Your law school application should tell a narrative that reinforces why law school is the reasonable next step for you. Think about each component of your application like a different chapter. Are they telling a consistent story? Is the logical conclusion of that story a career in law?
Below you will find the most common elements of a law school application. Note that this is general information and there can be differences in terms of quantity, additional addenda, and more, based on your specific law school of interest’s requirements. Always be sure to review your law school of interest’s specific page to determine what you should submit.
Learn how the application process varies from school to school by viewing this list of application requirements from the top 50 Law Schoosl created by 7Sage. (Please note that Vanderbilt does not officially endorse any of the available commercial test-preparation agencies).
More info on law school application components can be found on LSAC’s website: LSAC Application Components
- LSAT/GRE Score
- Personal Statement
- Letters of Recommendation
- When to Apply?
- Communicating with Law Schools After Submitting Application
Some schools are now accepting the GRE as well as the LSAT. Law School Admissions offices are claiming that they do not value one more than the other, but it should be noted that a greater percentage of law schools accept the LSAT. Be sure to review your intended school’s website to determine if they have a preference.
Keep in mind:
- Your test score is good for 5 years.
- Deadlines for tests are typically around a month before the test date.
- The LSAT is a test you must study for. While we cannot recommend specific test-preparation or tutoring services, we do recommend that you research these resources to determine which study method best suits you.
- Accommodations: LSAC & ETS will make accommodations for students with disabilities. To learn how to request accommodations for your LSAT/GRE, review these pages:
Your GPA is an indicator of your dedication to academics and will be taken into consideration in your application. Ensure that the GPA on your resume is the same as listed on your academic transcript, and remember YOU CANNOT ROUND YOUR GPA!
The personal statement is an opportunity for you to shape your narrative and tell the admissions committee things that they just can’t get from your GPA and LSAT Score. The personal statement reinforces the other elements of your application.
Picking a Topic:
What should it be about? (these are just example questions to get you brainstorming, not a finite list of topics)
- What do I want the admissions committee to know about me?/What don’t they know about me from the rest of my application?
- What makes me unique? What is something that I can offer this law school that they won’t want to miss out on?
- What problems do I want to solve with my law degree?
- What experiences have I had and how have they shaped my view of the world?
- Why do I want to go to law school?/Why do I want to go to law school NOW?
- Why do I want to go to THIS law school?
- Get it reviewed by multiple people (Vanderbilt University Writing Studio, Vanderbilt University Career Center, classmates, friends, family).
- Write multiple drafts. Don’t expect to have the perfect personal statement in your first draft.
- Start early! Months in advance.
- Create an outline of what you plan to write before you begin writing. Is there a beginning-middle-end? Is it connected to your narrative?
- Don’t worry about length at the start.
- Tone: This is a professional document. Don’t tell them more info than they need to know. You can write about any topic professionally, even very sensitive topics, but you should ensure the tone is professional.
- Show, don’t tell! Don’t tell them you are passionate about immigration law, show them how you’ve demonstrated that passion through community service work, relevant student organizations, research, and internships.
- Avoid long quotes. They want to hear what YOU have to say, not other people.
- No poems, pictures, highlighting, or hyperlinks.
- Generally 2 pages, double-spaced
- 11-12 Point font, 1-inch margins. Times New Roman font or another professional font.
- No footnotes
- No title (Put LSAC ID Number, your name, and Personal Statement in the header)
- Remember, your school may ask for something different. Always refer to your specific school’s instructions.
- You can view dozens of real personal statement examples here.
How to create a good relationship with potential recommenders:
- Be a good student!
- Attend office hours: Think of course-related questions in advance or bring a friend if something like this makes you nervous. Read an article they wrote and ask them about it. If you have read something related to their field of study, share it with them!
- Social Events: if your departments hosts social or speaker events, go to them and try to strike up conversation with them.
- Try to take multiple classes with professors. This simply gives them more information to work with.
Who to ask:
- Priority #1: Who would give you the strongest endorsement? The depth of your relationship and the extent of your experiences with your recommender is what matters most.
- No high school teachers!
- Big names (celebrities, presidents, supreme court justices) don’t make a difference on their own. Recommendations are best when the person who is writing it knows you well, so don’t choose a well-known person unless they can truly speak to your qualifications and character. Think “substance over signature”.
- If you absolutely CANNOT get two academic letters, think about your supervisors in professional settings (internships, part-time work). When asking for these, ask your recommenders to emphasize skills that are translatable to the academic setting.
- Personal Recommendations (family or friends) are never good.
When to ask:
- Early! Give them time. Months in advance
How to ask:
- Can share your resume and/or drafts of personal statement to help them understand why you’re going to law school (assuming it is your final version, don’t ask your recommenders to reference something about your intentions of going to law school if you change those later).
- Offer to go to coffee or Zoom to talk to them about why you’re going to law school.
How many to submit:
- Check the school. Normally at least 2 required with some schools accepting up to 4.
- Do they indicate anything about how many must be academic? Most schools will require at least 1 if not more should be from academic references.
- If they only ask for 2 letters and you submit 3 letters and one of them isn’t of the same quality as the other 2, that won’t do you any favors.
How to submit:
- Enter recommender’s contact info in LSAC which generates a request for them, and they will submit directly to LSAC.
- Check out the Career Center’s website for resumes to learn tips and view examples.
- Want your resume reviewed? Schedule an appointment with the Career Center or attend Career Center Drop-In hours via DoreWays.
Addenda are optional essays used to provide the admissions committee with clarifications about various components of your application. Common addenda include:
Character & Fitness Statement
- The Character & Fitness statement is used to disclose any aberrations on your legal or academic record.
- Read the school’s specific application to determine what is necessary to disclose.
- Remember that you will be asked to submit a character & fitness for the BAR within your state. It is crucial that the information you disclose in your law school application matches what you will submit for the BAR.
- Keep it short. Disclose the necessary facts. Take full responsibility for your misconduct.
- Remember, many people with extensive criminal records have been admitted to law school. Don’t count yourself out.
- The Diversity Statement is used to share how unique elements of your identity and experience influenced your perspective, values, or the skills you plan to use in law school.
- You can view examples of Diversity Addenda here.
General Application Addenda
- Similar to the Character & Fitness Statement, other addenda are used to address elements of your application that you’d like to clarify such as extenuating circumstances that impacted your GPA or LSAT score or an explanation for a large number of class withdrawals. This is not the place to complain about unfair professors or a problematic roommate, but it is the place to disclose if you had significant caregiver duties, work responsibilities, severe health issues that impacted your GPA or extracurricular involvement.
- Addenda can be tricky and it is hard to offer general ABSOLUTE advice. Meet with a pre-law adviser to discuss whether your circumstances require writing an addendum.
- Official transcripts must be ordered through the Vanderbilt Registrar's office. See this page for more information.
- It depends! There is no perfect time to apply. It depends on you, your goals, and when you plan to attend law school. The bottom line is that you should apply when your application is at its strongest. Don’t rush to make it before the end of November if your materials aren’t ready. That being said, law schools admit students on a rolling basis and will have more slots and more scholarship money earlier in the process.
- Do NOT reach out to check on the status of your application. You can check LSAC’s website to see what the status of your application is.
- Letter of Continued Interest: if you have new experiences or changes to your application, it is okay to send out a letter of continued interest to inform the admissions team. This should only be done for schools that you are on the waitlist for.