Law School

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Considering a Career in Law

A career in the field of law can encompass many aspects of society such as business, government, human and civil rights, international relations, medicine, law enforcement, politics, entertainment, sports, and the arts, as well as jurisprudence and academia. If you have a passion for legal thought, strong oral and written communication skills, and a propensity for drawing thoughtful conclusions by analyzing fine details and complex information, then a law career may be for you. When contemplating a law degree, ask yourself: Why do you want to become a lawyer? How will earning a J.D. satisfy your career interests? How would membership in the legal profession serve your long-term goals? Plan to do some research in terms of what you can reasonably expect to get out of a law degree both academically and professionally.

An important step in making your decision is to learn about the market for new lawyers. Make it a priority to explore the various career options for using your legal training. Think about broad categories such as law, government, education, health care, and technology, and consider how the skills that you will receive from a legal education—such as research and writing, analysis and logical reasoning, knowledge of substantive law and legal procedures, and time management—will be utilized. Be sure to meet with your House Pre-Law Tutor(s) to consider non-legal careers for lawyers.

Preparing for Law School

Admissions committees consider a number of factors when evaluating candidates for law school. Among the most important are the strength of an applicant’s academic record and the applicant’s score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). (See a full list of law schools that accept the GRE, visit indicators, with letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume typically constitute what is required for a completed application. Law schools also weigh the work experience of applicants and welcome applications from students who have taken time off between undergraduate study and law school. The majority of applicants will have taken time off between their undergraduate and legal studies. Applicants are expected to have a solid understanding of law school and why they want to practice law.

Harvard Law School Junior Deferral Program (JDP)

The Harvard Law School Junior Deferral Program (JDP) allows students to apply to the Law School as college juniors. If admitted, students will defer their admission for at least two years after graduation before matriculating to Harvard Law School. Application requirements for JDP applicants are the same as for regular JD applicants. However, the JDP application opens in the spring and does not have rolling admissions; instead, admission decisions are released at the same time, and will only be made after students’ spring grades become available. For more information about the JDP application and deadline, please visit the Harvard Law School J.D. admissions website.

Choosing a Concentration

There is no “right concentration” that is recommended for preparing for law school. Law schools are looking for a diverse group of students from a variety of backgrounds. They are interested in students who have selected courses that are academically challenging and that have cultivated and developed the student’s ability to make inferences, reason logically, and analyze and present complex information in a condensed and clear manner. The courses you take should also allow you to write extensively and practice research skills. For example, if you are interested in a law career that involves public policy or politics, you may want to consider a concentration in government or social studies or, if you are interested in working on issues related to the environment and working for the Environmental Protection Agency, then a concentration in one of the sciences may be the best preparation.

Your Academic Record

In the admissions process, your academic record is a very important element. Therefore, be sure to concentrate in a subject area that you enjoy and do well in. Admissions officers know from experience which departments have strong academic reputations and which courses have high and low curves. According to the Harvard Law School Admissions Office, academic success is important but other qualities that promote vitality, diversity, and excellence in the student body are also valued. As stated on its website, “We have no computational methods for making admission decisions, no mechanical shortcuts, no substitutes for careful assessment and good judgment. All completed applications are reviewed in their entirety with the GPA and standardized test scores as two factors in an overall assessment of academic promise, personal achievement, and potential contribution to the vitality of the student body.”

Extracurricular Activities

Admissions committees do consider extracurricular activities when reviewing a candidate’s application. This is generally a means of looking at the candidate as a whole and obtaining a complete and well-rounded picture of who they are reviewing. What law schools look for are leadership experience, work experience, research experience, community activities and public service. Be sure to pick activities that interest you and could provide the committee with a glimpse of what law you might be interested in practicing. However, do not sacrifice grades for extracurricular activities.

Selecting Law Schools

When applying to law schools, consider issues such as the facultynational or regional reputationplacement of graduates, facilities, resources available at the institution, cost of attending, and location.


When reviewing law schools, the strength, accessibility, and reputation of the faculty are key factors. Be sure to consider the academic and experiential backgrounds of faculty members, the student/faculty ratio, the number of full-time vs. adjunct faculty, and the number of female faculty and faculty of color at the institution.

National or Regional Schools

Law schools are generally divided into three categories: National, Regional and Local. Schools with a National reputation tend to appear in various “top ten” lists. They draw students from across the nation and around the world and offer geographic mobility to students. Schools with a Regional reputation are attended primarily by students from that region who may want to remain in that area after graduation, but who may also seek positions throughout the country.

Placement of Graduates

Be sure to look at the data regarding placement of law school graduates and the percentage of graduates who succeed in passing the bar exam. The websites of the respective law schools should have this information or you can connect with the admissions office of the schools you are interested in to get an idea of where students tend to work upon graduation.

Facilities and Resources at the Institution

It is worthwhile to visit the schools you are interested in and inquire about the facilities, resources, and affiliations of the law school.

Cost of attending law school

Attending law school is very expensive. The average student debt upon completion is approximately $131,000 for graduates of private law schools and $100,000 for graduates of public law schools*. Some law schools are more expensive than others and they have varying financial aid incentives. Although some law schools provide grants and scholarships, loans still constitute the bulk of how students finance their legal education. Most students do take loans to pay for their law education and consider this, amortized over time, a good investment in their future earning potential.

*Baum, S. (2015). A Framework for Thinking about Law School Affordability. Retrieved from


Is the school in an urban area or a suburban/rural setting? Is it part of a university or independent? If you are interested in a dual-degree program, are there other graduate schools nearby? Is the school in a place you could see yourself living for three years and where you might be interested in working following graduation? These are important questions to consider because where you attend law school often influences where you practice afterwards.

Applying to Law School

Take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required for admission to all American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law schools. The LSAT is accepted by all ABA-approved law schools, while the GRE is only accepted by a select number of law schools. The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The LSAT has traditionally been a paper-based exam; however, as of September 2019, the exam has transitioned to a digital format and is now administered on a tablet. There will be nine administrations during the 2019-2020 testing year. Detailed LSAT test information—dates, sites, registration forms, fees, and deadlines—and registration information is available online at

Note that LSAT test sites fill quickly, especially in or around major cities. It is advisable to register several months in advance of a test date, so that you can take the test in a convenient location and at a convenient time in relation to your other activities and plans for applying. The LSAT is not offered at Harvard. The optimal time to take the exam is in the summer before the fall in which you apply. However, taking a fall test administration will still allow you enough time to submit your score with your fall applications. Consult individual law school websites to determine if the January test administration will be accepted for the current application cycle. If you decide to take the test and apply in a future cycle, your score will be valid for five years.

The LSAT provides law school admissions committees with a common measure of applicants’ aptitude for legal study. The test consists of five multiple-choice sections and one writing section, each 35 minutes in length:

  1. one reading comprehension section
  2. one analytical reasoning section
  3. two logical reasoning sections
  4. one experimental test question section (not scored)
  5. a 35-minute writing section (not scored; copies are sent to the schools to which you’ve applied) “It is important to note that the test day will be shorter for test takers because the LSAT Writing will be (as of June 2019) administered separately from the LSAT multiple-choice test sections, online via a secure testing platform.” (see

Your score is computed on a scale of 120 to 180, based on the number of questions you answer correctly; there is no deduction or penalty for incorrect answers, so it is advantageous to guess if you do not have time to answer a question.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

The GRE is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The exam is computer-based, and is offered multiple times throughout the year. The duration of the exam is approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes, and consists of six sections:

  1. One Analytical Writing section (two separately-timed tasks; 30 minutes each)
  2. Two Verbal Reasoning sections (30 minutes each)
  3. Two Quantitative Reasoning sections (35 minutes each)
  4. Unscored/unidentified section or research section (varies)

The GRE score scale is 130–170 (in one-point increments) for the Verbal Reasoning sections and for the Quantitative Reasoning sections and the score scale for the Analytical Writing section is 0–6 (in half-point increments). Detailed GRE test information–dates, sites, registration forms, fees, and deadlines–and registration information is available online at

Not all law schools accept GRE scores*. Therefore, if you are thinking of applying to multiple law schools or if you are considering other graduate programs, you will want to think about which exam would be the best option for you. For help thinking through your decision, please consult with your House Pre-Law Tutor(s).

*For a full list of law schools that accept the GRE, visit

The Credential Assembly Service (CAS)

To centralize and standardize objective application information – GPAs and LSAT scores – ABA-approved law schools require applicants to subscribe to the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). The service organizes and analyzes applicant information in a way that allows law schools to compare academic records from undergraduate schools that use different grading systems. Register for the CAS, and then have your transcript from each college or university from which you have earned academic credit sent directly to LSAC.

If you were enrolled in a study abroad program sponsored by another U.S. college or university, in addition to your Harvard transcript, you must have the college or university that sponsored the study abroad program send a transcript directly to the CAS. List the institution when you register for the Credential Assembly Services under “other Institution.”

The Application

You can apply to any ABA-approved law school through the CAS electronic application, which streamlines the process by allowing you to enter common information only once; you then complete each school’s individual application and submit your applications electronically.

Personal Statement

Personal statements are requested by most law schools and provide the opportunity to go beyond the objective aspects of the application to discuss who you are and what is important to you. This personal statement is an invitation to write a limited-length essay about yourself. It is not necessarily asking that you explain your motivation for law school; rather it is providing you an opportunity to explain to the school what distinctive experiences, personality traits, values, academic skills and passions, etc. you would bring to a class. It can be viewed, in essence, as the interview that very few law schools grant. This personal statement should be more mature than the type of essay you may have written for undergraduate admissions. You should begin to compose a personal statement in the early fall, which you can assume will be suitable for all applications UNLESS any of your schools requests a specific topic or style.

Personal statements are typically two double-spaced pages, though you may find that some schools will give more latitude. If schools don’t provide guidelines on length, it’s advisable to submit a statement that is approximately two pages in length. A few schools will limit the number of words permitted and you should abide by their guidelines. House Pre-Law tutors and writing tutors can be a great resource for students who are preparing their statements.

Letters of Recommendation

Most law schools request that one or two letters of recommendation be submitted on behalf of applicants. Admission committees will be seeking information not provided elsewhere in the applications. Recommendation letters should include concrete examples of intellectual strength, judgment, motivation, and leadership, along with an appraisal of communication skills and a comparison to peers.

In early fall, you should plan your recommendation-gathering strategy, or see what recommendations are already in your House file. If you have not made yourself and your law school application plans known to your House Pre-Law Tutor, you should do so.

Two academic letters of recommendation are the usual request in law school applications, but you should be sure to check each application for possible variations. Such letters should be requested early enough so that the writer is not rushed, and can comfortably complete the task in time. Letters can also be requested (and kept in your House file) if you think you will apply in the future but are not doing so immediately. You should also plan to keep in touch with potential recommenders.

When you approach potential recommenders for a letter, it is best not to do so on the fly. After ascertaining that they can write a favorable letter on your behalf, you might make an appointment to discuss the ways in which they know you, perhaps bringing a paper (with comments) written in their class, or a set of class discussion topics in which you participated. They may ask for a resume and your personal statement, and even a transcript. Such documents could help provide writers with a more well-rounded view of you, but, in fact, it is an analysis of your performance in their field of expertise that schools specifically seek.

We strongly suggest that all Harvard candidates use the LOR (Letter of Recommendation Service), a recommendation-collecting and distributing service which is part of CAS.


Law schools typically require a resume as part of the application. View the resume guide and templates on our website. Bring a copy of your resume to our office during drop-in advising and have it reviewed before you submit your application.

Dean’s Certifications

A dean’s certification (or letter/clearance) is required by some law schools to confirm that applicants have not been involved in academic or disciplinary transgressions. Please contact your Resident Dean if a school you are applying to requires a letter.

Financial Aid Resources