Is My LSAT Score Really That Important?
“Nate, I’m bad at standardized tests. But my GPA is high, and I have a really interesting story and some great work experience. I’ll be getting some really good recommendation letters and will craft an exceptional personal statement. Law schools will obviously take all that into consideration, so I can afford a slightly lower LSAT score, right?”
Not that you don’t have all of those things. But there are way too many people applying for law school every year, and a 170+ LSAT score is the one thing that can genuinely set you above the crowd.
“But I’m different – my story is more unique for ____________ reason. My experience will stand out, so they’ll overlook a slightly lower LSAT score, won’t they?”
Not that you’re not exceptional – you may very well be. And you may even be uniquely exceptional. You may have overcome tremendous adversity in order to get to where you are today, you may have achieved enormous success in your field, you may have given back to your community in generous and meaningful ways, or you may have done all of the above and then some.
But, as far as law school admissions go, if the only thing that matters is getting into the best law school possible…
…then all of that would be worth throwing away for one extra point on the LSAT.
Don’t get me wrong – you deserve the utmost respect and have a lot to be proud of. Life isn’t all about law school admissions anyway. I wish I could say that the law school admissions process was more human and holistic (well, maybe I don’t) like that of some other graduate degrees.
Business schools, for example, care about your story. They want you to be unique, and show a special set of skills that no one else can bring to the table. They are interested in how you got to where you are today.
Law schools, on the other hand only care about numbers. It’s the opposite of holistic.
Why is that?
Well for one, the law school admissions game is a very self-serving process on the part of law schools. Each year, they report their 25th and 75th percentile LSAT scores to U.S. News and World Report, which then publishes official law school rankings for that year, based on this data. Law schools want to do everything they can to climb in the rankings so that they can charge more for tuition. Your work experience or personal statement won’t help them do this, but your 178 will. It’s all a numbers game for them.
Granted, schools report GPA data as well, which is why your GPA is the second most important element of your application. But there are also a few other (less cynical) reasons that LSAT scores are the gold standard for law school admissions:
- It provides an objective standard by which to measure each student’s thinking abilities. GPA standards vary widely from school to school and from program to program, and so many individual factors play in. With the LSAT, every prospective student takes the exact same test. A 180-scorer has shown more advanced thinking abilities than has a 160-scorer; the same cannot necessarily be said of a 3.7 at one program in one school and a 3.5 at another one.
- The LSAT tests logical thinking skills that are relevant for success in law school and beyond. Being able to correctly read and reason through arguments under time pressure is as good of a predictor as any for how well you’ll do in the legal industry.
- Simply put, you can’t fake your LSAT. There are so many human elements in a GPA – many other humans were involved in the determination of that number. With the LSAT, it’s just you and your pencil and that Scantron card…
But really, it comes down mostly to the rankings. High LSAT data is seen as prestigious for a law school and will help it to rise in rankings. Law schools are for-profit entities after all…
If I had to estimate, I’d say your application success is weighted 65% on your LSAT score, 30% on your GPA, and 5% on everything else combined.
Now, that can be good news or bad news for you, depending on what the “everything else combined” looks like! But it’s mostly good news for everyone, in that the biggest determinant in your legal success is the one thing that is entirely in your hands, right now. Go get ‘em, tiger.