[Ed. note: I found some more data that indicate that the selection bias of the LawSchoolNumbers.com data used to produce the graphs below is very significant. Some acceptance rates are grossly overstated. I am attempting a fix.]
Every year around this time, thousands of people applying to law school stress about their prospects of being admitted to their top choice of school. As many applicants are aware, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) plays a key role in the admissions process at many law schools, particularly those in the coveted “Top 14” (T14) rankings, a fact often bemoaned by applicants and admissions officers alike.
Another important number for an applicant is his or her UGPA, or “uniform” grade point average. I put uniform in scare quotes because GPAs are made uniform in only a perfunctory sense by being put on the same scale (e.g. A- is awarded a 3.67 grade point), whereas no effort is made to adjust grades across schools or courses (a difficult exercise, I grant).
As a prospective applicant myself, I found myself caught up in this stress. I wanted someone to demystify for me, in cold numbers, just how important the LSAT is to one’s chances of being admitted. But rather than rely on one of the many books written on the subject of law school admissions “secrets,” and wanting some relatively current data, I took it upon myself to do my own research. If nothing else, the research process was cathartic for me. I hope you also find it useful.
Note on Methodology: I did not prepare a regression, which would be an obvious way to answer the question: How much to these variables matter? The reason I didn’t run a regression is twofold: (1) For most schools in my sample, the relationship between scores and acceptance rates are non-linear, and I don’t have the tools at hand to efficiently run such a regression. What’s more, the data sets, while large in terms of numbers of applications, aren’t quite large enough to give a clear and confident picture of acceptance rates at all points on the curve. For example, very few applicants score in the 178-180 range, and as such, the calculated acceptance rates shown below are based on the few data that are available. (2) I’ve prepared the below figures from the perspective of an applicant, who might be asking: Given my LSAT score (and UGPA), what are my chances at getting in to School X? Given this objective, I figured it would be more useful to provide the data simply (i.e. graphically) rather than statistically, which would be much more prone to misinterpretation.
Observations on LSAT Scores
- We all know that the LSAT matters a great deal to law school admissions officers, but how much? It appears that most top schools (Yale and Harvard less so) have 3 buckets of LSAT scores (Yes, No, and Maybe; alas, Yale and Harvard drop the Yes bucket). To a first approximation, the extent of the relationship between one’s LSAT score and the acceptance decision at a particular school shows up in the width of the Maybe bucket (as measured in LSAT points). For example, look at Columbia: for all applicants earning over a 175 on the LSAT (irrespective of UGPA), the likelihood of acceptance is very high (90% or more; the Yes bucket), and among applicants earning less than a 167, there were no accepted applicants. So the “Maybe” range for Columbia is 168 to 174, a range of 6 points on the LSAT. Compare this to NYU, where the Maybe range is half as wide as Columbia’s (though somewhat more forgiving to applicants) at 168 to 171.
- Interestingly, at the top-of-the-top law schools (Harvard and Yale, and I suspect also Stanford), while LSATs certainly matter, there are no shoe-ins (no Yes bucket). This is evident in the longer and shallower slope of the curves illustrated for these schools. For other Top 14 schools, the curves are very steep, perhaps an indication that feedback effects—between and among applicants, admissions officers, and school ranking purveyors—are more at play among the schools ranked 4-14 than at the super-elite Top 3 schools.
Figures 2 & 3
Observations on UGPA
- I also tried to tease-out the relationship between UGPA and acceptance rates. While it certainly exists, the relationship is far less strong than that of LSAT scores and acceptance rates.
- Figure 2 is best viewed in relationship to Figure 1. You’ll note that most school’s curves have shifted to the left, when filtered for high-UGPA applicants. The extent of this shift gives some indication of the importance of UGPA.
- For one law school, Georgetown, I’ve hashed out acceptance rate-LSAT curves for each of the 5 quintiles among the sample applicants in Figure 3. As one would expect, lower-UGPA applicants generally require higher LSAT scores to improve their chances of acceptance. Or, seen a different way, one could say that for some LSAT scores, the UGPA matters a great deal at GULC. For example, with an LSAT of 168, you’re a virtual lock (90%) to be accepted if your UGPA is in the first quintile of applicants, whereas you’re a long shot (about 10 to 1 against) from the 4th or 5th quintile.
I hope this helps shed light on the What are my chances? questions that many law school applicants have. Clearly LSATs are important to law schools, but these illustrations give some sense of just how important they are, and for whom that extra point on the LSAT matters most. Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge that I’ve been silent on the normative question about whether law schools ought to put as much weight on the LSAT as they appear to, on which I have no comment at this time.