Summary List Placement
If you’re planning to apply to the No. 1 law school in the nation, then you already know you have your work cut out for you.
According to US News & World Report’s 2021 Best Law Schools ranking, that school is Yale Law School, where the 2023 acceptance rate was a slim 7.3% and full-time tuition (plus fees) will set you back $68,000.
It’s worth it, though, judging by where Yale Law’s alumni tend to land. According to the school’s website, over 13,000 Yale Law alumni are leaders in their organizations, and a decade post-graduation, they almost unanimously (99%) express job satisfaction.
Lawrence J. Liu, class of 2022, said there’s “a lot of intimidation” that comes with looking at the law school’s statistical profile. The median undergraduate GPA for the class of 2023 was 3.94 and median LSAT score was 173. (The school’s statistics page does not include median GRE scores, but admissions does accept GRE test results.)
“A small number of students are admitted by the admissions office following consultation with one faculty member, but the remaining promising applicants are sent for further review and scoring by three law school professors that use their own admissions criteria,” Liu said.
Besides top academics, here’s what it takes to be a standout candidate and land a spot at the best law school in the country.
Source letters of recommendation from professors who know you, your passions, and your academics well
On its website, Yale Law notes that academic letters of recommendation are strongly preferred, and advised choosing faculty who know you well and can personally evaluate aspects of your academic work to write them.
To make sure your letters are exactly what admissions is looking for, Ali Nash, director of law school admissions at Stratus Admissions Counseling, which has helped applicants gain admission to Yale Law as well as other top law schools including Harvard and Stanford, suggested those still in school attend office hours and actively participate in class to build a strong rapport with professors. An excellent letter from a teaching assistant who knows you well is better than a letter from a senior professor who only knows you by your grade in their class, she added.
Liu agreed with this approach. “One (I think) unique aspect of the Yale Law School application process is that YLS faculty are heavily involved in the selection process,” he said. “And my sense is that faculty might especially value strong academic letters.”
He clarified that you don’t need recommenders who know Yale Law School faculty personally or who hold “fancy” titles.
“Rather, I think there is value in having recommenders who know you well and who can attest not only to your contributions to a classroom, but also to your ability to think and talk through issues you are passionate about,” Liu said.
He also recommended working as collaboratively as possible with your recommenders as they craft your letters.
“I mean being in contact with your recommenders early and often, sharing your statements with them, and talking through what specific perspective you hope they will provide in light of the other pieces of your application,” Liu said.
If you’re further removed from college, Nash said you can submit a letter from an employer — just make sure it clearly addresses skills needed for the study of law, such as critical thinking and writing.
“Do not submit a non-academic letter in lieu of an academic letter of recommendation if you have the choice,” she added.
Make sure your personal statement and essay highlight experiences outside your resume and build off one another
Yale Law’s application requires two essays: The first is a personal statement, and the second is what insiders often refer to as the infamous “Yale 250,” which requires candidates to explore an idea or issue from their academic, extracurricular, or professional work that’s of particular interest.
While the school specifies that applicants can submit the same personal statement that they’ve prepared for other law schools, the Yale 250 should be original.
“Use this opportunity to your full advantage to showcase a part of you not already highlighted in your application,” Nash said.
While highlighting an interesting hobby might be appropriate for the Yale 250, applicants should not be “too cute” or overly creative, she added — for example, by submitting essays in the form of poetry or song lyrics.
“Take it seriously and remember that it is an opportunity to demonstrate your creative writing and concision,” Nash said.
Liu overcame having GPA and LSAT numbers that were under the school’s median by channeling ample time into his personal statement and the 250-word essay.
“As someone who is also pursuing a PhD, I was told that an application reader would likely assume I wanted to be an academic and that I could conduct research in a specific area,” Liu said. “So instead of crafting my personal statement like a grant proposal, I focused on an experience I had teaching high school students in China to highlight the motivations underlying my research on Chinese law and politics, as well as my interests in qualitative fieldwork.”
In the Yale 250, Liu drew from conversations he’d had with an incarcerated individual he worked with through the Petey Greene Program, a volunteer tutoring initiative. He hoped that when admissions read the two statements together, they would reflect a wider range of interests, while also communicating “a consistent theme of wanting to get proximate in my research and life experiences,” he said. He recommended having people you trust read through your essays as a whole to ensure that their takeaways align with what you’d intended.
In addition to the two required essays, Yale Law School also lets applicants decide whether to submit optional addenda to their application, such as a diversity statement. However, Nash said this addition should truly add value, otherwise it’s worth skipping. “Because Yale requires the 250, they may be skeptical of a separate diversity statement,” she said.
Get some professional experience under your belt — or prove equivalent outcomes
Only 17% of Yale Law’s admitted students come directly from college. Therefore, Nash pointed out that applicants who lack post-college professional experience may be at a disadvantage.
“You will need to show that you have gained the maturity and focus that comes with holding a full-time job,” Nash said.
She suggested that applicants right out of college demonstrate these characteristics in their letters of recommendation — tactfully requesting this information from recommenders — or perhaps with other significant involvement in extracurricular activities.
If you’re in the position to take a gap year or two, consider the type of job you take carefully.
“Try to find an opportunity that will enrich your law degree, show your passion, and will help you to meaningfully contribute to classroom discussions, projects, faculty research,” she said.
Since thinking about all that’s required to stand out may seem overwhelming, Liu offered one final piece of advice:
“Don’t be too scared to apply,” Liu said. “At the end of the day, nobody really knows how or why they got into Yale Law School. So if you really want to go to YLS and are able to apply, why not shoot your shot?”