The Weight of the LSAT in Law School Applications
According to LSAC, the LSAT is "the only test accepted for admission purposes by all ABA-accredited law schools and Canadian common-law schools." This is a true statement, but it does not mean that every applicant to these institutions must take the LSAT. The website of Educational Testing Service (ETS), the administrator of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), indicates that 40 American law schools currently accept GRE scores instead of the LSAT. These GRE-accepting institutions include some of the country's most prestigious programs, such as Harvard, Georgetown, New York University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Virginia. With more than 200 law schools accredited by the ABA, however, these test-flexible schools represent less than 20% of the total. At present, we are not aware of any JD programs at U.S. universities that will admit students without test scores. In short, it's either the LSAT or the GRE if you want to go to law school, and the majority of applicants still take the LSAT.
In general terms, it can be said that law schools value LSAT scores more than they do undergraduate GPA, but whether or not this statement applies to a given institution and how by much depends on the school. Although higher grades and stronger LSAT scores are desirable attributes at all law schools, their relative importance varies. LSAC's law school admissions calculator, based on GPA and LSAT score, is a helpful resource for learning how highly specific programs weigh the LSAT and GPA. LSAC has claimed that the calculator's accuracy is at least 95%.
LSAC's admissions calculator tool can be used to explore the expectations of individual programs. At Temple University's Beasley School of Law, for example, a student with a 3.0 GPA and a 165 LSAT would have almost the same chance of admission (82-92%) as a peer with a 3.5 GPA and the same LSAT score (88-98%). This suggests that Temple considers the LSAT to be far more important than GPA (note that a 3.0 is typically the minimum for any graduate program). Notre Dame School of Law, on the other hand, is an example of a program where a higher GPA is more helpful. Considering the same two hypothetical applicants with LSAT scores of 165, the candidate with the 3.0 GPA would have odds between 10% and 20%, while the student with a 3.5 GPA would stand a 38-48% chance of admission (approximately two to five times as high). We encourage test-takers to review LSAC data on their targeted institutions, which will help them set LSAT score goals appropriate for their GPAs.
There are two major reasons that law schools prioritize the LSAT. The first is arguably for legitimate educational purposes. Not all undergraduate majors feature the same level of intellectual rigor, and undergraduate institutions also offer a wide variety of instructional quality. The LSAT ostensibly evaluates, say, a criminal justice major at the University of Alabama by the same standard that it uses to assess a physics major at Yale. The second reason has to do with law school prestige. The major methods of ranking law schools (such as those published by U.S. News & World Report) consider the average test scores of a law school's admitted students when calculating the final ranking score. Programs are thus risking a drop in the rankings if they accept a large number of students with lower LSAT scores, and this is an outcome that no law school wants.
As one can infer from the previous discussion of the LSAT's contribution to law school rankings, the most selective law schools also have the highest average LSAT scores. At Columbia Law School, 75% of accepted students scored 169 or higher on the LSAT. At Harvard Law School, the median LSAT for the most recent class was 173. Lower-ranked programs, on the other hand, are almost invariably populated by students with lower scores. The University of Wyoming and Western Michigan University are two notorious examples, where the respective middle-50% LSAT scores were 149-154 and 140-147.
Although scholarships for law school are typically based on a number of factors, including GPA, test scores, field of interest, and personal background, strong LSAT performance can be eminently helpful to financing a legal education. Exploring the financial aid section of law school websites may yield a number of promising opportunities. For some scholarships, admitted students are considered automatically, while for others, an application process and interview may be required.