
Decide which law schools offer to accept.
Send in acceptance of admission and financial aid.
Financial Aid is available for law schools. Federal loans are available and most law schools offer aid in the form of scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. Contact each law school individually to see for which type of financial aid package you qualify. Different law schools will give different awards. Start this process early.
Most law schools require two-to-three letters of recommendation. These should be written by professors who can speak well about your academic abilities. You should choose professors from your major field of study who you have had for more than one class.
Therefore, you should not ask for letters of recommendation from:
professors from freshman year with whom you have had no contact since
professors who don't know your work very well
influential friends of the family.
The information below is intended to provide some basic guidelines for the student seeking recommendations as well as assist the recommender.
The Pre-Law Student's Letter of Recommendation
by J.L. Polinard, Pan American University
A. To the Student
1) Choose a reference who knows your academic work. Law schools want to know how well you read and write and if you will be able to successfully adjust to the rigors of law school.
Some private schools with religious affiliations might want a letter attesting to your personal character; otherwise, choose academic references who are familiar with your academic ability.
If you know an attorney who has graduated from the school to which you are applying, ask for a reference.
Do not ask public officials to write on your behalf; admissions officers tend to ignore letters written by public officials.
2) Provide your reference with the following:
An unofficial transcript.
A personal resume, including a clear statement of your intent to go to law school.
A list of courses you have taken with the reference. Indicate what grades you made and any outstanding work you did for the class (copies of term papers, essays, tests, etc. are helpful).
Relevant forms provided by the law schools. If the law school provides a form, there will be a place on the form for you to indicate whether you waive the right to have access to your file. Admissions officers may discount letters where the student has not signed the waiver.
A stamped envelope addressed to the law school. While I recommend strongly the reference send this recommendation on their letterhead stationary, you should provide the envelope as a courtesy.
B. To the Reference
1) The law school admissions process is very competitive. Please write as specific a letter as possible, bearing in mind that a law school admissions committee wants to know primarily how well the student reads and writes, if the student is capable of adapting to the discipline of law school, and will the student reflect credit on their law school.
2) Be specific about the student's coursework. Was the course a demanding one? How well did the student perform both oral and written assignments? Did the student do anything in particular which stands out in your mind; e.g., did the student write a term paper or essay which you considered superior? If so, indicate the topic and why it was a superior work. Note the student's potential for intellectual development.
3) Indicate how long and in what capacity you have known the student. If you are familiar with non-academic achievements (e.g., extra-curricular activities), please note these. Also note other background characteristics which may be useful (e.g., work experience, bi-lingual ability).
4) Please forward your letter directly on letterhead stationary. I recommend using a letterhead envelope instead of a stamped envelope provided by the student. Please do not give the original letter to the student to send to the law school; Pre-Law Advisors National Council is trying to persuade the law schools to quit asking students to collect their letters of reference and mail them as a package. It is important, in other words, to eliminate the question of confidentiality.
A personal statement is usually two-to-three pages long and explains why you want to go to law school. Schools take these seriously and a poorly written personal statement can be one of the reasons why your application is rejected.
The Office of Academic Advisement has several reference books, handouts, and a binder of sample personal statements. The director of Academic Advisement also meets with students to review their personal statements.
For more information on writing personal statements, visit the personal statement section or contact the Office of Academic Advisement for assistance.
The following Web sites will be helpful to you in researching and identifying law schools to apply or prepare for taking the LSAT.
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a half-day, standardized test administered four times each year at designated testing centers throughout the world. Most law schools in the United States and Canada use LSAT results as part of their admissions process. All LSAC-member schools require applicants to take the LSAT.
The LSAT is a five-section, multiple-choice, standard-scored "aptitude" test, followed by a 30-minute writing sample. Taking the test requires 3 hours and 25 minutes, not including rest breaks and the time needed for the distribution and collection of test materials, as well as other test center procedures.
The five multiple-choice sections, containing a total of about 120-130 questions, are separately timed at 35 minutes apiece, with a brief (usually 10-15 minutes) break in between the third and fourth sections. There are three different question-types:
Reading Comprehension--Typically, a section of this type will include about 26-28 questions, arranged into four sets, each containing a passage followed by 6-8 questions.
Analytical Reasoning--Also called Logic Games of the "matrix" type, they typically come in sections containing approximately 24 questions, arranged in four sets of analytical problems or "setups" with 5-7 questions apiece.
Logical Thinking--Typically, a section of this type will include around 24-26 questions that are not for the most part grouped into sets.
One section of both Reading Comprehension and Analytical Reasoning and two sections of Logical Reasoning questions are used to produce your LSAT score; a non-scored section, that can be of any type, is included in each test but cannot be identified as such while you are taking the test.
The LSAT score is a three-digit number ranging from 120 to 180, determined by the number of correct answers on the four scored sections, generally covering a total of about 96-104 questions.
LSAT scores are not absolutes: a 180 does not necessarily mean that every question is answered correctly (you could have as many as 2-3 incorrect answers on the four scored sections and still have a score of 180), nor does a 120 necessarily mean you answered every question incorrectly. Generally, you will need approximately 15-17 correct answers before your score moves above a 120. Once you reach that "threshold," each additional correct answer will help raise your score with, roughly speaking, about two points gained for every three additional correct answers.
While the four scored sections used for each administration of the LSAT are most likely to be the same for each test at every test center, there are different editions in which the non-scored section is not the same and the order in which the scored sections appear will vary. After the five-section, multiple choice test has been administered, and after a second short (c. 5 minutes) break, the writing sample will be administered. The writing sample is unscored; however, copies of your sample will be sent to each law school to which you apply.
Eight Common Misconceptions about the LSAT
1. The LSAT works only 16 percent of the time.
There is a great deal of confusion about the meaning of correlation-study results. Correlations are reported on a scale of -1.0 to +1.0, with -1.0 representing a perfect inverse relationship--as one measure goes up the other goes down--and +1.0 representing a perfect positive relationship. The national correlation between LSAT scores and first-year grades tends to be around +0.4. By comparison, the national correlation between undergraduate and law school grades tends to be around +0.25. The correlation for both variables combined is approximately +0.5.
The relationships among LSAT scores, undergraduate grades, and law school grades are all fairly strong, particularly when one considers all of the many and varied personal factors that have an impact on performance in law school--factors that include study habits, determination, work or family obligations, quality of instruction, and many, many others.
The LSAT is used to make admission decisions, not to explain performance variance. These two purposes are very different.
The bottom line is that the LSAT, although limited in its utility, is the single strongest numerical predictor of success in the first year of law school that is available to an admission committee when admission decisions must be made.
2. The LSAT is biased against test takers who cannot afford expensive coaching courses.
LSAC strongly counsels candidates to familiarize themselves with the test format and question types in order to perform at their best. This does not mean that expensive coaching courses are necessary to maximize students' performances. The well-publicized claims of huge score increases from commercial coaching courses typically compare students' unprepared performance to their performance after a course. They do not compare the results a student could achieve through self-study, or other less expensive alternatives, to coached results. Moreover, it is likely that the subset of test takers who take commercial courses differs from the general LSAT population in some as yet unknown ways, thereby making generalizations from their results problematic.
What we do know is this: most LSAT takers do not take a commercial course. In 1996-97, for example, slightly less than one-third of all test takers reported that they had taken a commercial coaching course. This number is consistent with other, independent measures of coaching-course volumes. White test takers are slightly more likely to take a commercial coaching course than black test takers, but both proportions are close to the overall average--35 percent of white candidates reported having taken a commercial course compared to 28 percent of blacks. Moreover, the difference in mean LSAT scores between those who did and those who did not take a commercial course is about 1 point on the 120 - 180 LSAT score scale.
3. If you take the LSAT a second time, you'll boost your score by three points.
On average, candidates who take the test a second time earn scores 2.7 points higher than their first scores. But this number is an average--many test takers achieve greater gains and many test takers actually earn lower scores. For example, among those repeat test takers who earned a 150 on their first LSAT in a recent test year, 628 earned a higher second score, 51 earned a second 150, and 211 earned lower scores. Coincidentally, the average score gain for all test takers (2.7 points) is equal to the standard error of measurement for the LSAT, although these two numbers are not related.
4. LSAT scores and undergraduate grades equal merit.
The LSAT is a helpful tool, but it has limits. LSAC long has urged schools to take a variety of factors into account when making admission decisions, and most schools do. Yet schools that place undue weight on test scores and grades are engaged in misuse of those measures, just as the opponents of affirmative action over rely on test scores and grades to make their legal arguments. The LSAT measures only a limited set of skills that relate to success in law school. The list of other factors that play a role is nearly endless. The challenge for admission policy makers is to identify the qualities that they seek in a student body and then gather information about those qualities from their applicants. There is no entitlement to a seat in law school, regardless of one's test scores and undergraduate grades.
5. There is a meaningful difference between scores that are one or two points apart.
Admission decision makers who face the difficult task of admitting only a fraction of their applicant pools necessarily search through files to find factors that will tip the scales. This is particularly true once the bulk of decisions have been made and the remaining files are those for which there may be no truly distinguishing factors in the files, and no clear right or wrong decision. At this point, it may be tempting to place great significance on LSAT score differences of one or two points. Such reliance is misplaced. LSAC recently began reporting LSAT scores with confidence bands around them--bands that typically range from three points below to three points above the actual score. The bands are meant to be a visual reminder that LSAT scores, like all test scores, have measurement error associated with them, and to encourage score users not to place undue weight on differences that have very little statistical meaning.
6. Some LSAT forms are easier than others.
Each LSAT form is written to a common set of test specifications--specifications that describe both the content of questions and the distribution of questions across the spectrum of difficulty levels. Each scored LSAT question is pre-tested twice--once to gather data about how the item functions on its own, and a second time as part of an intact test section. Data from these pretests allow LSAC to 'equate' each LSAT form. Equating is a statistical process through which the very slight differences in difficulty across LSAT forms can be mitigated, thus allowing direct comparison of results from different tests. Therefore, a December 1998 LSAT score of 150 means the same thing as a 150 from the October 1995 administration, or from any administration since June 1991.
7. The LSAT is graded to a curve, so your score can be influenced by the other test takers with whom you test.
Some candidates mistakenly believe that they will be graded on the LSAT in relation to others who take the test with them. In fact, all LSAT scores are equated back to the original base form, given in June 1991. It is possible, although extremely unlikely, for everyone taking the test on the same day to earn a score of 180. Effectively, an individual test taker's performance is compared to the performance of all test takers since June 1991, except those taking the test at the same time.
8. There is little or no research that supports the use of the LSAT.
Since 1990, LSAC has produced more than 75 research reports touching on the performance of the current test or potential designs for a future LSAT. All of these reports are sent to LSAC-member school libraries and are available free-of-charge from LSAC. Numerous external researchers also have made use of LSAT data, publishing their findings in refereed journals.
The LSAT is the single best numerical predictor of first year performance in law school, that the LSAT is superior to undergraduate grades as a predictor of law school success, and that the two measures when combined, are superior to either one standing alone.
Should I Take the LSAT More Than Once?
Ideally, a well prepared student only needs to take the LSAT once. If you think that your LSAT score does not accurately reflect your ability, then take it again. Some law schools average the scores, other law schools take the higher score, and some take the most recent score. Look at the NAPLA/SAPLA Book of Lists to see what a school's policy is for multiple LSAT scores.
When Should I Take the LSAT?
You should take the LSAT in either June after your junior year or in October of your senior year. Although some students take the LSAT in December of their senior year, they often don't know what their test scores are when selecting schools to which to apply.
Should I Take an LSAT Prep Course?
LSAT prep courses can make the bold claim of increasing student scores by five-to-eight points (a huge jump) because they often require 30-40 hours of in-class work and 30-40 hours of out-of-class work. If you are willing to work this hard on your own, you can also raise your scores. Classes like Kaplan or Princeton are very expensive (around $900), but if you are not disciplined enough to study on your own and need a good LSAT score, such courses are often helpful.
It is worth noting that some studies suggest that up to 70 percent of all applicants to law school take a prep course. If nothing else, this means that most of your competition has spent 60-80 hours preparing for the LSAT.
Researching law schools is relatively easy; evaluating them and seeing how they fit into your long range plans is more time consuming. The library in the Office of Academic Advisement has a section dedicated to law schools. In our library you will find the guide ABA Approved Law Schools, as well as law school reference books, catalogs, and information on financing law schools. Academic Advisement also has two software programs for your use-the Law School Decision and MAPLA Profiles. You may initiate Web searches to explore law schools (see our Web Resources page). There is also a law school forum held every fall in Boston, and it is attended by representatives from law schools from throughout the country.
Evaluating law schools requires more time because you need develop a different set of criteria when evaluating each school. Many factors should go into your decision to attend a law school, including, but not limited to, academic reputation, geographic location, cost and financial aid package, faculty-student ratios, course offerings, specialty programs and joint degree programs, library facilities, internships, and job placement rates.
Relying on ratings or general notions of prestige or reputation is not sufficient. You should attempt to determine which schools offer the type of environment most conducive to your success. As important as educational quality, employment prospects, total cost, and location are, the intangible elements of campus atmosphere and sense of community within a school are also significant.
If given the opportunity, visit a law school, especially when you are making a final decision. As you decide where you will apply, consider your selections in these three categories:
These are schools for which you have a better than reasonable chance of being accepted. Your GPA and LSAT should meet the minimum requirements.
Your GPA and LSAT should more than exceed the minimum generally required for admission to your safety schools.
Long Shot or Dream Schools
These schools may interest you considerably, but you may not meet either the minimum GPA or LSAT. Students generally select one or two of these schools as schools to which to apply.