The Advantage of Military Service in Law School Admissions

BPPshinners-lsat-blog-military-service-law-school-admissions
“Keep your GPA up, and raise your LSAT score.”

That’s the advice most people ‘in the know’ will give you when asked how to improve your chances at getting into the law school of your dreams. And, for the most part, it’s true.

While the Letters of Recommendation, Personal Statement, and Résumé are all important factors in the admissions decision, they really don’t come into play unless you have the GPA and LSAT score to be considered in the first place.

Some law schools take a more holistic approach and will look at your application even if you don’t hit their numbers; these schools are usually just putting off rejecting you for a little while. It’s not that they don’t care about your background. It’s just that there are very few things a college-age person can have done in their life to warrant reconsideration.

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of getting some work experience before law school. It’s one of the few ‘soft’ (i.e. non-number) factors that will substantially improve your shot at law school, and it’s becoming more important.

This week, I’m going to talk about a specific type of experience that has the largest impact on law school admissions committees: military service.

Outside of curing cancer or winning a Nobel prize (or winning the Nobel Prize for curing cancer), military service is probably the biggest boost to a law school application.

Why?

Three reasons.

First, law schools know that veterans have the discipline necessary for both legal studies and the long hours of work after graduation.

Second, they are the most employable law school grads. Employers love a military man/woman because they’re disciplined, follow orders well, and work unbelievably hard.

Third, they usually have kickass personal statements.

So should you sign up for the military if law school is in your future?

No.

Entering the Armed Services is a decision that should be made for one reason and one reason alone: You want to go into the Armed Services. If you go in with other motives, you won’t survive.

However, if you’re ending your time in service to our country, and you want to head to law school next, definitely highlight that in your application package. Write your law school Personal Statement about your service. Get a Letter from a commanding officer. Get in touch with the veteran’s group at your top choice law school (they can and will help you through the admissions process).

And, above all, thank you for your service.

**UPDATE**

If you’re a veteran, you might be eligible for free admissions consulting through Service2School. We encourage you to reach out to them with specific questions regarding your application process.

For any additional questions, feel free to ask in the comments section.

35 Responses

  1. Jun Oh Lee says:

    I am a current undergraduate student in the US and I’ll be serving in the South Korean military before applying to law schools in the US. Do you think that will help in the application process as well?

    • Yep! The boost you get from having a military background doesn’t have anything to do with patriotism. It has everything to do with the hard work, dedication, and focus it takes to serve. Whether that’s in the US Army or the South Korean military, the characteristics demonstrated are the same.

  2. S Heis says:

    I am a 3 tour combat vet with 10 years of service and Im applying for law school. I have a 155 LSAT, a 3.77 UGPA, and I have good solid letters of recommendation. Right now Im finding it incredibly hard to include things other than just military experiences (because I’ve had many) into my personal statement. Any ideas?

    • Matt Shinners says:

      First, thank you for your service. It’s very much appreciated.

      Second, it’s hard to come up with other ideas since I only know your numbers and military background. If you have other ideas, feel free to send them in to our office with “Forward to Shinners” as the subject – I can take a look and let you know if I think they’ll be good topics.

      Third, there’s no need to include more than one ‘experience’ in a personal statement – in fact, it’s preferable to focus on one area. If you start describing multiple stories, or developing more than one theme, your 2-page essay will become muddled. You won’t focus enough on any one story, and it won’t be an effective essay.

      Fourth, outside of a higher GPA or LSAT score, military service is the strongest thing you can have in your application. There’s absolutely no reason that you can’t highlight that in your personal statement. In fact, the only time I recommend a PS about a topic other than your service is for those who have been dishonorably discharged. Other than that, it’s hard to beat a PS about your experience serving this country.

  3. Anthony says:

    Hello. I am most likely receiving an Other Than Honorable discharge from the military. I have served for 5 years, but I tested positive for marijuana. I made a mistake and am now paying the consequences. I have a 176 LSAT score and a 3.2. Will my OTH discharge from the military hurt my chances of being admitted to a t14 law school or will it still benefit?

    • Matt Shinners says:

      Hey Anthony,

      First off, thank you for your service!

      Second, congrats on that fantastic LSAT score. It will go a long way towards getting you into a great school.

      To the matter at hand: Will the OTH discharge hurt? Short answer, yes it will. There’s no way around it – it’s a negative on your record.

      Is it a killer? Nope. People get into law school every year with similar things on their records. You’re in a bit more of a bind because yours resulted in a disciplinary action at your work, but there are certainly ways to mitigate it enough to make it just a mild negative.

      First thing you should do is voluntarily enter into some type of treatment program (even if it’s just something like AA). This will show schools that you’re taking responsibility for your actions and it will (hopefully) not happen again, especially in law school.

      Second thing, write an addendum that explains the situation, fully and honestly, and then talks about what you’ve done since then to show contrition and take responsibility for it.

      I’m sorry that this happened, and it will be a negative on your application. However, it doesn’t have to be something that will bar you from a top school as long as you can show the schools that you’ve moved past it and won’t have similar issues in the future.

  4. Richard says:

    Hello, I am currently in a 4 year enlistment in the United States Air Force. I would like to gain admittance to a top tier law school after my enlistment, however I am afraid that schools will disregard the online degree I am earning. Unfortunately being active duty military online seems like the only option. Will top law schools like Harvard accept me if I have a high gpa as well as a good LSAT? Or will the online degree from AMU carry no weight? If so would would there be a better route to take instead? Thank you for knowledge and sharing it with all of us, and of course I apologize for being VERY late.

    • Matt Shinners says:

      Online degrees are, in general, not viewed in a very favorable light. Especially at top schools, they’re definitely looked down on as being less rigorous and not as academically challenging. If it’s possible, I would try to get a bachelor’s from a non-online school.

      • Justin C. Johnson says:

        Thank you for your time in answering prior service members questions. I noticed you said that a online degree would be looked down on. However, If the college is regionally accredited why would it be looked down upon due to be active duty? I am aware that AMU is not a regionally accredited. I am enrolled at Central Texas College & I don’t want to earn a degree at this school if it will do me no justice applying for law school. Any suggestions?

        • Matt Shinners says:

          It’s hard to give generic advice for every school out there; it’s also hard to give specific advice since I don’t have info on every school out there.

          In general, online schools will be viewed as less rigorous. A regionally accredited one will be better than one without an accreditation. I would get in touch with CTC and ask them about former students who went on to law school. See if you can get in touch with some of them to ask about how their undergrad education was viewed in the process.

  5. Fred Rodriguez says:

    Matt –

    I have served in the military (National Guard, Reserves, and Active Duty) for nearly 27 years. I am currently on Active Duty, and have been deployed 3 times. I am anticipating separation from the military in the next year for either being passed over for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, or medical retirement (whichever one hits first). My dream has always been to attend law school, and in today’s complex Cyber environment I would like to concentrate in Cyber Law. I have 15 years of IT experience, and feel that my experience coupled with my military experience and a law degree would be an asset to any law firm. My question to you is, “Is your offer to review my personal goals statement still possible?” If so, I will email it to you shortly. You can reply back to my email address, or on this forum… whichever is easiest for you. Thank you for your assistance. v/r Fred

    • Matt Shinners says:

      Hey Fred,

      The promotion has ended. However, shoot an e-mail to me or to the office (info@blueprintprep.com) and have them forward it to me, and we can talk.

  6. Kyle Denniston says:

    Matt,

    I have served in the US Air Force for almost 6 years and am one year away from completing my BA in Criminal Justice. I haven’t taken the LSAT yet but my GPA is above a 3.5. My question to you is that my commanding officer would like to provide me with an LOR for law school but he was wondering if there is a certain type of template he should abide by and/or key items that should be included in the LOR. Thank you.

    Respectfully,

    SSgt. Denniston

  7. Matthew says:

    I’m about to get out of the Marines in December and plan on starting law school in January however a lot of schools do not have spring starts but I was looking to apply to Baylor law because they have a spring class I have two tours to Iraq and one to Afghanistan just took the Last last week so no score yet also just got my degree in political science finished with a 3.2 GPA so what do you think my chances or some advice I think I’m right around the 25% median for Baylor. If this doesn’t work out I was looking into Charlotte law or south Texas.

  8. Andrew says:

    Matt,

    First of all, thank you for the article.
    Now my situation is that I was born and raised in a military family. I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and join the Army as well. I am currently in my senior year of undergrad and have been going through the ROTC training for the past four years. After graduating, I will be commissioned as an active duty officer, with the intent of becoming a lawyer for the Army after law school.
    Given that I haven’t actually actively served time, would you recommend that I still use the military as an emphasis on my personal statement? Or would it benefit me to show my goals and the training I have received, as well as mention that I will be an active duty officer while in law school.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hi Andrew, Unless I misunderstand your question, it doesn’t seem to me that the two are mutually exclusive – emphasizing your military background would quite naturally include the training you’ve received, and that you’ll be an active duty officer. Good luck!

  9. Kay says:

    Hey Matt,

    I am currently studying for the upcoming Sept LSAT. I have finished pretty much everything for all my applications including recommendation letters, personal statement and resume. I am currently a active duty Marine and applying for the FLEP. My GPA is not the greatest as it sits at 2.9 (did not take college as seriously as I should have). My LSAT score is hovering around 145 right now and I am trying to increase it to the 150s. What are my chances of even getting into a law school with that low of a gpa and my personal statement? I am currently looking at Texas A&M (Fort Worth) and Southern Methodist (Dallas) as my top two schools? I know to even be considered for the FLEP I need at least a 150 LSAT score which is my goal or even higher. Also, do you mind if I send my PS to you for review? Thank you.

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hey Kay,

      I’d suggest checking out the LSAC GPA/LSAT score school calculator (https://officialguide.lsac.org/Release/UGPALSAT/UGPALSAT.aspx) to gauge your chances. Right now, you look like a real longshot for SMU, with better (though not great) odds at Texas A&M. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Your military service will likely help your application, but that’s not something you’re going to want to pin your hopes on, since it depends on individual schools and admissions officers.

      You have two options. One is to refocus your application process on schools you have a better chance at – Texas A&M is definitely a possiblity, and you may want to start investigating schools like University of North Texas and Texas Southern. But to be honest, your odds at getting a prime job are going to be much lower coming out of those schools (although, again, your service may be a help here).

      What I’d suggest is really focusing on improving your LSAT score. This is something that is absolutely improvable and 100% in your control. Since your GPA is pretty much set in stone and the influence of your personal statement is difficult to predict, improving your LSAT score is the key variable in your law school equation. Whether you’re a diligent self-studier or opt for a prep class, if you boost your score into the 160s (an improvement many students in your score range are able to accomplish), you’ll give yourself a fighting chance at a school like SMU, and at the very least lock down your back-up schools.

      I’ll mention that if you are interested in studying with Blueprint, we have a military discount: $200 off our classroom course or $100 off of our online course. Our next classroom course in the Dallas area starts September 28th (http://blueprintlsat.com/lsat/classroom/enroll/TX/dallas).

      As far as your personal statement, our focus is LSAT prep and so we don’t necessarily want to be arbiters on your essay. Instead, I’ll refer you to two great admissions experts we work with: Anna Ivey (http://www.annaivey.com/law-school-admissions) and Ann Levine (http://lawschoolexpert.com/).

      Regardless of how you proceed, the good news is that you CAN get into law school — the key is how good that school will be.

      Good luck!

      • Bill says:

        Dear Instructor,
        I am interested in possibly using Blueprint to help me prepare for the June 2017 LSAT. Does your company still offer the same military/veteran discount of $200 off for your classroom course and $100 off for your online course? Furthermore, how do I apply for these discounts? Having just signed up for Blueprint’s free online trial, I am eager to begin studying over the winter break before classes resume. I would appreciate any help you can offer with this matter. Thanks

  10. SGT Kim says:

    Sir,

    I took the LSAT test on 5 Oct 2014 in South Korea. I am considring to cancel my score this time because I do not think that I will have a better score than what I expected to get. Some people told me not to cancel even if the score will be really low since law schools would not take look at my lower score, and some people told me that there would be no reason to keep a chance to show my lower score to law schools if I know that I could do better next time. Could please email me with your advice.

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hi Sergeant,
      Take a look at this post, and see if it helps:
      http://blueprintlsat.com/lsatblog/lsat-recap/september-lsat-wrap-up-to-cancel-or-not-to-cancel/

      In general, it’s not a huge strike against you if you have more than one score on your transcript. If you’re sure you really tanked the test — for example, you ran out of time and had to leave a lot of blank answers — there’s no reason to keep your score. But if you completed most of the questions and know that you prepared well, this may just be nerves talking. In that case, you should keep your score on the chance that you’ve hit your target, and don’t have to waste your time and energy studying again.

      Let me know if you have any more questions.

  11. Carola says:

    Hello!
    I’m a Marine Corps reservist that has done almost 3 years of active duty (within a 6 year contract that ends in 2016).
    I will finish my B.S in Political Science this December 2014 from University of Maryland-University College (its a regionally accredited school – but, it’s mostly online).
    I am attempting to start law school in fall 2016, but I have a very low GPA (2.5) given that I rushed my process because I wanted to graduated as soon as possible, and I took heavy work loads whike deployed.

    Hypothetically, if I got a 170+ On my LSAT, what would the chances be to get I to a good (tier 1) law school – utilizing my military service as a push ?

    Thank you!!!

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hey Carola,
      Honestly, your odds at a T14 (the generally agreed upon top tier of 14 law schools) are not great. Even if you pull an amazing LSAT score out of the hat (175+) and really push your military service, I’d put your odds somewhere around 50-50 at best. The fact that not only is your undergrad GPA low, but that it comes from a small regional school will really hurt you.

      That said, you could certainly get into a solid regional school with a 170 and your military record backing it up, and maybe even get some scholarship money if you need it. Applying early in the application cycle would also help. The good news is that the difference between schools below the T14 is far less pronounced than it is higher up in the rankings.

      If you don’t already have a free myBlueprint account, I’d suggest signing up. We have a tool called the Law School Compass that optimizes your hypothetical LSAT score, undergrad GPA, undergrad school strength, and application strength to give you a fairly accurate estimate of your odds at any law school in the country. It might be useful for you as you target your applications.

      Hope that helps!

  12. Fitz says:

    Thanks for the article and thanks to all of our brave service men and women out there. Can you elaborate of what you mean by not surviving if going in with motives other than wanting to join the service? I just found it interesting and am curious to hear your thinking. Do you mean survive training?

  13. Luke says:

    Thank you for the great article,

    I will complete my service in the Marine Corps in 2-3 years (total of 7-8 years time in service and the rank of Captain). My degree is a BS in Geology (2010) from the University of Washington with a 3.4 GPA. I know the GPA is not stellar due to some technical courses that challenged me. My job in the Marine Corps is essentially telecommunications and IT officer. I have had plenty of leadership experience as the platoons I have commanded ranged from between 40-70 personnel.

    I wont have a problem with recommendations and being able to present my leadership experience in a positive light, but I am somewhat concerned that my undergraduate degree and job experience don’t relate directly to law school. I am interested in either Constitutional law or environmental law, but I am open to other paths as well. Is it too far of a stretch to get into a good law school with my background? I don’t need to go to a T14 school, but want to at least attend a well respected institution. Otherwise, I would probably just pursue an MBA

    I suppose I could use my background in Geology to relate that to environmental law if I decided to pursue that. Any candid advice would be a great help since I don’t want to get too far down the road to application with little prospects.

    Thanks again,
    Luke

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hi Luke,
      Good news: your undergrad degree is almost completely irrelevant to law schools. You could have majored in Keg Stands; as long as you got a Bachelor’s degree and had a solid GPA, you can get into law school. There really aren’t any undergrad prerequisites.

      Your military experience will only be looked at favorably, so don’t worry about it seeming unrelated. Law school is far more about discipline and work ethic — two things many soliders specialize in — than it is about previous experience.

      It’d be nice if you’re GPA was a little bit higher, but 3.4 isn’t bad by any means. It’s definitely good enough that you can get into a good law school (probably even a T14) with a good LSAT score. If you don’t already have a free account from Blueprint, I’d recommend checking one out. The Law School Compass will help you get an idea of your admissions chances at any school in the country.

      Let us know if you have any other questions.

  14. Hi,

    As a professor at Abraham Lincoln University, I have always noticed that the university appreciates the service our military men and women do to maintain our freedom. As an online school we encourage military to join because it offers an enlisted soldier deployed in different countries an opportunity to continue their education. If you have any questions regarding admissions into law school feel free to give me a call at 213-253-5100. Have a great job and thank you for your service.

  15. Nick says:

    Hello, I’m currently in my second year at UCLA, with a GPA of 3.6 (English major w/a minor in Spanish) I haven’t taken the LSAT yet, as I’m waiting until next summer. I’ve served honorably in both the Marines and Air Force Reserve, with some recognition (nothing huge) and I’m a certified EMT. Not sure if it means anything, but I’m a 26 YO, white male. I really want to get into one one of the Tier 1 schools in my area, such as UCLA, USC, or CU-Irvine. What more can I do to make myself more competitive?

  16. Glen Weaver says:

    Thanks for this post and information. I’m retiring from the Air Force as a Lt Colonel and I have a UGPA of 2.7 and a grad school GPA of 3.6. Will the law school admissions process want my UGPA or can i use my grad school GPA? Thanks, glen

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hi, Glen! Good question. You are required to submit all of your transcripts prior to receiving a bachelor’s degree, and only those grades factor into LSAC’s calculation of your GPA. That said, you can submit grad school transcripts, which will be passed along to schools to which you apply. While LSAC’s calculation of GPA is important, law schools all give weight to different factors as they see fit, and your grad school work is both relevant to your ability to succeed in law school and of more recent vintage than your undergraduate work. Therefore, it should still be helpful in you applications.

  17. Mariah says:

    I am eighteen years old and I want to serve my country. But not only do I want to serve in the military, I also want to serve in the justice system of the United States. I wish to pursue a career in the FBI, following Law School. My thing is that I want to serve in the military a designated amount of time and then begin my education with an accredited college/university such as Yale or Harvard. I understand how much work, time and dedication this requires. I just need to know if it is possible for me to serve 2-3 years in the military. And/or is it possible for me to get some sort of education in legal studies while in the military.

    Thank you for your time and for any information you can give me.

    • Hi Mariah,

      First, it’s entirely reasonable for you to serve in the military before starting school, and you’ll get plenty of help paying for college with GI Bill money. That military service will also be a positive aspect of your law school application, so far so good. As far as legal education in the military, I don’t know the answer to that. People who go to law school and then enter the military usually end up at the Judge Advocate General, and getting assigned to such a unit — if you can make that choice — will give you experience with the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It’s my understanding, though, that this is significantly different than civilian law, so, if you’re not planning on being a JAG, it might be of limited usefulness.

      The last consideration you should make is whether to actually go to law school. Although FBI legal analysts may need a JD, being an FBI agent doesn’t. Law school is three years of your life with the possibility of significant debt.

  18. Alex says:

    I have a question. I am currently attending on active duty with the Army and am trying to finish up my degree at Post University in Legal Studies before applying to Law Schools. I have attended three different schools at this point and my GPA is probably somewhere around a 3.0 so I know I will have a patchwork degree but I would really like to attend a T25 Law School (dream school is Penn). While I know I need a lights out LSAT score to even be considered my question is as follows. How much will it hurt me coming from Post University (my classes are all online but it’s an a regionally accredited school with an actual campus). Would there be a significant benefit to me transferring to say Penn State to complete my bachelors degree before applying to law school if I want to attend a top law school?

    • Hi Alex,

      Law schools do indeed take into account the competitiveness of the school you’re attending when weighting your GPA. I do, therefore, think there would be some benefit to transferring if you want to go to a T25 law school. However, the admissions committees at this school will still quite obviously know that you’ve gone to Post, and they’ll weight the grades that come out of Post accordingly. On the other hand, if you’re completing your education on active duty, they’ll take that into account as well. If it’s not feasible to get a degree from a brick-and-mortar four year institution, admissions officers will try to factor that in. You should write an explanatory essay for your school choice and grades.

      In the final analysis, I’d say that you should only transfer to Penn State if you have a significant number of units (at least a year’s worth) to complete. Unless you can put up a masterful LSAT score, you may have to resign yourself to something less than Penn. I always tell my students that the end goal is to be a successful lawyer, and there are many ways of doing that besides getting into an elite law school.

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