Tough Choices Await Those With Low February LSAT Scores

February LSAT scores came out Sunday. Some of you are happy with how you did, so you’ll be applying to law school. Others got a low LSAT score, and have some tough choices to make.

What’s A Low LSAT Score?

It’s hard to say what an objectively low LSAT score is, but let’s give it a shot: A low LSAT score is an LSAT score that will force you into a few hundred thousand dollars of debt and leave you with poor job prospects.

You first need to figure out the schools for which your LSAT score qualifies. Law School Predictor will give you a pretty good idea.

Then, you need to check out Law School Transparency (LST). There you’ll find each law school’s job score, which is the portion of a school’s graduates that get long-term, fulltime jobs as lawyers. This is a good proxy for the kind of jobs you’ll have to land to service your debt.

LST will also show you how big of a loan you’ll have to take out if you attend a given law school at its sticker price. Your actual cost will depend on how much money you make during law school, how much you get in scholarships, how much you get from your family, and the interest rates on your loans. But, if you suspect you have a low LSAT score, and your family won’t foot the bill, then LST’s loan figures should be pretty accurate for you.

You can also have a look at the average indebtedness of the graduates at the law schools you’re in range for, but calculating your own indebtedness based on your personal circumstances is the smarter approach.

Something like $250,000 might not be a figure you can relate to intuitively. I know I can’t. So, you should use this handy debt calculator from the University of Michigan Law School to figure out your monthly payments, and the salary you’ll need to make them.

There might be a lot of bad news in the data you just gathered. So, what can you do about it?

Retake The LSAT

If you have not taken three LSATs in the last two years, then you can retake the LSAT. If the numbers you saw above have you scared about your future as a law student, you need to retake the LSAT, or you need to forget about going to law school.

Studying for the LSAT is difficult, but it is the kind of test you can study for. It’s a lot more like a math test than anything else. You start with the fundamentals, you learn some procedures (in math they call these formulas) and then you practice applying those procedures. Most people who do poorly on the LSAT have lousy fundamentals, and don’t know the procedures.

It’ll take a lot of careful and correct practice, but you can improve your LSAT score.

Alternatives To Retaking The LSAT

If you’ve got a low LSAT score, there really aren’t any good alternatives to retaking the LSAT. Getting another graduate degree won’t make up for a low LSAT score; it’ll just pile on the debt. Getting more work experience is a small plus, but likewise, it will not make up for a low LSAT score. Finally, you shouldn’t expect to just outperform everyone and emerge as a special superstar form a third tier law school. This is a highly unlikely event, no matter how much “networking” or studying you do.

Law School Might Not Be For You

There are over 200 law schools in the U.S. Getting into one of them isn’t hard. But, just because they’ll have you, it doesn’t mean you should go. If you’re out of LSAT retakes, and you still have a low LSAT score, you can either wait out the two years for a retake, or forget about going to law school.

Giving up on a goal is tough, but trying to service hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt without a job or a very poor one is impossible.

The Moral

The moral of this post is: retake the LSAT. If becoming a lawyer is something you truly want, you should not accept a low LSAT score. There’s plenty of time until June to recharge and properly prepare for the LSAT.

If you think your situation is more nuanced than what I’ve covered, feel free to post about it in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out.

19 Responses

  1. I agree that after getting an unsatisfactory score 3 times, then it is time to switch careers. Low scores give you a small chance of attaining a scholarship, which is going to leave you with a massive amount of student loans. The last thing you want to do is go to a college that you wasnt one of your first choices, and run up a massive amount of debt, and not even be guaranteed a job at the end.

  2. Clarisse says:

    I’m retaking the test in June. Using these coming months to enhance my resume and nail this test. Feb. was my first time sitting for it and…let me tell you, my score has humbled me. It’s on now.

  3. Pat says:

    I agree with most of what this article says. If you can’t get a decent score after three times, or maybe even two times, give up the idea of becoming a lawyer. Do NOT settle for some bottom rung school. The employment statistics are abyssmal and student loans are almost never dischargeable, so you could be saddled with debt that will follow you for the rest of your life.

    Plus, test prep will only get you so far. It can help familiarize you with the test itself, but it can’t make you smarter. I can buy that one, or maybe even two, bad scores are the result of nerves or unfamiliarity with the test process, but if you can’t get it right on the third try, give it up. I would not bother waiting the two years to re-take it – just give it up.

    LSAT scores are used by law schools for a reason – it is usually a pretty good predictor of success in law school. If you don’t have the tools to do well on the LSAT, chances are you are probably not going to do well in law school, which in turn will make you undesirable to an employer, which leads back to massive student loans with no reasonable prospect of repayment.

    • Yuko Sin says:

      I think test prep can make you smarter.

      We don’t simply teach people stuff like, “answer every question,” “D is the most frequent correct answer choice,” “you have 35 minutes,” and so on.

      The LSAT is a test of logic, and we teach logic. You should sit in on a class.

      People do get more familiar with the LSAT, but that can’t explain how on average BP students improve by over one standard deviation. I’ve seen some students improve by 3 standard deviations.

  4. Pat says:

    To follow up on my previous comment, I would like to say that you should really think about giving up after two failed attempts, and not even bothering with the third. I say that as a practicing lawyer for a few important reasons.

    First, the nerves it takes for the LSAT are nothing compared with the nerves it takes for a law school exam. When I was in law school, about a decade ago, 100% of my grades were based on one exam. If you had a bad day on the day of the test, you were screwed. Imagine going through that four or five times over a two week period, twice a year. It is not for the faint of heart.

    Second, if you think the LSAT is hard and requires preparation, wait until you take the bar exam. You can, as I did, take the LSAT with little or no preparation. You do not need to come in with any special knowledge of facts. you simply read the questions and deduce which is the correct answer.

    The bar exam, on the other hand, is a two or three day marathon, where you are required to know mountains of substantive law and how different, seemingly unconnected legal principles play out in a given fact pattern. You only get one chance at the bar exam. Sure, you can re-take it if you fail, but you may lose whatever job you are lucky enough to land in this economy and you are forever thereafter stigmatized. If you ever have dreams of a judgeship, you will be asked if you ever failed a bar exam, and you can imagine how that may affect your chances.

    Third, if you think the bar exam was tough, wait until you get to the real world, when your decisions actually impact other people, sometimes for the rest of their lives, and where you can get into real trouble if you don’t know the answer. There is no one there to help you with study aids or test prep. If you are lucky, you will have a mentor or a partner you can go to for help, but only if you can get a job in a firm or with a government agency, both of which are increasingly difficult in this economy, and only moreso if you haven’t gotten into a good law school.

    I’ll give you one mulligan on the LSAT, but frankly, if you can’t hack it on the second try, do yourself a favor and give up.

    • Yuko Sin says:

      I’m a tiny bit more optimistic.

      I think a lot of people make a hash of their LSAT prep. You can spend all the time you want prepping for the LSAT, but if you’re not practicing correctly, your score won’t budge.

      If you do practice correctly, and you give yourself enough time, you can do very well on the LSAT.

      • Pat says:

        Perhaps. I can only speak from my personal experience and maybe a test prep can help. I think my main concern, and one that was touched upon in the article, is that some people, most people in fact, realky should not go to law school. If you suck at the LSAT, whether because of nerves or because you aren’t good at the kind of questions that are on it, that is a good sign that you shouldn’t piss away hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to be something you aren’t. This is not an eady job and if your nerves are frayed by the LSAT you are in trouble.

        I think I am a pretty damn good lawyer. I would be a terrible doctor and an even worse architect. I know that and accept it. My piint is to know your skill set before you start down a path that has long lasting implications.

      • Pat says:

        You may be able to tell that my last post was typed on an iPad. Sorry for the typos.

        • Tuck says:

          If you’re such a prominent attorney, then why are you wasting your oh so precious words of wisdom on laymen like us? I scored a 170. After a YEAR of prep on my THIRD try. MANY OTHERS HAVE TOO. How dare you for trying to piss on other student’s dreams. Anyone, with enough time, practice, and effort can do this test and subsequently succeed in law school.

          • 007 says:

            What did you do differently on the 3rd try that you didn’t do previously to get a 170? What’s the key to getting a score that high? Thanks

  5. Mark F. says:

    Actually, most people should give up on being a lawyer unless they can get into Harvard, Yale or Stanford, or have connections that can get them a job. About half of all current law students do not get jobs requiring a law degree — and many of the jobs they do get suck.

    • Greg Nix says:

      That’s pretty hyperbolic. Yes, the job market is not great right now. No, that doesn’t mean you should automatically give up on your law school dreams.

      For one thing, with enrollments way down, the demand for lawyers is likely to pick up by the time current 1L’s graduate. Second, the thing that correlates most closely with job rates is GPA, not prestige of school. So do well in school (especially your first year) and you’ll probably get a solid job, even if you’re not at a T14.

      Finally, if you’re looking for a more accurate way to assess job numbers, check out this tool from Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers, which you can weight depending on the exact kind of job you think is an acceptable result for your law school investment.

  6. Dale says:

    This article is complete B.S. and demoralizing. I am upset at the contributors for making it seem like a one shot “Sorry, you now have to consider a new career” if you don’t get into a good school. When have we been told not to pursue a career path simply because it doesn’t earn enough money or the chances aren’t high enough. I have a small network of personal friends that are young lawyers and although they have faced some tough times, are all in suitable jobs and not swamped in student debt. I also know of other lawyers on the periphery that are in decent careers that went to subpar law schools.
    As an aspiring law student I feel like the tone of this article and contributors needs to air on cautious optimism rather than straight out cynicism.

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hey Dale,
      I think you’re misinterpreting the article. Yuko isn’t saying “you need to quit if you don’t get into a good school.” He’s saying A) your job prospects are much better if you go to a good school and B) be wary of taking on huge loan debt from a school that doesn’t offer good job prospects.

      The bottom tier of law school graduates have anywhere from 50%-80% unemployment rate. That’s not cynical, it’s just a fact. So for most students, just getting into a law school shouldn’t be enough. They should aspire to get into a school that will give them the best chance at a successful and prosperous career (and ideally try to get some scholarship money, to make their life after school all that much better). The easiest way to do both of those things is to ace the LSAT.

      Encouraging our students to go into debt by attending a poor school would be disingenuous at best and extremely harmful at worst. That doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you should work harder.

      I’ll refer you to the end of the article, where I think he lays out his point as clearly as possible: “If becoming a lawyer is something you truly want, you should not accept a low LSAT score.”

  7. Tom says:

    I took the LSAT 3 times (feb 14/dec 14/feb 15), with the feb 2015 being my third. My second score is much butter, will school consider my dec score over the feb?

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hey Tom, most schools consider only your highest LSAT score. There are a few that average your scores, but as far as I know, no school will look at only your most recent score.

  8. Trina T says:

    I have been reading post and wanted to say that I know and work with alot of attorneys who did not go to the top tier schools. As a matter of fact, most of them went to Tier 2, 3, and 4 schools. They are working and earning way over a hundred thousand a year. Some of the post on here are ridiculous. The “if you don’t go to a top tier school then forget it” is a bunch of crap. Also, what is the determining factor of the LSAT score in regards to a person’s success in school? That is also a bunch of crap. I refuse to believe that a test can determine someone’s ability to be successful in their studies. I think some of you give attorneys way to much credit in the intellegence category. I worked with an attorney who went to Harvard and another who went to Ohio State University, they were both dumb as a bunch of rocks. Couldn’t do or really understand or decifer information. Yet, I also worked with attorneys from Ohio Northern University, Capital University and Cornell University, who were extremely knowledgeable and who careers put them in political offices and in director jobs. So, spare some of us readers with the over-exaggerations of your version of the “keys to success”.

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