A law degree can open doors to a career that is both satisfying and lucrative. Such a career is typically more lucrative if that degree comes from a prestigious law school.
But getting into a high-ranking law school is very challenging. Law schools receive thousands of applications from students with solid qualifications and GPAs, and each institution can only accommodate a finite number of students. As a result, law schools filter students further by using students' scores on the LSAT.
The LSAT (Law School Admission Test) is a common exam that provides the selection committee with a more objective way to judge a student's aptitude for law studies. LSATs are designed to evaluate reading comprehension, verbal skills, and logical reasoning. The highest score on the LSAT is 180, while the lowest is 120.
For your best chance at getting into a prestigious law school, you'll need a high score on the LSAT. This will take hours of studying and preparation to pull off, and it's safe to say that enrolling in law school is more difficult than many people expect. However, some universities are easier to get into than others.
Data rankings in 2020, as compiled by Public Legal, show us the law schools that are most difficult to get into. Here's the full list, in order of acceptance rate from lowest to highest.
The 12 Hardest Law Schools to Get Into
1. Yale University
With an acceptance rate of just 6.9%, it's no wonder that Yale is the hardest law school to get into. Only around 1 in 15 of their highly qualified applicants makes it through.
The median GPA score of a student enrolled at Yale University is 3.92, while the median LSAT score is 173. These stats are based on students who seek admission successfully and later enroll as full-time students. That's different from their acceptance rate, which is based on all applicants.
In addition, when it comes to bar passage, Yale students sit comfortably in fourth place, with a stunning rate of 98.3% for first-timers.
When taking all of these statistics into account, it's safe to say that Yale is one of the hardest law schools to get into, and it's well worth that reputation with an incredibly high quality of education and bar pass rate.
2. Stanford University
The second school on our list is Stanford University, with a slightly higher acceptance rate than Yale — 9.72%.
Surprisingly, students of Stanford had slightly higher GPAs than both Yale and Harvard. Stanford had a median GPA of 3.93 compared to Yale's 3.92 and Harvard's 3.9. However, the students at Stanford scored slightly lower in LSAT scores, at a median of 171.
3. Harvard University
Harvard University is certainly one of the biggest names in higher learning. Getting admitted to Harvard law school is definitely an uphill struggle, given the fact that Harvard had a 12.9% acceptance rate in 2019/2020 and a median LSAT score of 173. Additionally, the median GPA score of a student enrolled at Harvard is 3.9.
Harvard law school graduates are, however, at the top of the list for the highest salary expected in the private sector, where they have a median starting salary of approximately $180,000.
4. University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania law school has a low acceptance rate, at just 14.6%. However, even though the acceptance rate is higher than that of the top three on our list, it doesn't mean they accept students with low scores.
In 2020, the median GPA score was 3.89, whilst the median LSAT score was 170.
What's most interesting about the University of Pennsylvania law school is the employment rate after graduation. With an employment rate of 94.9%, it's at the very top of the list. As a result, it's no wonder why getting into this law school is challenging.
5. University of Virginia
One of the most important statistics in the University of Virginia's law school is its bar passage rate. It ranks number one, with 99.0% of students passing the bar exam on their first try.
It's not easy to get into, though. Students at the University of Virginia had the same median GPA scores as those at the University of Pennsylvania, 3.89. Additionally, they had a median LSAT score of 169. The overall acceptance rate was 15.3%
6. Columbia University
Located in New York City, Columbia University is one of the more prestigious universities on our list, with high tuition fees for full-time law students and low acceptance rates. The acceptance rate for Columbia University is only 16.8%.
Interestingly, despite the low acceptance rate, the students at Columbia University had the lowest GPA scores of any school on our list, with a median GPA score of 3.75. However, the same doesn't ring true when it comes to LSAT scores, where the median is 172. Columbia seems to place more importance on a good LSAT score than GPA.
7. University of Chicago
Similar to Harvard, the University of Chicago law students are expected to receive a median starting salary of $180,000 working as associates in the private sector. However, unlike Harvard, the school had an acceptance rate of 17.5%, a touch higher than Harvard's 15.6%.
In terms of LSAT scores, the median LSAT score of a student at the University of Chicago is 171, equivalent to that of Stanford University. Regarding GPA scores, the students had an impressive median of 3.89.
8. University of Southern California
The University of Southern California, fringed by palm trees and the sprawling metropolis of LA, has a reputable undergraduate school. Even more highly regarded is their law school, which easily slides into the top 10 in the nation with regards to acceptance rate, at 19.2%, but slips a bit in the overall rankings to around 20th.
With the middle 50% of their admitted class scoring between 163 and 167, it's no surprise that around 9 of 10 of their JD students pass the bar on their first try. Watch out for the above-average price, though–the school is pretty expensive compared to others in the top tier.
9. Northwestern University
Northwestern University law school had an acceptance rate of 19.3%, which puts the University at 9th place on our list.
Additionally, the median GPA score of a student at Northwestern University is quite high at 3.84. On top of that, the median LSAT score is 169. It's easy to see why getting admitted to Northwestern University is difficult.
10. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
With a slightly higher acceptance rate than Northwestern University, 19.6% (compared to 19.3%), the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor is ninth on our list.
Interestingly, the students at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor had one of the lowest median GPA scores on our list, at 3.77. However, their median LSAT scores are slightly higher at 169, on par with the more competitive University of Virginia.
11. Duke University
Number 11 on our list is Duke University, with a 20.2% acceptance rate.
Students at Duke University had a median GPA score of 3.78, while their median LSAT scores were 169. An encouraging statistic of students at Duke University is their bar exam passage rate: 97.8% of their students pass the bar exam on the first try.
12. University of California-Berkeley
Even though the University of California-Berkeley is at the bottom of this list, that doesn't mean getting accepted is easy. In fact, only 20.2% of students get accepted, the same as Duke University. It's still among the top 5% in terms of overall rankings.
Additionally, the median GPA score of a student enrolled in Berkeley was 3.8, while the median LSAT score was 168.
Additional Factors When Evaluating a Law School
The above ranking of law schools in the United States is based on their acceptance rate, as well as the median GPA and LSAT scores of students. However, those aren't the only things that matter when choosing a school.
There are other key factors, beyond the aforementioned, that influence the overall excellence of a law school. These include:
State and Bar Passage Rates
State bar and pass bar are common terms among law schools. The state bar is the institution that awards you the certification to practice law in the state. Each has its own pass rate. The bar passage rate is the overall number of students from that university who passed a bar exam.
S/F ratios (student-to-faculty)
S/F is a ratio that details the number of students in a class per faculty member. The better the S/F ratio, the fewer students per teacher, and so the more attention you'll be likely to get from instructors.
Once qualified, an individual can set up a law firm or serve as a private attorney, practitioner, and so on. However, it is important to have figures of previous students' employment rates, to know the likelihood of securing a job after graduation.
Many organizations create independent rankings for law schools in the U.S. that can help students evaluate where they want to study. Check out the US News list for accurate and reliable law school rankings.
Are you looking for law schools that are easier to get into? See our list of the easiest law schools to get into.