- Is there a "Pre-Law" course of study?
- Should I apply to law school now or later?
- Deciding Where to Apply
- The Application
- Fee Waivers
- Electronic Applications
- Dean’s Certification Forms
- Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Statements
- Application Timeline
- Essential Resources
To receive direct information from the Pre-Law Advisor about special law-related events and opportunities, select all "law" categories under Career Preferences in your Handshake profile. Be sure to check the Handshake events calendar for information about law school workshops, visits by law school representatives, and other relevant events.
Students may use Handshake to schedule an appointment with the Pre-Law advisor. Alumni must call 413. 542.2265 to arrange an in-person or phone appointment.
Students often ask if there are specific courses or a particular course of study they should take in order to have a better chance of getting into law school. The answer, on the surface, is no. Although LJST, Political Science and Economics are three of the most common majors for Amherst applicants, law schools accept applicants across the full spectrum of majors. They do, however, like to see a combination of strength in one or two major areas, along with a good breadth of other course choices. If you are intent on attending law school, choose courses which encourage your life as a reader and a thinker--law schools choose their students based on evidence of “being able to do well in law school,” which is sometimes interpreted as “being capable of thinking like a lawyer.”
One very important element of your law school application will be your resume, as an indication of the non-academic work and activities which, along with your coursework, make up who you are as a law school candidate. Become actively involved in the things which truly interest you, but beware of more casual “dabbling” in activities just to beef up your law school resume. Law schools are interested in seeing “the whole person,” and will appreciate a background which shows depth and commitment to the world around you.
Think carefully about this decision -- circumstances vary from student to student.
If you're feeling unsure as to whether or not you wish to attend law school the fall after you graduate, it may be best to give yourself time before going through the law school application process, which is expensive and time-consuming. Consider carefully whether your senior year academic commitments and other activities might be compromised by this process--applying to law school in your senior year is often considered to be as much work as taking an additional course.
If you're considering waiting to apply, you should know that, historically, people who have been out of college for a year or more have a slight edge in law school admissions - law schools have appreciated candidates who have a bit more experience and maturity. However, Amherst's graduating seniors do very well in the applications process, so don't let this deter you if you genuinely wish to go right on to law school.
Many seniors apply to law school knowing that they want to defer. Many law schools don't like this practice much, and some offer deferrals only for compelling reasons. You must check with individual law schools about their deferral policy – these can vary widely from school to school. It is considered better to wait to apply until the year before which you want to begin law school, for a number of reasons. Obviously, there are circumstances in which a graduating senior would want or need to defer a law school acceptance, but, in general, it is better not to apply with deferral as a goal.
A number of factors will go into your decision about the law schools to which you'll apply. The most important thing is to find out as much as you can about the various schools on your list--learn about their courses of study and the culture of the schools--so that you can make good decisions for yourself once you've received your acceptances. Be sure to visit the schools on your list. Check their websites--most offer “Open House” days during which you can visit with admission deans, sit in on classes, and talk with current law students.
Here are some of the common factors applicants consider in drawing up their lists:
Law School Ranking--many Amherst students and alumni are interested in applying to top-ranked law schools. Having attended a prestigious law school can, indeed, open doors for you after law school. However, it's very important to remember that there are other good reasons for choosing a given law school. Many applicants prefer to select a school for other reasons – for the programs it offers, its geographic location or the comfort level a school provides in day-to-day life. Whether you're pursuing a top-ranked school, or feel more comfortable choosing schools based on factors other than rank, be sure to learn as much as you can about the culture of a given law school before making a decision to attend it.
Geographic Location--this is another major factor in making decisions about law schools. Some applicants want to be near family or friends, some want to experience an area of the country in which they've always wanted to live and others want to choose a location which will help them make career contacts. Often, applicants choose to attend law school close to where they know they want to practice law – this can be helpful in making contact with potential employers and building a network of colleagues.
Programs--often, an applicant will choose to apply to a law school because of its strength in his or her chosen area of study or because it offers a particular dual degree. To find law schools in your area of interest use the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.
Cost--many applicants choose to apply to law schools which will cost them less. Tuition and fees vary widely – you'll need to check individual law schools to find out their costs and their own policies on financial aid. A few things to remember: In-state tuition for state law schools is significantly lower than for private schools. Some law schools offer special scholarships or fellowships for their own students. And some offer loan forgiveness programs for graduates electing a career in public service law.
LSAC offers online fee waiver applications for the following services: one LSAT per testing year, registration for the LSDAS (including four free law school reports), and a copy of The Official LSAT SuperPrep®. Applicants may complete the fee waiver application at the time they create an LSAC online account, or they can access the online application at any time on the LSAC Online Services main page, where there will be a new Fee Waivers tab.
Online fee waiver applicants will receive immediate online notification of the conditional approval or denial of a fee waiver. See LSAC fee waiver information for details. It is still recommended that applicants seeking fee waivers apply well in advance (several months) of the test registration deadline.
LSDAS registrants with LSAC online accounts have free access to electronic JD applications for all ABA-approved law schools, including the common application information. This free distribution of online applications allows more applicants to electronically package their applications with the transcripts, letters of recommendation, and LSDAS law school reports that are being processed and sent to law schools by LSAC, at no additional cost.
You will need to order a transcript from Amherst to be sent to the CAS. Submit a request to the Amherst College Registrar's Office, using the CAS transcript form available in your LSAC account. If you attended any other undergraduate institutions, you will need to request a transcript from that institution, as well.
LSAC's guidelines for the submission of foreign study transcripts are outlined on the LSAC website.
For Five-College courses, you do not need to request transcripts from Smith, Mount Holyoke, UMASS, or Hampshire. LSDAS should recognize these as part of our Five-College consortium. Occasionally, LSDAS will mistakenly focus in on one of these institution's names and inform you of an “Unacknowledged Transcript” problem. You will need to call LSDAS and explain to the customer service agent that your course was taken as part of a consortium arrangement, that specific information about this arrangement appears on the back of the Amherst transcript you submitted, and ask them to check their notes about this. Unfortunately, it happens a bit too often, but is always easily corrected.
If you encounter another kind of “Unacknowledged Transcript” problem, contact the Amherst Pre-Law Advisor, who will help you sort it out.
A Dean's Certification is a verification of your dates of attendance and graduation, and whether you have been subject to any academic or disciplinary actions or proceedings while a student at the college. This verification is usually requested by graduate schools (particularly law schools and medical schools), state bar associations, governement agencies, or independent agencies when applying for admission or employment.
Many (but not all) schools ask applicants for a Dean's Certification Form. Typically, the institution or agency to which you are applying will provide you with a Dean's Certification form that will need to be completed by your undergraduate institution. Students applying to transfer to another undergraduate institution may also be asked to submit a Dean's Certification.
For information on how to request a Dean's Certificate visit the Community Standards webpage.
This is an area about which law school applicants have many questions, and it's important to be well-informed, since recommendations are a key factor for law school admissions.
How many letters of recommendation do I need?
This can vary by school. Most schools require two letters of recommendation--from there, some ask or allow you to send more, others have two as a limit. Keep careful track of how many letters each of your schools wants/allows you to send. However, plan on a core of two very strong letters of recommendation.
Check carefully with each law school to which you're applying--they will often state their preferences as to whether or not they expect your letters to be from academic recommenders.
Graduating seniors and alumni who have only been out of school for a year or so will probably want to have two academic recommendations. Alumni who have had significant work experience since Amherst may choose a professor with whom they're still in close contact, plus a recommender from the workplace, or two recommenders from work or other post-graduate experience.
After the two core recommenders have been chosen, use any other recommendations allowed by various law schools as you see fit. For current students, this may be someone who supervised an internship or summer job, or someone with whom you worked in a community service capacity.
Whom shall I ask to write my letters of recommendation?
Choose the people you think will write most strongly for you, NOT the people you think the law schools might want to hear from. Some examples follow:
Question: I've taken two courses from an LJST professor and did fairly well in them, though he doesn't know me that well. And I've taken four courses from an Art History professor who knows my work extremely well and thinks highly of me. Shouldn't I ask the LJST prof for a recommendation, because his field would carry more weight with law schools?
Answer: No. Choose the professor who knows your work best. It doesn't matter to law schools what discipline your professor is from, as long as he/she can give them a sense of your true academic strengths, giving them an idea of what sort of law school student you'll make.
Question: My mom is friends with a judge from my home state. This person doesn't know me well, but is happy to write me a law school recommendation on the basis of the family connection. Should I use this instead of a professor's recommendation?
Answer: No. Law schools are unimpressed by what are essentially “vanity” recommendations from those in the legal field, politicians, or alumni of the schools in question. It is NOT a matter of whom you know; rather, you want a recommender who can speak profoundly about your abilities, your character and what you can contribute to law school and the legal profession. Letters from politicians, lawyer friends or alumni of a particular law school might prove valuable as extra recommenders in an “on hold” or “wait list” situation, but don't choose them (unless they know your work very, very well) as one of the two core recommenders.
Should I use the LSDAS Letter of Recommendation Service?
The Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) is a clearinghouse for transcript and LSAT information, and also offers an optional Letter of Recommendation service. This is a boon to your recommenders, as they only have to submit one letter to LSDAS, instead of sending copies of your letter to every law school. Some schools do not allow you to use the LSDAS service, and require your recommender to use their school recommendation forms and send the forms/letters directly to the school. Other schools require that you use the LSDAS service. Check these requirements carefully for each school to which you are applying.
Letter of Recommendation (LOR) Service online tutorials
The Law School Admission Council has created online demonstrations about different aspects of LSAC’s Letter of Recommendation Service. Applicants can view the demos to learn generally about the service, how it works, what a general letter is, what a targeted letter is, and how to direct particular letters to specific law schools.
The Personal Statement is a crucial part of your application. It's important to remember that, since the vast majority of law schools do not interview applicants, your personal statement will serve as the only way a law school will get to know who you are as a person. Also, to a great degree, law is about writing and communication. Some schools (as with Yale's 250 word essay) are trying to figure out how incisively and effectively you can express yourself.
Remember that law school admissions officers are reading 10,000-20,000 essays in the space of three months. They want to read something that will “grab them,” though advise against something that is too clever or contrived. They want to see “authenticity,” whether that is expressed through obvious sincerity, originality, wit or controversy. They want to come away from reading an essay with a sense of a person with whom they can identify, or of the applicant's personality.
How long should my Personal Statement be?
Check with each school to which you're applying. Some will specify a word length. Others will specify a page length. The usual length is two pages, double-spaced.
What topic should I choose?
This is the hardest question to answer, since the answer is: you have to decide for yourself. A personal statement needs to be a reflection of who you are. You might find some good ideas by reading a book like Essays that Worked for Law Schools, edited by Boykin Curry, or 55 Successful Harvard Law School Application Essays, compiled and analyzed by the staff of The Harvard Crimson (available in the Career Center Resource Library). Categories listed in the Boykin Curry book include:
- Essays about Character
- Essays about why You and the School are Well-Matched
- Essays that Explain an Aberration
- Essays about Important Changes
- Essays about Entering the Legal Profession
- Contemplative Essays
- Essays about Crimes of All Sorts
- Essays about Applicants with Colorful Backgrounds
What topics should I avoid?
Most people say that they've heard “you shouldn't write an essay about why you want to go to law school.” That's not always true--if you present this idea in a captivating way, go ahead and write about why you want to go to law school.
There are, however, topics that are good to stay away from. Admissions officers encourage an applicant to be creative but “not too creative.” They won't get a sense of who you are from a review of “Legally Blond,” or a script for a crime drama. They admit to being put off by personal statements which begin: “When I was ten, my dad took me to court and I knew from that moment I'd be a lawyer. . . .” or something similar. And admissions folks also often gently state that personal statements about hardship, family deaths or health problems tend not to show an applicant in his/her best light. (If you have a particular hardship which has affected your life or schoolwork, it may be appropriate to write an addendum to your application.)
It is very common for applicants whose lives or academic work have been affected by various circumstances to include an addendum to a law school application. And, though some feel awkward about writing such an addendum, law school admissions officers really do want to know about these circumstances.
An addendum is appropriate, for example, to explain an aberration in your GPA, explain a lower overall GPA than you'd normally have earned, or to inform a law school about day-to-day issues you face in accomplishing academic work, such as health-related issues. An addendum can be appropriate to explain a low LSAT grade for a given test date, but be careful. Law schools would expect you to cancel a test score taken under adverse conditions, and do not look kindly on applicants making unnecessary excuses.
Your addendum should be no longer than one page. It should be concise and to the point, stating your circumstance with dignity. This is an opportunity to show law schools integrity in the face of difficulty.
Some law schools invite you to write an addendum describing a family connection you may have to that school. It's possible that a given applicant will have more than one addendum to their law school application.
The Pre-Law Advisor is available to counsel you on any questions you may have about an addendum.
It is crucial to keep track of what each law school expects and requires for the various elements of your application. Although the law school application process seems fairly formulaic, law schools can vary widely as to their own requirements for your application.
We suggest that you make a list of all schools to which you're applying, and keep track of differences for each school--information is available on their respective websites. Some areas in which schools often differ are:
- What application method do they prefer?
- What is their application deadline? Do they offer Early Decision or Early Action? What are those deadlines?
- How many essays do they ask for? Are any optional? How many words/pages should each one be?
- Do they want you to list your work experience and activities on a specific form, in addition to submitting a resume?
- How many letters of recommendation do they want? Is there a limit to how many they will accept or read?
Summer before applying
Law school applications are not available until mid-August or September, so it is not possible to begin the process fully during the summer. However, you can do a number of things to get a head-start on the process.
- Review this Website and the Law School Admission Council's information on Applying to Law School, especially the checklist!
- Decide where to apply
- Decide whom you will ask for letters of recommendation
- Prepare for the LSAT
- Begin work on your personal statement
- Download and submit your transcript request form(s)
- If you plan to take the October LSAT, and require accommodated testing, be sure to begin the process of applying for accommodations by mid-summer
IMPORTANT: Bear in mind that it has become increasingly important to apply early (either by early decision or action programs, or by simply submitting your applications well in advance of the deadline), since the number of law school applications has increased so markedly over the past few years. Do all that you can to complete your applications by early to mid-November for the best chance of admission--applications submitted in December will still have a good chance. However, the closer you get to a law school's actual admissions deadline, the greater the danger of being caught in a situation where schools with rolling admissions policies have already filled most of their class spots.
- If you have not yet taken the LSAT, sign up for the October exam
- Register for the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS)
- Submit the LSAC fee waiver form, if needed
- Download the Transcript Request Form from your LSDAS account and give it to the Registrar's Office at Amherst and at other schools (if necessary)
- Attend an “Applying to Law School Workshop”: watch the Career Center Calendar for details
- Attend Law School Panels--watch the Career Center Calendar for details
- Check out the resources in the Career Center resource library law section
- Finalize the list of schools to which you will apply--check their websites for specifics about their application process
- Make an appointment (or use Open Hours) with the Pre-Law Advisor to get your specific questions answered
- Review each law school's recommendation requirements and give letter of recommendation forms to your professors
- Give Dean's Certification form, along with properly addressed and stamped envelopes, to the Pre-Law Advisor
- Pursue whichever method of applying you've chosen
- Use electronic applications offered by the various schools' websites and LSAC, or request paper applications from schools (some still offer a paper option, others only accept electronic applications)
- Work on your personal statement/essay(s)--attend a "Composing Yourself" Workshop, consult with the Writing Center or see materials in the Career Center for help
- This is the time when your applications should be coming together. Remember that the Pre-Law Advisor is available to meet with you about particular questions you may have.
- Review your Law School Admission Council Summary Report to make sure there are no errors in reading your transcript or reporting your scores
- If your October LSAT score is not what you'd hoped, or if you have not yet taken the LSAT, be sure to register for the December test date
- Check with your recommenders to see if they have submitted your letters of recommendation
- Send in your applications!
- If you haven't yet submitted your applications, get them in as soon as you can. If you've submitted your applications, monitor your files at the law schools to which you've applied to make sure the various elements of your application have been received
- Visit the schools to which you've applied and talk with current students and alumni of those schools
- Submit another LSDAS Transcript Request form to the Registrar's Office so that your file will be updated with your fall semester grades
- Continue to monitor your files at law schools, to be sure that all elements of your application have been received
February and beyond
The process of waiting to hear whether or not you've been accepted to law schools can be stressful and frustrating. Be sure you understand how this process really works, so that your expectations are not unrealistic. Remember that, if your application is put on hold or you're wait-listed, there are things you can do to help your cause.
Once you've received an acceptance and decided to attend a given school, be sure to notify the other schools to which you've applied of your decision. (Have you visited your chosen school? If not, it's a good idea to do so before making a final decision.) Upon graduation, arrange for the Registrar to send a final transcript (showing degree) to your law school.
Waiting to Hear
As strenuous as it is to prepare all of your law school applications, most applicants agree that it's probably even more difficult to wait for law school decisions after your applications are in. Be sure to contact your law schools to determine that your application file is complete, with no elements missing. Most schools will not even look at your file until it is complete.
If your application is put on hold, or if you are wait-listed, be sure to follow through by submitting further information for your file.
When will I hear whether or not I've been accepted?
There is no firm answer to this question. It varies by school, but most law schools use a “rolling admissions” method--they'll decide as applications are completed whether an applicant is an “instant admit,” an “instant decline,” or put “on hold” to be considered with the larger pool after the actual application deadline has passed. This means you could hear some news early on; however, if you don't hear early, DON'T PANIC! It doesn't mean you won't be accepted.
Most applicants will hear news of their status by late March to mid-April. Check with your schools to determine when they generally notify applicants about admissions decisions. If you have applied Early Action or Early Decision to any schools, you will most likely hear of their decision by the end of December to mid-January.
What do I do if I'm wait-listed or put “on hold”?
Different law schools use the term “on hold” in different ways. It can mean that they are holding your application to consider with the larger pool after the application deadline, it can mean that the law school has had to extend its decision-making process past the advertised notification date, or it could mean something else. If you are notified that your application is “on hold,” use some of the strategies described below to update and bolster your application file.
If you're wait-listed, it's common practice for an applicant to send additional materials to the law school to strengthen their application file. Examples of materials to send might be:
- Additional letters of recommendation
- Additional writing samples (a chapter of a thesis, a highly-graded paper, etc.)
- A letter restating your keen interest in the school, and any updates on your academic status, awards or honors, work experience, etc. Don't be shy about letting a law school know that you would definitely attend that school if accepted--this can be good information for them to know.
At some point, you'll need to make the decision about where you will attend law school in the fall and put down a hefty deposit there, even if you've been wait-listed at your top-choice school and haven't yet heard anything. Not much can be done about this, and it happens fairly often. But there can still be some hope. Lore has it that an Amherst graduate had decided to attend Law School B, having been wait-listed at his first-choice, Law School A. While en route to Law School B that fall to move into law school housing, he heard from Law School A that he had been accepted. He turned the car around and headed for Law School A, forfeiting his deposit at School B but happy to have won his goal.
Being wait-listed is a tough situation to be in. Put your best self forward, let the school know of your interest by supplying additional materials, and stay positive. The Pre-Law Advisor is happy to speak with you about your situation.
ABA Standard 509 Reports - These reports provide the most current and comprehensive data from the American Bar Association including LSAT score and GPA ranges for each school.
Access Group - A great resource for students and pre-law advisors, the Access Group site has sections on understanding your education costs, financing your education, deciding how much to borrow, and deciding between multiple offers.
Equal Justice Works - Provides resources to help students who are interested in public interest law select the school that’s right for them, explore programs or clinics, and law school financing.
Law School Admission Council - This site provides a wealth of information about Applying to Law School, the LSAT, and the Credential Assembly Service (CAS).
Law School Range Finder offers a spread sheet of the 25th to 75th percentile range of the LSAT scores and the GPAs for accepted applicants to ABA-accredited law schools. Provided by pre-law advisors at Boston College.
Law School Scholarship Finder - Access the largest free database of private law school scholarships on the Internet. AdmissionsDean.com has organized the Scholarship Finder by demographic and topical categories, as well as by specific law schools that offer private scholarships to their own students.
Law School Transparency is a non-profit that does consumer advocacy and public education about the legal profession. Use the LST Reports to determine whether and where to attend law school. Learn about what the practice of law is really like from lawyers across the country on our weekly podcast, I Am The Law. Create financial worksheets to prepare yourself for the cost of law school, and to put yourself in a better position to negotiate scholarships with law schools.
National Association for Law Placement Pre-Law Portal - A tool to help students learn more about careers in the law.
Online Law School Locater - By listing the 25th to 75th percentile LSAT scores and GPA ranges of first-year classes at accredited law schools, this tool can help you gauge your chance of admission at a particular school. Provided by pre-law advisors at Boston College.
Law-Related Blogs and Law School Admission Blogs