Opinion | Everything I wish I knew about law school applications before applying

By Talia Spillerman, Senior Staff Columnist

About a year ago, I started the process of applying to law school. Right away, I was overwhelmed with the countless prep courses, classes and books to prepare for the LSAT — the Law School Admissions Test. Here is a list of things that, if I had known a year ago through the entire admissions process, would have saved me my time, money and sanity.

Give yourself time 

Whether you like it or not, studying for the LSAT takes time. Unlike other entrance exams, such as the Standard Admissions Test or even the Medical College Admissions Test, the LSAT doesn’t contain information you learn in a specific class. Instead, it tests skills such as logic and understanding arguments that undergraduate courses may help develop but do not explicitly teach. So there are aspects of the test that test takers must develop proficiency for themselves. 

At first, I took this lack of specific memorization to mean that I either do or don’t have the innate ability to be successful on each section of the test. But this isn’t true. While each person will have different strengths at first, the more time you spend learning the test, the better you can score. The exact time it takes one to reach their highest possible score differs for each person — depending on your other commitments and how much you want to. While studying for the LSAT, I was a full-time student or working nearly 30 hours per week. Not only did I have to consciously schedule time to prepare, but it also took time to figure out a viable method

Since the LSAT objectively sucks the life out of you, I found that after practicing for a couple of hours, I needed a break. If I continued to study when I reached my limit, I would do worse on the questions — making me feel like I was digressing when I really just needed a break. Thus, taking a break is not being lazy but managing your time wisely. Similar to sports, rest time is just as important as practice time. So I would suggest stretching out studying so that you do not feel the need to cram. For me, this meant that, over the summer, I would practice more on the days I was not working. 

Use a preparation method that fits your lifestyle and learning style 

Unfortunately, no universal method can help you get a 180 — the highest possible score — on the LSAT. The best approach is one you will actually complete, a lesson I had to learn the expensive way.

I first signed up for Power Score — which at the time cost $500 — which has a library of classes on how to master the test. Yet, this did not help me. During the school year, I did not have the mental capacity to sit for an additional class, and over the summer, I felt like I needed a break from classes. I wanted to just review the information at my speed.

Throughout my time studying for the LSAT, I used Khan Academy. This free resource has many practice questions, explanations and complete tests. There are some strategy videos, but at least for me, they were not as helpful as the prep book series I bought. 

The most helpful thing I did to help prepare me for the test was buying Manhattan Prep LSAT Strategy Guide books for $163. This three-volume set, one for each test section, has about 12 chapters discussing how to solve different questions and drills to understand how to better use these strategies. The book has smaller practice sections with a test-sized one at the end. 

The Law School Admissions Council — the company that administers the LSAT and law school applications — also provides a bank of tests from the past 40 years which is a great practice tool. It costs nearly $100, but I think it’s worth having all those tests at your disposal to practice as much as you want. The correct answers are shown at the end of each section without explanations. 

Everything about the process is expensive, but there are ways to save some money. 

To take the LSAT itself, it costs $215 for each test, in addition to any practice materials you use. Then, when actually applying to law school, there’s a flat fee of $195 to send your score and transcript from LSAC — which is the only way you can apply. Plus, LSAC charges another $45 per school you send an application to. In addition to these LSAC fees, many law schools themselves have an application fee ranging from $30 to $85. LSAC does have a need-based fee waiver program, but it is not applicable to everyone. 

The most significant money saver I took advantage of was application fee waivers from the law schools themselves. Some schools have a form on their website where you can request a fee waiver. Still, for many, I emailed the dean of financial assistance. I explained that I was a college student interested in applying and that the application fee and the many LSAC fees are expensive and asked if they could give me a fee waiver. For 75% of the schools I applied to, they gave me a code for a free application, meaning I just had to pay $45 for the LSAC processing fee. 

There is no “normal” number of schools to apply to 

Choosing which schools to apply to can be overwhelming, with 196 American Bar Association-accredited law schools. To start, I selected some schools where I was in the 75th percentile of their last year’s class, based on my LSAT score and GPA. Then, I selected some schools where I was below the 50th percentile of the LSAT score, and finally, some schools where I was in the 25th percentile or below. When thinking about a location, I had no place in particular I wanted to go — I just knew I wanted to live in a city in the northeast. The number you apply to will differ for everyone based on limiting factors such as location and affordability. 

Overall, you can have a good guess based on your LSAT and GPA which schools you are more likely to get into and possibly receive scholarships from. But ultimately, you do not know until you try, so try to apply to a range of schools.  

Be aware of what rankings are based on 

If you are considering law school, you may have noticed many notoriously top schools, such as Harvard and Yale, have opted out of the US News and World Report Rankings due to the institution’s disagreements with the lists’ notions of a top law school. 

For potential students using the list as a guide, you cannot see the actual numbers each school gets and the difference between the rankings for each school making it difficult to adequately compare schools. 

Regardless of which rating site you use, also make sure to look on each law schools’ website for the employment rate, clerkship placement and scholarship availability. Rankings are an excellent place to start understanding your options, but do not use that as your only basis for applying to a school.

Most of all, make sure you use all of your resources. When deciding on a preparation course or book, read through the reviews on other sites. Watch YouTube videos on how other people have prepared for the LSAT — you never know when you’ll find a method that resonates with you. And as a Pitt student, remember that you have access to the Career Center, where a pre-law adviser can help answer any of your questions. Good luck!

Talia Spillerman writes about anything and everything. Write to her at [email protected]