How important is the LSAT for law school admissions?
The LSAT is a crucial factor in determining your strength as a law school applicant. Your LSAT score is the single most important component of your application.
Just how important the LSAT relative to other elements of your overall application package varies a little from school to school. However, generally, your LSAT score alone is thought to be anywhere from twice as important as your GPA to four to five times as important!
Why Is The LSAT So Important to Law Schools?
There are some valid reasons why law schools care so much about the LSAT:
- The LSAT is supposedly the best predictor available of how a law student will perform in law school. Higher LSAT scores show a strong correlation with student’s first-year grade average in law school. LSAC says, “the LSAT is designed to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school.” LSAC has done a lot of research to back up their contention that it successfully measures these skills.
- The LSAT is the only objective means that law schools have of comparing applicants. The difficulty of obtaining a particular GPA varies wildly depending on which school an applicant went to and what program they did there. The LSAT, on the other hand, gives everyone very similar questions that don’t vary much in difficulty test to test and year to year.
There are also somewhat less valid reasons why the LSAT is important to law schools:
- The dominance of rankings in law school education has played an enormous role in how important the LSAT has become to law school admissions. The US News and World Report (USNWR) ranks law schools, in part, based on the strength of the student profile of a law school. To have some objective measure of this, they use LSAT and GPA numbers. Therefore, law schools have a huge incentive to make sure these numbers stay high so they’ll place well in the rankings. It isn’t all the law school’s fault that they take these rankings so seriously: would-be law students base much of their decision about where to attend on the USNWR rankings.
How Important Is The LSAT?: The Detailed Picture
Law schools at the very top of the rankings care a lot about great LSAT scores — you have to have one to get in — but relative to other factors, the LSAT is slightly less important there than at lower schools. Schools in the T6 such as Stanford and UChicago care deeply about who you are and what you have done with your life. These are so-called “soft factors“–considerations other than LSAT and GPA. Top law schools can afford to care about soft factors because they often have more applicants with the right kind of numbers than they have spots to fill. Therefore they look to these other factors to make some of their admissions decisions.
It’s difficult to judge how much the ‘soft’ factors matter exactly at these top 10 or so schools, but we do know that your LSAT and GPA are still great predictors of whether you get into these schools or not, meaning soft factors are still weighted way less than LSAT and GPA.
Also, the LSAT is still the dominant factor when considered against GPA alone. While Berkeley may form one exception to this rule (Dean Tom seems to put about equal emphasis on LSAT and what he calls “undergraduate record”), most commentators estimate that LSAT is nearly twice as important a factor as GPA in law school admission at the top schools.
Keep in mind that just because the LSAT gets more weight in the decision-making process, a GPA well below a school’s typical range is still likely to keep you from being admitted to that school. While LSAT is the most important factor, GPA is still significant.
When you get down into schools lower in the rankings (outside the top 10 schools), numbers alone become an even better predictor of how likely you are to get into a specific school. LSAT is still the more important number than GPA. Here, the LSAT may become even more than twice as important as GPA.
This is because there are more applicants with great GPAs than applicants with great LSAT scores. Theoretically, everyone could have a good GPA. Grade inflation has made it so that a considerable percentage of undergrad students have high (3.5+) GPAs.
On the other hand, the LSAT is designed so that only a small percentage of takers will have top scores, leading to a scarcity of applicants with good LSAT scores. This scarcity contributes to how important the LSAT is in admissions: law schools can compete over these students with good LSAT scores to help them get a better place in the law school rankings over their peer schools.
How Important is the LSAT Likely to Be in The Future?
Applicants may wonder how important is the LSAT likely to be in the future. The answer is that so long as it remains the best single predictor of law school performance, it is expected to stay pretty damn important. Also, so long as the USNWR rankings remain king and continue to rank schools largely based on students’ LSAT scores, schools will have an excellent reason to weigh the LSAT heavily in admissions decisions.
We hope this has helped you understand how important the LSAT is to the law school admissions process. Also, for the statistics-minded among you, you may wish to check out the LSAC studies on the predictive validity of the LSAT here.
How Should You Get Started Studying For This All-Important Test?
We are a law school admissions and LSAT prep blog, so we have many free resources to get you started. Check out our LSAT prep study schedule here. Also, for a quick look at the overall game-plan, check out my strategy for getting a 177 on the LSAT.
We are also here to answer your LSAT questions in the comments. If you have a problem, chances are it’s something we’ve dealt with before. It doesn’t matter how specific or broad the question is; just ask away!