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Pre-Law: Common Questions, Advice and Links

Compiled by Prof. Jeremy Lewis, revised 27 Aug. 2015 with LSAT dates

For all you pre-law hopefuls, the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) will be offered 
3 October 2015 (register by 28 Aug.)
5 December 2015 (register by 30 October)
6 February 2015 (register by 7 January) 
13 June 2016 (register by late April).
For law school, what major field should I take?
There is no one pre-Law major field; the most common major nationally among law students is political science, followed by business, English and history.
What skills are they looking for?
Law schools admissions emphasize a broad core curriculum with strong communication skills, reasoning skills, and creative skills.
What degree do I need?
The bachelor's degree is required, with a high Grade point Average (so take a major field that motivates you to learn)
Should I pay for a course to train for the LSAT?
If you learn best from an interactive in-person class, Kaplan and Princeton Review courses are the standards, though expensive.  Kaplan is more focussed on the technique for each section, while Princeton Review takes a more liberal-arts approach, teaching you the way of thinking needed for the LSAT (and for law).
My daughters and their friends have commonly recommended the new online teaching services, where you may enjoy the excellent video teachers (especially Blueprint) and interactive exercises; you may also want to try Powerscore, which is similar and slightly less expensive, but less appealing (they judge), and emphasizes audio webinars. Having observed some of both, I agree that Blueprint is the better one -- and half the price of an in-person course.
If you learn well from books and practice tests, both Kaplan and Princeton offer textbooks that are much less expensive than a course.
HC political science students have recommended the Logic course taught occasionally by Dr. Buckner in Philosophy - or an introductory text in the subject. It helps to recognize standard fallacies of reasoning given in a reading or question.
Students in the past gave poor ratings to a pre-LSAT course offered by a local state university, saying it was barely worth the $180 cost.  However, courses and instructors change over time ... and there may be better ones available at further distant campuses.
What score do I need on the LSAT?
It depends on how competitive the law school is.
A high score on the Law School Aptitude Test is the prime indicator for admissions.
Moderately competitive applicants (e.g., ACT Composite of about 24; HC political science "B" grades) tend to earn scores in the 150s.
Competitive applicants (e.g., ACT Composite of about 26-28; HC political science "B+" and "A-" grades) tend to earn scores in the high 150s-low 160s.
Highly competitive applicants (e.g., ACT Composite of about 29+; HC political science "A" grades) tend to earn scores in the 160s - low 170s.
However this is only a rough guide, and assumes plenty of preparation, and an ability to take logical, multiple-choice questions.
This does not seem to correlate well with students' logical writing ability, as opposed to multiple-choice ability; though there are solutions (HC students with strong writing skills have sometimes opted for Mercer University Law School in Georgia, which emphasizes legal writing).
Do they care about my leadership and service on my resume?
Admissions officers for some schools are also looking for an interesting candidate with co-curricular or extra-curricular achievements.
Our HC grads tend to have many leadership lines on their resumes, so this helps.
Check with your selected schools.
Which law schools in my chosen region are the best - or the best fit - for me?
That depends on your preferences and funds, so the 'best fit' is a good viewpoint.
Research the law schools' admissions, placement and Bar passage statistics in the ABA- LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, found at LSAC.org.
How many schools should I apply to?
Students often apply to 6-10 schools, and most HC students apply to those in the Southeast.
Consider the application fees an investment that usually pays off in only a few years (in salary and satisfaction).
Should I take the LSAT first to learn how to prepare, and then for the real thing?
LSAC releases to law schools ALL your test scores, as well as the average scores.
Prepare thoroughly before you take the test the FIRST time.
Students often do improve slightly on the second test, but not the third time.
Why do I need to register for the Credential Assembly Service (CAS)?
The CAS provides law schools with an analysis of your academic work and a record of your LSAT scores. Request your college send a transcript directly to the service. CAS will send a copy of the transcript, the analysis and LSAT scores, to each law school you select.
What should be my timetable of application?
Junior year: make this academic year count, for these grades are the ones most visible to admissions officers.
Junior year: since you need references from a couple of faculty members, take several courses from faculty who are are oriented towards writing persuasive letters.
Junior spring: start taking practice with past LSATs or with review books or courses.
Junior year: consider an internship in a law office, and attending pre-law speaker events.
Retaking a course to raise a freshman grade from D to A is a fast way to improve your GPA.
Work on removing any weaknesses that you sense in your record.
May after junior year: research law schools of interest, and prepare for the LSAT
Register for the LSAT/LSDAS
June of junior-to-senior summer: take first LSAT, if well prepared.
September/October of senior year: request the new year's school catalogs, and take the LSAT.
October: send out your applications and request transcripts and references.
December/February of senior year, take the LSAT for the second time, if not already, but only some schools accept these later test scores.
Senior winter: check that all transcripts and references have been received.
Senior spring: inform your pre-Law advisor and reference writers of your results.
Send the necessary deposit to the law school you will attend.
Request your registrar send your final transcript to your accepted law school.
This sounds pretty hectic. Do I need to limit my extra-curricular activities in senior Fall?
For most seniors, yes: consider senior Fall preparation for graduate or professional life - not a retrospective on activities already done. There will be time to celebrate in senior spring.
Should I visit law schools, or even apply for an interview?
Law schools rarely grant interviews, which are not a reliable indicator of success in law school.
Visits are useful, especially if you are able to talk with current law school students - but mostly must be seen as a marketing device for the particular school.
How is the LSAT organized?
Expect five sections of 30 minutes, totalling about 125 multiple choice questions, and taking 3 hours 25 minutes, plus a break and some administrative time.  Allow four hours.
The Reading comprehension section will hold about 4 readings with about 7 questions each.
The Analytical Reasoning section will hold about 4 sets of about 7 questions each.
The Logical Thinking section holds about 25 questions.
An unscored written section follows - this will be forwarded to your selected law schools, so say something interesting.
How is the LSAT scored?
The score is based on one section of Reading, one of Analytical and two of Logical - but you cannot tell which section will not be scored.
About 100 questions are scored, producing a curved score of 120-180.
Most HC political science graduates who have taken the LSAT, when prepared, have claimed scores in the range of 154-164, with a few around 170.
Many have admitted they had lower scores initially, especially when unprepared. (There is a moral in this).
Some have claimed scores to their friends that differ from those they have admitted to their faculty - so don't let friends intimidate you!
If we can apply from any major field, how can the LSAT test anything?
The test does not assume any particular body of knowledge.
Questions test you on careful reading, drawing inferences objectively, picking out relevant points, coping with ambiguous situations, and quickly adapting.
Most people report having difficulty with the logic games, so you are not alone!
How do I adapt to the test itself?
Practice the informed-guessing game with previous questions. There are no deductions for wrong answers.
You will be working under time pressure, so practice the same way.
An easy question is worth the same point as a difficult question.
The past questions available from LSAC are the most reliable source.
Read carefully all instructions and set-ups; then think quickly.
Answer from the text given, right or wrong - not from your own assumptions, background knowledge (or prejudices).
Knock out questions steadily, for over 3 hours, and work all the way to the end.
Pick the best answer, and move on. There is no time for subtle thinking, and there may well be an almost-right answer provided to distract you.
Mark your answers in the correct spots.
Where do I learn about useful associations and their resources?
The Southern Pre-Law Advisers Association (SAPLA) and the Northeast (NAPLA) are the leading groups. (I took a NAPLA course for advisers some years ago, and found it helpful).
See below for their resources for applicants.
Some students have recommended you follow these links at Rice University
How do I go about selecting a Law School?
Our graduates have usually reported seeking affordable state university schools at locations in Alabama and adjacent states, or private schools with scholarships (such as the Cumberland school)
Here is the Boston College Law School Locator, with a grid of schools that accept candidates in each range of LSAT score and GPA.
Remember that your actual LSAT score will usually be lower than your practice scores.
What schools are competitive in the southeastern states?
A number of our HC alumni have remarked that there is an attraction to studying and networking where you intend to practise law. Most of our seniors apply to Alabama and Cumberland, among other schools of law.
Generally our seniors have often reached a 3.2 GPA, so their law school entry has been more affected by the LSAT: a 155 score opens up the prospects of a good law school (including Cumberland) in most southeastern states.
Among the handful of southeastern schools in the Boston College locator, note that Alabama was listed in 2012-13 very high up among the Ivies, Stanford & Duke (in the C category), for those with a GPA of 3.8+ and LSAT of 165-169; whereas in 2001 several HC graduates entered UA, graduates in recent years have remarked that UA is becoming too competitive.
Vanderbilt and Florida were listed only slightly below that, for those above 3.6 GPA.
Florida State, Georgia State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Tulane and Wake Forest were found just below them, in G category, for a 3.4 GPA and 160 LSAT. All of these are in range of our better HC graduates.
Some students have recommended you follow these links at Rice University
What types of different or dual degree programs are there?
Read sections of the comprehensive Boston U. law list book, compiled by NAPLA and SAPLA (the northeastern and southern pre-law advisers).
Dual degrees can be functional for many career paths, and less costly in time & money than two separate degrees.
Masters of Law may distinguish you from many other law graduates.
Private school costs are usually much higher than state university schools, though some such as Cumberland, have awarded our alumni substantial scholarships to reduce the gap.