Just how important is the LSAT?

Law schools rely heavily on the LSAT in making admission and scholarship decisions.

For a number of reasons, both good and bad, law school admission committees rely heavily on the LSAT (and undergraduate GPA) in making their admission decisions. Do not fool yourself into believing that the rest of your application is so strong that it will cause the law school to overlook your sub-par LSAT—in very few cases is this true. 

The LSAT is used as part of a two-step process.  In the first step, the law school looks at your LSAT (and GPA) relative to its targeted median range—the 25th to 75th percentile range the school hopes to achieve with its entering class.  The specific range for each school is available to you via the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.  These ranges can give you a very good idea of your chance of admission at any particular school. Most schools also publish within the Official Guide more specific data about the most recent admitted class for which information is available.  At the very end of the “Law School Description” page of a particular school’s Official Guide entry, you may find an Applicant Profile Grid, showing the number of applications and admits for particular ranges of GPA and LSAT score.  For example, here is a portion of the entry for Boston College Law School:

BC Law data

You can see very clearly here that applicants with LSATs below 160—even those with the highest GPAs—have a very slim chance of being admitted to BC Law (24/338, or 7%, for those with LSATs in the 150-159 range and GPAs of 3.75 and above).

Many of you may be asking the logical next question: If the LSAT is so determinative, how did those 24 students get admitted to BC Law?  Remember that the LSAT (and GPA) review is just the first step.  Based on where your numbers fall relative to the school’s target range, your application is then placed in one of three categories: presumptive admit, presumptive deny, and “everybody else.” In the second step, each application is reviewed based on the category it falls into: The presumptive admits will generally be accepted barring any serious negative information in the file. Likewise, the presumptive denies will generally be rejected unless there is some compelling information in the file—something that makes the candidate stand out as truly extraordinary and worth admitting notwithstanding the negative impact the applicant’s LSAT score will have on the school’s target LSAT range.  The majority of applicants at any particular school—the “everybody else” pile— will fall somewhere in the middle of the school’s range. With these candidates, the admission committee explores the rest of the files to see what each individual might bring to the law school community and legal profession, and how s/he fits in with the rest of the incoming class. (For more on what makes a candidate “extraordinary” and on how to demonstrate what you might bring to the table, please see the pages on compiling your overall application profile.)

It’s important to know that law schools use the LSAT (and GPA) not just for admissions decisions but also for decisions regarding scholarships.  A strong LSAT score that gains you access to a highly selective school will also gain you substantial scholarship money—sometimes even a free ride—at many others. 

Law school admission officials will tell you that they rely so heavily on the LSAT score because it is a reliable indicator of first-year performance and of bar passage.  Most will also admit that the US News & World Report rankings (which rely heavily on LSAT scores to rank law schools), and the law school’s interest in maintaining or improving its rank, play a role as well.