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What is a good LSAT score?
While this question gets asked all the time, there is no objective answer. Yes, everyone wants to get a stellar score. A 99th percentile score on the LSAT is about a 172, meaning if you get a 172 then 99 percent of the test takers didn’t score as well as you. That’s obviously a really great score. However, despite that fact that most people put in a decent effort to prep for the exam, only 1% of test takers are going to hit that or above each year.
A good LSAT score can open up a whole world of opportunities for you. I got a 177 on the LSAT, which changed the entire trajectory of my life. Never underestimate the impact that a few extra points on the LSAT can make!
Luckily, you don’t need that score to have great outcomes both in law school and your career afterwards. A good LSAT score is one that can help get you into to a school that gives you good job prospects at an acceptable price.
However, when you are talking about the LSAT need for the top law schools, it is possible to put a number on “good.” With very limited exceptions, it’s going to take a high LSAT score to get you into the elite law schools. In this post, we discuss what LSAT score you need to get into a top 14 law school as ranked by the US News and World Report.
LSAT Scores- General Info
The highest possible score on the LSAT is a 180 and the lowest possible score is a 120. Average is about a 153. These are ‘scaled scores’ that are determined from your ‘raw score’, which is that amount of correct responses you give. The LSAT contains from 100-103 questions. Getting an 153 would mean you got around half the questions right. A 170 or better usually requires getting all but 10-12 questions right. Contrary to popular belief, the test isn’t curved.
A 160 or better is a good score that is going to get you into a lot of law schools. Anything over a 168 or so, pared with a decent GPA, might give you a shot at going to the countries most elite schools, those that carry a strong national reputation such as Cornell, University of Chicago, Harvard, and the like. A 175 or better will be a very strong LSAT at any school, even at Yale (far and away the most difficult law school to get into).
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Whether an LSAT score is good enough for the top law schools also depends on your GPA. Your GPA matters because the lower it is, the higher your LSAT may need to be to have strong chances of getting into your desired school. Generally, you want both your LSAT and GPA to both fall within the 25th-75th percentile ranges for a school to be considered a competitive applicant. Being above both LSAT and GPA medians makes you a very competitive applicant. You measure this by looking at the school’s numbers for whatever class enrolled most recently. Luckily or not, however, the LSAT is incredibly important to the law school admissions process- though estimates vary a little, the general consensus is that about 75% of whether you get into X law school is determined by your LSAT score alone. Thus, to a large extent anyways, a high LSAT can often override a somewhat sub-par GPA. For more details on that, see our post on getting accepted with a low GPA.
This article covers the LSAT scores you need to get in to Top 14 law schools. The top 14 is an informal category of schools that have always sat atop the US News and World Report rankings since they began in the nineties. These schools are all dominant in their market and have a very strong national reputation, meaning graduates are readily employable anywhere in the country. We will also discuss how confident you can be about getting scholarship money with certain scores. Note that the following information will be most useful in providing predictions for non-URM (Under Represented Minority) students. We will try to do a post on URM LSAT scores necessary for T14 schools and more in the future.
What is a Good LSAT Score for the Top Six Law Schools?
What is a good LSAT score for getting in to the top 6 law schools in the country- UChicago, Columbia, NYU, or the holy trinity of Harvard, Yale and Stanford? I am going to propose a new name for the T6, which is ’170 land’. Though UChicago, Stanford, and NYU all have 25th percentiles just below 170, the belief out there is that a 170+ score is what an applicant needs to feel confident about their chances absent an outstanding GPA (75th percentile plus) and great soft factors.
However, common wisdom is that no LSAT score/GPA combo guarantees a mere mortal admission to Yale, Stanford, or to a slightly lesser extent Harvard. This is why these schools are known as “black boxes”– because they have a surplus of candidates with the LSAT and GPA numbers they need for their school to stay ahead of the pack, they are able to base a lot more of their admissions decisions on candidates ‘soft factors’ such as work and life experience. This makes admissions decisions at these schools much harder to predict.
Simply put, you need great numbers, but it might not be enough. Columbia and UChicago are also somewhat black boxy, though not nearly so much as the top 3 schools. NYU is generally viewed as being substantially less of a black box than the rest of the T6 schools. It should also be noted that with the number of applicants falling in the last few years, admissions has become a bit more predictable, even at these very top schools. That is because they now have less of a surplus of students with the numbers they want. For you, that means there has probably never been a better time to get into these schools.
Putting the issue of unpredictability aside, lets look purely at the numbers for the T6:
To go deeper in to these numbers we will take a snapshot of my Alma Mater, Chicago. Even though UChicago’s 25th percentile LSAT score looks somewhat low at 167, bear in mind that their median LSAT is 171, meaning that 50% or more had that score or better. Most of the successful applicants with LSAT scores in the 167-169 range were likely high GPAers as well. There may be some early decision admits or early cycle applicants with very strong soft-factors thrown in there too.
In general, students with LSATs in this 167-169 range tend to accept offers from T6 schools at a very high rate compared with their 170+ peers (who often get several offers from schools in the T6). Therefore schools need to admit far fewer students overall in this lower range.
So if we take a look at LawSchoolNumbers.com for LSAT scores it took to get in to UChicago, the picture for sub 170 applicants is somewhat bleak. The most recent graph showing applicant scores (based on user submitted data) shows no green dots (admitted students) with GPAs below 3.85. I give this as an example to explain why the T6 is fairly dubbed ’170 land.’ Absent a GPA approaching the school’s 75th percentile, you want a 170 LSAT score or better to be confident of really strong chances.
Given that a 170 puts you in to the 97th percentile of test takers, its easy to see why the T6 schools are hallowed ground. On the high end we have Yale and Harvard that have 25th percentiles right at the 170 mark. Count on having a very difficult time getting in here without a great GPA (3.75+) and LSAT above 170. Generally only with a 175 or better do we start to see some successful applications with GPAs a little below 3.75.
With all that said, these school do take students in these lower ranges. If you are shooting for a “reach” school (one where your numbers are both below median), focus on crafting a really good application and personal statement, then give it a whirl. If you have the right set of ‘soft factors’, things like great work experience and other distinctions, the school might take you regardless of slightly weak numbers.
Scholarship Money at the Top 6 Law Schools
First, a note on scholarship money in general: by and large, scholarship money is not given out from some sense of magnanimity. Scholarship money is used by law schools to attract the students necessary to maintain their ranking in the USNWR. Generally, most of this money goes to attracting students towards the front edge of who they think they can get, the high quality students who would likely go to higher ranked schools unless they get some money. Further, some money is given to applicants average applicants, those right between the school’s 25th and 75th percentile goal posts, to keep up acceptance rates.
Schools have less need to give money to students around or below their 25th percentiles as those students will typically matriculate in sufficient numbers absent any enticement. The traditional wisdom is that to get scholarships dollars you want to hover around the 75th percentile numbers for the target school. Luckily you don’t necessarily need both and 75th percentile LSAT and GPA because they can mix and match students to get the numbers they want.
Thus for T6 schools, the LSAT score good to give you strong chances for money is generally going to be 173 or above, depending on the school. Receiving this LSAT score places you in the 99th percentile of all those taking the LSAT, so it should be somewhat apparent why schools use money to draw these students in- there just aren’t many such students to go around. Students with numbers above the schools’ medians also have a fairly good shot at scholarships. Schools offer these students money gets them to come and also help prop up ‘yield’, the ratio of student accepting offers to offers made. This increases the schools apparent selectivity, which helps them in the rankings.
Good LSAT Score for Penn, Virginia, Berkeley, and Michigan- The Middle T14
Berkeley was traditionally considered something of an outlier among the T14 for the greater emphasis they place on GPA. While this appears to still be their practice, they are very close to their peer schools, having a 25th percentile at 163 and a 75th at 170. So any high side 160s LSAT score might be good enough for Berkeley.
Berkeley is further notable however because if you look at user submitted application data on LawSchoolNumbers, there are a fair number of applicants getting accepted with scores in the lower LSAT range for the school without a stellar GPA to balance it out. If any school in the T14 can honestly boast that they look at the total applicant, not just their numbers, it may be Berkeley.
The other schools in this group have a more traditional hard line whereby the lower the LSAT is the higher the GPA necessary to balance it out. Perhaps the big difference between these schools and those above them is that LSAT score wise 170+ scores give you a great shot of admittance even with a fairly low (~3.5) GPA. 172 in particular looks like the magic bullet. A 172 is a good (great even) LSAT score for the middle T14, and it will probably draw some scholarship money offers as well.
Higher and perhaps you start to run in to what is called ‘yield protection’: schools will tend to waitlist rather than accept students they feel are perhaps out of their league, and will wait from a further show of interest on the applicant’s part before admitting them. Note that being waitlisted in a such a situation may mean you are in an excellent position to get $$$ from the school if you do show heavy interest. Generally, hovering in the 169+ range here should be enough to see some scholarship offers from the middle T14 schools.
Good LSAT Score at Duke, Cornell, Northwestern, and Georgetown- The Rest of the T14
The story here is much the same here as at the tier above, and it is clear that the bottom T14 schools (Duke, Cornell, Northwestern and Georgetown) are drawing from the same part of the applicant pool as the middle T14 schools:
I would caution applicants not to make too much of Northwestern’s slightly lower 25th percentile. Northwestern really is serious about their emphasis on work experience, and someone who already has demonstrated success in the business world can expect a boost that may make up for a lower LSAT score. That said, such applicants usually boast a high GPA too. Northwestern also is purportedly fond of ‘splitter’ applicants with a high LSAT score. It appears from looking at LawSchoolNumbers that a 172 tends to score an acceptance at Northwestern even with a GPA in the lower 3.0-3.5 range.
At these schools, a 170 or better is again a magic bullet. After that, as LSAT score goes down GPA has to go up to balance it for the best chance of receiving a letter of acceptance. Typically by the time you hit the 25th percentile for LSAT score, an applicant then needs around 75th percentile GPA to see a good result. So taking Duke as and example, those admitted to Duke with an LSAT score of 166 (the 25th percentile LSAT) typically had a 3.8 or better GPA.
Also, more people in this lower LSAT range are waitlisted when comparing them with high LSAT/low GPA splitters, indicating that in general there are a lot more candidates applying with these high GPA numbers for law schools to choose from. In other words, high GPA/low LSAT students are less scarce and therefore slightly less in demand. At schools in this tier, it is clearly somewhat better to be applying with the high end LSAT score (~171) and a slightly worse GPA than the other way around.
This has been a brief tour of the LSAT score game in the rarefied atmosphere of T14 admissions. For a lengthier discussion of the law school admissions you may find it helpful to consult a book on the subject, such as the well known Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions.
If you have any questions please leave them in the comments thread and I will respond. I hope this helped your understanding of what a good LSAT score for the T14 is!
If you want to get into a T14 law school, be sure to follow our free advice. Sign up for email study tips or follow us on twitter @onlawschool. Study with the right prep books as not all are equally effective. Check out this post to see what I did to get a 177 on the LSAT.