Last updated: July 7, 2013
It is difficult to realistically appraise your chances of admission to a law school until you know the two chief ingredients: your LSAT score and your GPA. You will receive your score by email several weeks after the test is given. It is recommended that you don't make any final decisions about applying until you receive your score. You may have a 3.6 average and be happily planning to apply to some of the nation's best schools, but if you receive a 157 LSAT you will have to drastically revise your goals. Conversely, a 172 can do wonders for a person who is feeling despondent about his/her 2.8 GPA.
Once all the figures are in, you should coldly and objectively weigh your chances of admission at the schools that interest you. Examine the information in this booklet and the raw data from Duke applicants for the previous year. In addition, check the chart in The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools and see how all applicants with your credentials fared the previous year. If 175 persons applied and none were accepted, you probably will be wasting your money to apply there. If the record shows 86/29, however, the odds may be against you, but you have a fighting chance. If you really want to attend one or two schools that look doubtful, take a chance unless the figures show it's out of the question. Don't apply to more than a few "long shots," however. Save your money and effort for law schools where you will be competitive, since you may not even be admitted to all of them.
After you have decided whether to apply to law schools that have previously interested you, you should then consider applying to some places where you will be statistically competitive. The Pre-law Advisor's Office has a matrix which lists schools where applicants have been successful within a given LSAT/GPA range. By following this guide's instructions to also include schools in the ranges immediately above and below yours, and you can obtain a list of around twenty law schools which might be realistic choices for application.
From all of these sources, you can probably obtain up to thirty law schools to which applications can be considered. Obviously, it would be silly to apply to so many places. (Not to mention the expense!) You will then finally have to narrow down the list, considering both the numerical chances of admission as well as your desire to attend the school. Why waste good money applying to a law school that you wouldn't attend under any circumstances? It is wise to select several "safety schools" and "long shots," but foolish to select ten schools where your chances are either nil or 100 per cent. While I recommend neither a maximum nor minimum number of applications, make sure that you are "competitive" at most of your final applications.
There are, of course, limits to how accurately one can measure his/her chances of admission to any law school. While the LSAT/GPA monster rules in many instances, quite often subjective factors such as recommendations, interviews, or extracurricular activities can influence an admissions decision. At several law schools, the numbers never control. If your statistics are below average, there are still many places that will be interested in your other talents. Learn whether non-numerical factors influence decisions at places that interest you, and apply accordingly.