It begins anew each year: the low, urgent buzz of thousands of prospective law students asking, “What are my chances?”
It’s true that hard numbers make up the bulk of the admissions decision at most schools, and it is important to be realistic as you select schools. But, something critical seems to get overlooked in most discussions of “chances of admission”.
Even if the number the calculator throws at you is dead on accurate, it still tells you less about your chances than most applicants seem to believe. The fundamental misunderstanding of that number could be the stuff LSAT logical reasoning questions are made of.
Applying to Law School is Not Like Buying a Lottery Ticket
When you feed your LSAT score and undergraduate GPA into a law school admissions probability and the calculator spits out “30% of people with that number combination are likely to be admitted,” many applicants immediately (mis)translate that to “I have a 30% chance of admission with those numbers.” That translation assumes random chance within the pool of applicants with a particular combination of LSAT score and GPA. No school is throwing all of the people with that number combination into a hat and randomly selecting 30% of them–they’re assessing other factors. You all know that, and you know the factors that tip those scales: timing of applications, quality of personal statement and recommendation, work and/or volunteer experience, extracurriculars, etc.
If you’re applying to a school where your numbers say that you have a 15% chance of admission and you apply late in the cycle with sloppy applications, only the absolute required supporting documents, a mediocre personal statement and don’t have anything particularly impressive in your extracurriculars or personal/professional background, you don’t have a 15% chance of admission. You have almost no chance of admission.
On the other hand, if you apply to that same law school with the same numbers, but have several years of relevant work experience, excellent recommendations, a strong personal statement, take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen your application and ship it all off in October, you have a much higher than 15% chance of admission.
“Chance”, in this context, isn’t chance at all. Those numbers only tell us what proportion of people in that numerical range usually have strong enough applications to be admitted to that particular school. And there’s no “chance” involved in that.