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 afterward. 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.
153 would mean you got about half of 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, paired 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.
Ideally, 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.
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 into 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 regional market and enjoy a very strong national reputation as well, 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.
What is a Good LSAT Score for the Top Six Law Schools?
I am going to propose a new name for the T6: “170 Land.”
If you want to get into a T6 law school, you need to aim for a 170+ LSAT score to feel confident about getting accepted to a T6 law school. Though UChicago, Stanford, Columbia, and NYU all have 25th percentile LSAT scores just below 170, the majority of students at T6 law schools got in with a 170 or better.
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”: they tend to have a surplus of candidates with great LSAT and GPA numbers, so they must differentiate between them on some other basis.
A great LSAT score and GPA are necessary, but not sufficient, to guarantee admission at Harvard/Yale/Stanford (HYS). A candidate’s soft factors, such as work and life experience, assume a larger role in making these “tie-breaker” decisions. Evaluating soft factors is, of course, much more subjective than comparing LSAT and GPA numbers, which makes admissions decisions at these schools much harder to predict.
Simply put, you need great numbers, but that might not be enough.
Columbia and UChicago are also somewhat “black-boxy” as well, though not nearly as much as the top 3 schools, and NYU is commonly 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 aside the issue of unpredictability, let’s look purely at the numbers for the T6:
[easychart type=”horizbar” height=”180″ title=”T6 Law Schools: 75th and 25th percentile LSATs” groupnames=”75th Percentile LSAT Score, 25th Percentile LSAT Score” groupcolors=”005599,229944″ valuenames=”Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, UChicago, NYU” group1values=”175,175,173,174,172,171″ group2values=”170,170,168,168,166,166″ minaxis=”165″]
To go deeper into these numbers, we will take a snapshot of my Alma Mater, The University of Chicago. Even though UChicago’s 25th percentile LSAT score looks somewhat low (166), keep in mind that the majority of the class had at least a 170 LSAT score. Most of the successful applicants with LSAT scores in the 166-169 range were likely high GPAers as well. There may also be some early decision admits or early-cycle applicants with 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 for LSAT scores it took to get into UChicago, the picture for sub-170 applicants is somewhat bleak. The most recent graph showing applicant scores (based on user submitted data) shows no admitted students with GPA below 3.6. I give this as an example to explain why the T6 is justly dubbed ‘170 Land.’
Given that a 170 puts you in the 97th percentile of all LSAT takers, it’s easy to see why the T6 schools are hallowed ground.
At the very top of the pack, we have Yale and Harvard, which have 25th percentile LSAT scores right at the 170 mark. Count on having a tough time getting into those schools without a high GPA (3.75+) and LSAT above 170. Only with a 175 or better do we start to see some successful applications with a GPA below 3.7 or so.
With all that said, these schools 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 superb application and personal statement, then give it a shot. 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.
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 better-ranked schools unless they get some money.
Further, some scholarship money is awarded to average applicants — those with LSAT/GPA numbers between the school’s 25th and 75th percentile goal posts — to keep up acceptance rates.
Schools have less need to give money to students who have LSAT and GPA numbers around (or below) their 25th percentiles since those students will typically matriculate in sufficient numbers without such enticement.
The traditional wisdom is that if you want to get scholarship money, 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 enough to give you a strong shot at a scholarship offer is going to be in the 171-173 range, 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 relatively 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 school’s apparent selectivity, which helps them in the rankings.
Good LSAT Score for Penn, Virginia, Berkeley, and Michigan- The Middle T14
[easychart type=”horizbar” height=”180″ title=”The Middle T14 Law Schools: 75th and 25th percentile LSATs” groupnames=”75th Percentile LSAT Score, 25th Percentile LSAT Score” groupcolors=”005599,229944″ valuenames=”Penn, Virgina, Berkeley, Michigan” group1values=”171,171,170,170″ group2values=”164,164,163,166″ minaxis=”160″]
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 relatively 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 into 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 for 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. 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:
[easychart type=”horizbar” height=”180″ title=”The Bottom T14 Law Schools: 75th and 25th percentile LSATs” groupnames=”75th Percentile LSAT Score, 25th Percentile LSAT Score” groupcolors=”005599,229944″ valuenames=”Duke, Cornell, Northwestern, Georgetown” group1values=”170,171,169,170″ group2values=”166,166,164,165″ minaxis=”160″]
I would caution applicants not to make too much of Northwestern’s slightly lower 25th percentile. Northwestern 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, a higher proportion of the people in this lower LSAT range are waitlisted compared to high LSAT/low GPA splitters, indicating that there are more candidates applying with high GPA numbers. 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!
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