To help you determine how many law schools you should apply to, we’ve compiled responses from T14 law students, alumni interviewers, and law school admissions advisors to bring you the definitive guide on creating your list of law schools to apply to.
In this brief post, you’ll learn the true definitions of safety, reach, and target schools in the context of the law school application process. We’ll cover how many schools are too many (or too few) when applying, while also including some examples of when it’s okay to break the general guidelines.
Continue reading to develop a concrete framework on how to determine your target list of schools and take the next step on your road to law school.
How Many Law Schools Should You Apply To?
If you’ve already done a bit of homework on this topic, you may have come across the frequently mentioned ratio of 2:3:2 with respect to the number of reach, target, and safety law schools you should apply to.
While that could be the proper ratio for you, it’s important to take into consideration your individual profile along with recent trends in the number of law school applicants and overall level of competition.
Let’s start by taking note of where we are in the cycle of law school admissions trends and how that impacts the ratio and overall number of schools you should apply to.
Law School Admissions Trends - How Does the Data Impact the Ratio?
According to the most recently available data from LSAC, applications to law schools are up 13% year over year. This represents the largest increase in applicants in nearly twenty years!
But how does this impact the number of schools you should apply to?
Generally speaking, when the “popularity” of attending law school is on the decline (i.e. application volumes are trending down) it’s more likely that you can use the general 2:3:2 ratio for reach, target, and safety law schools.
However, when the number of applications to law schools is trending up, as it is now, you may want to consider a reach, target, and safety school ratio of 2:4:2 instead.
We’d also note that for prospective law students who are targeting T14 law schools, the trends are even more pronounced. This means you’ll likely need to adjust not only your ratio but also the number of overall applications you submit.
Thinking of applying to Yale Law School? You may want to speak with a personal statement advisor from Admit Advantage, our top-ranked law school admissions consultant for the 2023 application cycle.
Individual Application Profile - How Do Your Personal Attributes Factor In?
If you have a high GPA, but a low LSAT score (or maybe a low GPA and high LSAT *fist bump*), then you may want to specifically consider increasing the number of target schools you should apply to.
“Splitters” (i.e. those with a mismatched high/low GPA/LSAT) can be a controversial topic with respect to law school applications. While certainly not an application killer (we’ve seen plenty of splitters gain admission to T14 schools), this attribute does increase the variance of your admissions outcomes.
That being said, increasing your “sample size” is the best way to overcome a potential adverse event, so we tend to encourage a higher ratio of target schools relative to reach schools for this type of applicant.
Other personal factors to consider when determining the number of target schools to apply to include:
- Quality/reputation of undergraduate institution
- Undergraduate major
- How early you’ll be able to start your applications
- Personal brand or “story” (i.e. are you going to write a compelling personal statement?)
If you believe that any of the above may potentially work against your odds of admission at any of your target schools, you should consider leaning toward the 2:4:2 ratio instead, and increase your number of target schools.
We’ve talked a lot about reach, target, and safety schools without yet defining them in a meaningful way. Let’s now unpack how a law school application advisor would characterize these terms.
Reach Schools - Goals
In our opinion, a reach school is most appropriately defined as a school in which you would need some favorable variance (or “luck”) to work in your favor. This would include applicants with LSAT scores or GPAs that are slightly below median for the respective school.
Another example would be students who majored in a less-challenging major at a non-brand name college or university that are applying to the highest ranked schools.
However, even if your stats are at or above median for top tier schools such as Yale, Stanford, Harvard, or Columbia, these programs should almost always be considered reach schools due to their very low acceptances rates. For example, Yale Law School only admitted 5.6% of applicants in 2022!
It’s also important to keep in mind that most applicants to top schools (or what we consider dream schools) will have exceptional LSAT scores and GPAs. You’ll need to find a way to separate yourself from the competition through your personal statements and admissions interviews.
For the typical applicant who only applies to six schools (the average according to LSAC), we tend to recommend two reach schools.
Target Schools - The Swing Factor
Appropriately defining your target schools is the most crucial area for law school applicants to consider when determining how many law schools to apply to. We like to encourage aspiring students to ask themselves if every component of their application is at the median (or slightly above) for the respective target school.
While some advisors would say you should apply to a high number of reach schools, we think it’s most prudent to maximize your efforts by applying to a greater number of carefully selected target schools. This is because your target schools should in theory be your “best fit” programs: schools where you’d be thrilled to attend and have a realistic chance at gaining admission.
If you think you may only apply to six schools, we suggest applying to four target schools.
Safety Schools - Don't Discount Yourself Too Much
The first thing we’ll say about safety schools is the following: don’t apply to too many safety schools! While it’s important to have at least two safety schools in mind, we also know that many ambitious law school candidates sometimes go overboard with this subset.
If you have significantly higher LSAT scores compared to recent class medians, you may even be eligible for merit scholarships at a safety school. But, don’t forget to keep in mind your long-term goals and whether a more competitive or better-fit law school will help you achieve them.
For the average applicant who only wants to apply to six schools, we like to advise them to apply to two safety schools.
The Framework: Who Should Send Out More or Fewer Law School Applications?
We’ll now tie together everything we’ve learned to construct a useful framework for determining how many law schools you should apply to.
When you’re ready to create a potential list of schools, you should follow the steps below:
- Commit to applying to at least six law schools and use the 2:4:2 ratio to select two reach, four target, and two safety schools. If law school applications are trending lower, or you have a particularly strong profile, you may be able to get away with five applications at a 2:3:2 ratio.
- If you’re willing to apply to more than six schools, select an additional two reach and two target schools for a total of ten.
- For motivated candidates eager to maximize their chances of admission to multiple reach and target schools, consider adding two extra reach and three more target schools for a total of fifteen. It’s unlikely that applying to more than fifteen schools will do yourself any favors. While the application fees may not be a deterrent, your time and energy will be better spent on a more focused school list.
We’d also advise students planning to apply to more than a dozen law schools to consider hiring an admissions consultant to aid in the process. They are particularly helpful for those who are hoping to attend one of the top law schools.
FAQs: How Many Law Schools Should I Apply To?
Continue reading below for a list of frequently asked questions about developing your list of target law schools.
According to most law school admissions experts, applying to more than fifteen schools would generally be considered too many. In order to apply to more than that, you’ll likely need the help of a law school application consultant. However, they would likely try to cap you at no more than twenty or so applications for your own sake.
As a bit of an aside, we did read an account of a student who applied to over 180 schools! Keep in mind there are only 199 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). I sometimes wonder if they skipped the bottom nineteen or top nineteen when making their list…
According to the Law School Admissions Council, prospective students apply to an average of six law schools. However, for those targeting the T14 (top 14) law schools, it’s not uncommon to apply to anywhere from 12-15 programs.
That being said, even if you aren’t targeting the most competitive schools, it’s generally wise to apply to about ten schools to maximize your chances of attending a school you’d be excited about.
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If you have more questions about how to gain admission to a particular law school, give a shout to our friends over at Admit Advantage. They’re an affordable option for students looking for guidance with law school personal statements and application strategy