Skip to main content

Law School Application Process

Each law school has its own idiosyncratic application form. The first thing to do is to read the application materials carefully. Then follow the directions. Your application will include:

When to Apply

Plan to complete your applications as soon as possible. For the best chance of admission to the schools of your choice, December 1st is the latest we recommend sending out your applications. Please visit the Pre-Law blog (link below) for a regularly updated application timeline and checklist.

Most law schools review applications on a rolling admissions basis beginning in mid-Autumn. It is to your advantage to be considered early before the incoming class begins filling up. Many schools have largely filled their class by the time their actual deadline rolls around in late winter. Even if you are passed over in the first review, your file will still be considered a second or third time unless it is a clear-cut rejection. Admission rates are significantly higher for those who apply in the fall than for those who apply in the winter.

Your application is not complete until the law school receives all requested information, including letters of recommendation and the Dean’s Certification letter (if needed). Make sure you speak to your recommenders well in advance of the application deadlines, and that you register with LSDAS early. If you take the LSAT in December, plan to submit your applications immediately after receiving your scores.

The Application Form

Each school has its own application form, and they are usually available in August for admission for the following year (i.e., available August 2009 for admission in Fall 2010).

Every school now makes available an online application through LSAC/LSDAS; all encourage online applications, and some schools require it. You have free access to the online applications and the LSAC software as part of your LSDAS registration. While paper applications are still available at some schools (usually for download from their websites, or as part of their catalogs), it’s hard to imagine why you would want to apply in that manner any more. Online applications are much easier to complete, easier to submit, and simply look nicer. Schools will likely move to an all-electronic application process in the next several years.

The online application software asks you to first fill out a Common Information questionnaire, which will ask all the basic questions that appear on each individual application. That information is then plugged into the individual applications, and you are allowed to edit those, add or subtract information, and fill in remaining blanks. As you work on the applications, you can periodically save them to the LSAC server before eventually transmitting them to the law schools. You may also print out the entire completed application or individual pages.

Online applications are relatively new, and only became essentially universal during the 2005-2006 admission season. The user interface is not always as self-explanatory as you’d like. Accordingly, it is strongly recommended that you check out the LSDAS online demo video before starting to fill out your applications. These will give you a detailed overview of the process, and greatly reduce your stress and confusion.

If you choose to fill out one or more applications offline, most schools will let you download a .pdf file with the forms. You will then fill them out and mail them. You can also call, email or write the Admissions Office and ask them to send you the application. Try to find a typewriter rather than filling them in by hand. You really want the admission committees to focus on substance and not on deciphering your handwriting.

However you apply, make sure you fill out the forms completely and honestly. Be sure to read carefully the directions for each school’s application and follow them slavishly. Odd as it seems, the ability to follow directions well is a key skill in law school and beyond.

You may feel that some of the questions ask for information that is confidential or under court seal. It doesn’t matter. You must disclose all requested information. In some states, your law school application is sent to the character committee when you apply for admission to the bar. If the information on your bar application and law school application is inconsistent or contradictory, you will be asked for an explanation. (For additional information on answering questions regarding your disciplinary and/or criminal record.

If any significant information changes during the course of the admission process, you must notify every law school where your application is still pending.

If you run out of room answering any question on the form, attach an additional page. Be sure to put your name and Social Security number or LSAC identification number on any attachments and indicate which question you are supplementing.

You should attach a copy of your resume to your application even if it is not requested. Do not, however, use your resume as a substitute for any information requested on the application form and do not put on your application “refer to attached resume.” Fill out the forms completely, even if the information is duplicated in your resume. Alumni applicants should feel free to email the Pre-Law Advisor for assistance.

return to top Return to Top Icon



Your Personal Statement

After your LSAT and GPA, your personal statement is the most important part of your law school applications. You should plan to spend a significant amount of time on it. While every personal statement is, by its nature, different, there are a few basic points to keep in mind as you write.

The overarching principle is simple: Consider your audience. Admissions officials read every single personal statement they receive. At some schools, this literally means that one person is reading hundreds or thousands of essays; at others, the committees split up the stack. Either way, your statement is one of a very large number the reader will be reviewing, perhaps late into the night.

Here’s another important thing to know about admissions officials: they are the idealists in the process. Admissions officials really do want to create an interesting and diverse incoming class. They know how much students learn from one another during the three years of law school, and deeply appreciate the value of having a range of different experiences, backgrounds and perspectives in the law school mix. They also want people who will succeed in law school and beyond, thereby reflecting well on the law school.

Your grades and LSAT score have told them about one facet of you. They are eager to round out their view of you with something more meaningful and three-dimensional.

And, like most people, they appreciate a well-told story.

Keep this picture of the admissions official in mind as you consider the following tips.

Develop a theme for your statement

What is the quality, trait or background experience that you are trying to convey to the admissions committee? Political engagement? Determination? Compassion for others? Hardworking nature? Ability to overcome adversity? The life lesson that set you on this path to law school? How your race/ethnicity/culture has shaped you? These are some of the most popular themes for law school applications, and they are good ones. Choose one of these, or another, as the backbone of your personal statement. Do not feel that you have to convince the committee that you want to go to law school – the presence of your application in their stack is ample evidence of that desire. Do, however make the explicit connection between your theme and your reason(s) for applying.

Show, don’t tell

This basic principle of good writing is the most important one to follow in drafting your personal statement. Do not make conclusory statements about yourself like, “I’ve always been very hardworking” or “I have the ambition to excel” or “I really want to help people.” Rather, show the reader an example of your hardworking nature – tell the story of how you single-handedly reorganized the stock room into an efficient operation at your otherwise boring summer job. Relate your experiences tutoring underprivileged junior high students. Describe what it was like training for the big game, meet, or event. Don’t write, “I became committed to working in health care law when my grandmother was in the hospital.” Instead, describe your family’s experiences during that time.

return to top Return to Top Icon

Get feedback on early drafts

Don’t wait until your personal statement is polished and almost ready to submit before you show it to anyone else. Ask friends, family members, professors or the Pre-Law Advisor to review an early draft to make sure you’re on the right track.

Prepare to write several drafts

Your personal statement is a crucial element of your law school application. It is worth spending a lot of time drafting, honing and polishing.

Answer the question(s) asked

Each school asks a slightly different question or series of questions for their personal statement. Make sure you are answering the question asked. This may mean making some fairly serious edits to your basic statement for each school.

Pay attention to grammar and spelling

One purpose of the personal statement is to gauge your writing skills. Bad grammar or misspellings will leap out at the attentive reader and merit an immediate, disdainful circle with a red pen. This is another good reason to prepare multiple drafts and to have others review your work.

Make it legible

Do not get clever with your margins, font or line-spacing. Use a basic, readable font in a normal size (12 is usually best). Your readers will be expecting one-inch margins and double-spaced lines. If you are going over the two-page limit, then you need to edit your work, not make your font smaller.

Proofread!

Look not just for the typos and spelling errors, but also for that bane of personal statements everywhere: the forgotten mention of School A in the statement for School B. This particular error can occur very easily if you are using and editing a boilerplate statement, and it very definitely irks admissions officers.

Common errors to avoid

  • Do not use your personal statement to explain a negative GPA or other “bad” information unless it is your central theme (e.g., “flunking out of college was a turning point for me”). Use an addendum for explanations of this sort.
  • Do not write about how fascinating the law is or how you find it intellectually stimulating. Of course it is – the law schools already know that.
  • Do not start off any sentence with “I have always wanted to be a lawyer”. Again, of course you have, or you wouldn’t be applying.
  • Do not write a point-by-point essay on why you’d be a stellar law student or lawyer. That is really not what the admissions committee is looking for. Let your resume and the rest of your application speak to your accomplishments.
  • Do not include meaningful quotations from famous philosophers. Not only is this a very tired ploy, it says nothing about you.
  • Do not get too clever – good writing speaks for itself. You do not need to develop some quirky approach to get your statement read.

How can the Pre-Law Advising Office help?

Reviewing personal statements is the first priority for the Pre-Law Advising Center in the Fall. Feel free to make an appointment to brainstorm about your theme. Email or drop off a draft for comments. Seek out assistance early in the process — you don’t want to drop off what you think is a finished product only to hear that it’s way off base.

In addition to one-on-one assistance, the Pre-Law Advising Center offers workshops in the Fall on personal statements. Check out our blog (link below) for news about upcoming events.

return to top Return to Top Icon



Letter of Recommendation

Law schools normally ask for two letters of recommendation. The best recommendations come from teachers who know your academic work well and who can evaluate your intellectual capabilities and potential to study law. Try to get at least one letter from a professor in your major.

Only if you have been out of school for a substantial period of time should you submit a work-related recommendation in lieu of an academic recommendation. (For more information on recommendations when you have been out of school for a while, see our page on Taking Time Off) . However, you may want to supplement the required number of recommendations with one from an employer or internship supervisor if that person is going to say something significantly different from your academic recommenders. The LSDAS letter of recommendation service has information on the minimum and maximum number of letters each school will accept — read the directions carefully, and don’t exceed the limit.

The academic rank and title of the recommender is less important than the quality of the recommendation. Admissions committees are not impressed with letters from famous politicians or judges that are overly effusive and have little content. The admissions committee will wonder why you couldn’t get a recommendation from a teacher who knows your academic work.

Meet in person with all potential recommenders. Approach them well in advance of any deadlines. Ask them if they feel they know you well enough, and have a high enough opinion of you to write a positive, content-full letter. Ask if it will assist them in writing the letter if you provide additional information such as your transcript, a draft of your personal statement, a resume, or copies of papers or exams you submitted in their course. If the person is new to writing recommendations for law school, s/he might want to check out our Tips for Recommenders page.

Almost all schools ask that you send your recommendations through LSDAS, and all schools allow you to do so. Your recommenders only need to send one signed original to LSAC which will send your letters of recommendation to the schools you apply to. LSAC allows you to designate school-specific letters — i.e., Prof. A, who also teaches at Law School B, can write you a letter addressed only to that school and you can instruct LSAC accordingly. Be sure to give your recommenders the appropriate LSDAS form.

With all recommendations, you will be asked if you waive the right to see the letter. Law schools admissions officials tend to believe that letters are more candid when applicants waive this right.

return to top Return to Top Icon

Tips for Recommenders

If you are a graduate student, faculty member or employer who is new to writing recommendations in general, or to writing law school recommendations in particular, this page is for you.

Law school admission committees look to recommendations first to confirm their sense of the student’s academic potential, and second to learn anything else they can about a particular applicant’s motivations, skills or experiences. Some schools place great weight on the recommendations; others, not so much. In writing a letter of recommendation, however, you should assume that it will matter very much — both in terms of what you say, and what you don’t say.

It is very important that you have an honest conversation with the person who is asking for the recommendation. If you don’t feel positively toward the student, or if you don’t remember his/her work well enough to write a persuasive letter, please say as much, and as directly as possible. This is admittedly a hard conversation to have, for you and for the student, but you are not doing the student any favors by sparing his/her feelings at this juncture. Be straightforward and state clearly the reasons why you feel you cannot offer an enthusiastic recommendation.

Often, students choose a potential recommender based more on title and perceived prestige than on how well the recommender knows the applicant. This is a bad idea, and one that the Pre-Law Advising Center strongly counsels against. If you are one of those prestigious title-holders, you should feel free to assure the student that your recommendation is going to be far less persuasive than one from a professor who knows the student and his/her work more closely. In particular, students in large lecture classes who have developed closer working relationships with graduate student teaching assistants than with the professor should be encouraged to seek a recommendation from the TA — the personal connection will come through in the letter and result in a far more compelling recommendation.

If you do feel favorably toward the student and his/her work, then it’s time to tell the admissions committee why. The best letters of recommendation contain specific examples of the student’s stellar skills, not just conclusory statements. Tell the committee what the basis for your opinion is — what was the nature of the project, paper, or assignment that Sally completed which proved she had such great analytical reasoning skills? What did it require of all students, and what did Sally do in particular that set her work above the others’?

It is especially important to emphasize those skills that will make the student a good law student: e.g., writing, analytical reasoning, critical thinking, reading, self-discipline/work ethic, etc. You should feel free to ask the student for any additional information or materials that would assist you in drafting the letter — for example, a copy of any papers s/he wrote for you, his/her resume, or even a draft of his/her personal statement.

The corollary of the injunction to include as many specifics as possible is to avoid writing in generalities. To suggest that the student “will succeed in any endeavor s/he attempts” sounds great, but will likely make the admissions committee members think you don’t know much about this particular student or his/her ambitions. In turn, that can lead them to question the student’s judgment in choosing you as one of his/her recommenders.

It is also very helpful to committees to see comparative information — how does this student stack up against others you’ve had, and in particular against other students you’ve had who have gone on to law school?

If you have gotten to know the applicant personally and, as a result, have additional information about, for example, the person’s ambitions, commitment to the law or to public service, or obstacles they have overcome, you should feel free to include that information as well. Because law schools do not generally offer personal interviews, they use the recommendations (as well as some other written materials) to really try to get an idea of who each applicant is. Your additional input is very helpful in that regard.

There is no prohibition on sharing a draft of your letter with the applicant. In fact, an applicant can often be helpful in reminding a recommender of something that might be missing, or in correcting any misinformation. But you should not feel obligated to show the student the letter either. It is really a point of personal preference for each recommender.

You will not need to write a separate letter for each law school. Law school letters of recommendation are now centralized. You will write one letter, attach it to a pre-printed form the student has provided (from the Law School Admission Council), and mail the one copy of the letter and form to this central service. LSAC will forward your letter to the schools the student applies to. If you have a strong connection to a particular law school — for example, you are an active alum, or have taught there — you can submit a specific letter to just that law school. Ask the student to provide you with the appropriate LSAC form for directed letters. Please keep a copy of the letter until the student confirms that LSAC has received it, just in case there is a mix-up.

One final note on timing: applicants should give you ample time to write and submit the letter. Please be as direct with the applicant as possible about whether you can meet the suggested deadline, and communicate with him/her if any new problems develop. If the applicant has spoken with the Pre-Law Advisor, s/he will have been instructed to be clear about deadlines, and to refrain from nagging the recommenders to the extent possible. Open communication on this point works best for everyone.

return to top Return to Top Icon



Dean's Certification Letter

Several law schools require a Dean’s Certification or Dean’s Letter for admittance. This is a general letter from your undergraduate institution that details the applicant’s disciplinary record (if any). This requirement can be completed by the Pre-Law Advisor or your school Dean. The Pre-Law Advisor may use this opportunity to confirm the applicant’s grade point average and class rank (if available).

Be aware that the Dean’s Letter is NOT completed online and does NOT go through LSAC. It is oftentimes the only portion of your application that must be completed on paper and that is sent directly to the law schools. Without the Dean’s Letter, your application will be incomplete.

The main purpose of Dean’s Letters is to report on your disciplinary record, both regarding conduct and academics. Disciplinary records may consist of something minor like a noise complaint that simply resulted in a warning.Among the schools that have required Dean’s Letters are: Boston University, Brooklyn, Columbia, Cornell, Suffolk, and UConn. Please note that schools’ requirements change frequently. You must be aware of your potential law school’s requirements.

return to top Return to Top Icon



Applicants of Disability or of Color

Applicants with Disabilities

Coming soon: Information for law school applicants with disabilities, with particular emphasis on applicants with learning disabilities. For these applicants, there are a number of issues to consider, including

  • whether to request an accommodation on the LSAT
  • what documentation you may need to support a request for an accommodation
  • whether or not to disclose your disability to the law school admissions committees
  • what documentation you may want to include in your application
  • what are the legal restrictions on law schools considering applicants with learning disabilities
  • resources for law students and lawyers with learning disabilities

Applicants of Color

Coming soon: Information for applicants of color, including

  • The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter v. Bollinger (the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action case) on minority admissions
  • How your race/ethnicity affects your law school admissions
  • Whether and how to disclose your race/ethnicity on application forms
  • Scholarship and financial aid opportunities
  • Other resources for lawyers and law students of color
Ramapo College of New Jersey recognizes the value of publishing on the Internet. The College does not preview, review, censor, or control the content of these pages in any way as a matter of course. This page and Web pages linked from this page are created by the authors, and do not in any way constitute official Ramapo College of New Jersey content.