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The Prestige of Your College (Part II)

Does the Prestige of Your College Affect Your Chances of Admission to Law School? (Part II)


I tried to show in Part I of this post that if you went to Harvard, Princeton or Yale as an undergraduate, your chances as an applicant to law school are greatly improved by the prestige of that name.  If you went to one of the other schools among, say, the top 50 colleges and universities, your chances are improved, until too many of your classmates apply to a particular law school, and then they’re not.  In fact, I would posit that informal quotas applied at law schools would eventually make an otherwise prestigious name a liability.  But what if your school is not in the top 50?  Can the relative lack of prestige in your college’s name hurt you from the get go?  Yes, in a way that should shock you; and no in a way that will shock you, in that it can actually help you, and help you a lot.


I don’t want to offend anyone by naming some of the schools in this group, but you know which schools they are.  They are household names, but nobody confuses them with, say, Yale.  They’re the kind of schools where if your mother told the nice old lady from your neighborhood that you go there, she would reply “well, isn’t that nice … good for him,” whereas if your mother told her you go to Yale, she would reply “what??!! … how did that little s**t get into Yale??”


Becoming something of a snob is an occupational hazard for people in the business of judging and evaluating others, so it should come as no surprise that your less prestigious undergraduate institution lends your law school application a sort of “ughh” factor to law school admissions directors.  That’s not a good start for your application adventure.  In addition, most law schools keep an informal history on students from your college who went to their law school, and try to imagine how you would do there compared to how those other alums did.  You better hope they didn’t drop out.  But all that’s the good news.  The bad news is that the LSDAS calculates the median LSAT score for your college, i.e., your score and that of each of your college classmates who took the LSAT (yes, even those of your classmates who didn’t score high enough to bother applying) are used to produce an Ughh College median LSAT score.  Using this as a measure of how smart the students at your college are, and so how competitive the grading there must be, law schools plug it and your GPA into a formula that operates literally to reduce your GPA so that it can be more properly compared to those of students from more prestigious schools.  That’s right, you get hurt, and mathematically! Ouch.


No problem though. All you have to do is be the absolute best, #1, applicant from your college to apply to a particular law school in a given year. As I pointed out in Part I, law schools love to brag about how many colleges and universities are represented at their schools, but in order to do that and still accommodate all the applicants from the prestigious schools, they admit one, and only one, representative of each of the less prestigious schools at one time.  You must be, in all other respects, very well qualified for admission, of course, but if you are the highest ranked applicant from your college (which usually means, among other things, the highest LSAT score); your numbers are at least above, if not significantly above, the medians at that law school; and there is no one from your college who is currently a 1L or a 2L at that law school, then you might has well have gone to Harvard, Princeton or Yale, because you are golden. You will actually benefit from having gone to the less prestigious school.


But watch out.  With permission from the client, I’ll explain how this phenomenon works through an actual series of events.  Several years ago, I had a client who was a student at a less prestigious school.  He came back in the fall of his senior year having that summer gotten the highest LSAT score in his college’s history.  (That happens. These colleges don’t see super high LSAT scores very often.  In fact, years can go by without a single 170+ in entire classes.) Anyway, my client was well above that number, and with his sky high GPA was certain of admission to Harvard Law, his dream school. And he was right.  Until he wasn’t.  Sometime in October, he bumped into a classmate, and they spent a few minutes catching up.  This classmate was a chemistry guy, and one of those types who was a certified genius at age 2 or something.  No one could figure out why he was at that school and not at MIT, and he seemed destined to get a PhD and just be a mad scientist.  But it turns out Mr. Spock got it in his head to be a lawyer, and had taken the LSAT that summer.  He beat my client by 2 points.  And, yes, he wanted to go to Harvard Law School.


The only thing to do in this instance is to get your application in as soon as possible and hope to get a positive decision out of the school before it even hears about the other guy.  My client’s score was high enough that Harvard probably would have admitted him immediately rather than waitlist him to see if someone “better” from his college came along, thinking no one would get a higher LSAT score from there; but this other guy was smart, and he got his applications in early too.  He got admitted to Harvard so fast I think his application and the acceptance letter crossed in the mail.  My client got rejected shortly thereafter.  I advised my client to talk this guy into withdrawing his other applications so that my client wouldn’t get similarly closed out at every other school (!). He succeeded, and shortly thereafter, my client got in everywhere else he had applied.  He happily went to … a better law school than Harvard!


Life’s a funny old dog.  So’s law school admissions.