How to Apply to Law School
Deciding to write the LSAT can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure where to begin. Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how to study for the LSAT to help you crush it the first time you write it.
What's Required to be Eligible?
Before applying to a Canadian law school, a few things are required:
1. An undergraduate degree from a university.
While there are exceptions, in most cases a four-year undergraduate degree is required to be eligible for law school in Canada. Contrary to popular belief, any undergraduate degree can be used to apply. While one student may have their degree in business, another may have theirs in music - and both are equally eligible.
2. The LSAT.
Perhaps the most intimidating hurdle of applying to law schools is the LSAT (Law School Administration Test). An LSAT is required to be admitted to a Canadian law school. The LSAT is administered multiple times a year, for a fee of approximately $200 USD. For all details on registering for the LSAT, visit the Law School Admission Council's (LSAC) website.
For tips on how to prepare for and succeed on the LSAT, read our 7 Tips for Success.
What's in a law school application?
1. First & foremost: important application dates and deadlines.
The first step in preparing a law school application is making note of important dates. Important dates may include: LSAT test dates (including the final test date accepted for that year), application due dates, deadlines for final undergraduate transcripts, and offer acceptance dates.
For a list of important dates for law schools in Ontario, visit OLSAS. For law schools in provinces outside of Ontario, refer to the law school's website.
2. Your Personal Statement.
Your personal statement is a very important part of your application to any Canadian law school. It’s not just about your grades and LSAT score. A law school personal statement is your opportunity to tell your story and demonstrate why you would be a good JD candidate. Some law schools ask you to answer specific questions in your personal statement, while other schools give you the freedom to choose what you want to focus on.
For advice from a successful law school applicant on writing a personal statement, read the article How to Write a Strong Law School Personal Statement.
3. Your Letters of Recommendation.
Letters of recommendation are required to apply to law school in Canada. Typically you will need two letters, with at least one being an academic reference. For example, a professor. Requirements for letters of recommendation (including the number of letters and types of referees) can vary by law school so take a look at their website first. Most schools now allow referees to submit their reference letter online or through email or they can send it by regular mail.
Choose referees that you are confident can truly speak to your abilities. For example, a professor that knows you and your work ethic well. You should also contact your desired referees as soon as possible to give them enough time to write the letter of recommendation. Asking ahead of time also prevents you from scrambling last minute if they are not able to take on the task or aren't willing to act as a reference.
4. Your undergraduate transcript.
You will need an official transcript sent by your undergraduate university to the law school you're applying to (in Ontario, they will send it directly to OLSAS who will distribute it to the law schools). If you went on to complete a graduate or master's program, you'll need a second transcript for that as well.
5. Your GPA.
Most law schools in Canada provide the median GPA from the previous year's accepted class. Be aware that this is not the magic number for getting an acceptance. Every application is unique and applicants with considerably lower GPAs may be accepted and applications with much higher GPAs may be rejected.
Some law schools take your cGPA (the cumulative GPA of all four years), some look at your last two years (L2), and others look at your best two years (B2). To see how schools look at your grades, you can either check each law school's website or look at the Admissions Information list.
One piece of advice about GPAs: don't be shocked if your province's law school GPA conversion knocks your GPA down a few points. It's totally normal and happens to most people. It's just the way it goes.
If you've completed a master's or graduate program, those grades may be looked at by law schools but they don't typically use them towards your GPA.
For all employment, volunteering, extracurricular activities and other experiences you list on your law school application, you will need to provide a contact person to verify it. These people may or may not be contacted by the law school you apply to so make sure to provide up-to-date contact information for each verifier.
7. Your LSAT score.
Writing the LSAT is required to apply for law school in Canada. Most law schools share the average LSAT score of the previous year's accepted class and whether they take your highest LSAT score or an average LSAT score (for those who write the LSAT more than once) so be sure to check each law school's website or look at the Admissions Information list.
How do I pick a law school?
1. Research Canadian law schools.
There are 24 law schools in Canada. While you'll receive a high quality legal education from any law school in Canada, you should do your research before applying. Consider factors like the school's focus, course offerings, location, tuition rate, cost of living, financial aid, job outcomes, extracurricular opportunities and faculty.
2. Speak to current law students and alumni.
If you know any current or former law students, ask to speak with them about their law school. Hearing a wide array of experiences and opinions will help you shape your opinion and get a feel for what school might be right for you. Make a list of questions to ask them so you can be sure to cover all bases. If you're not sure what to ask, here are some questions to get you started:
What is the culture like at your law school?
Are you happy with your choice of law school?
Do you like living in _____(city)_____?
Have you been able to get to know your professors?
How competitive is the environment at your law school?
Do you enjoy your classes?
Do you feel supported at your law school?
Current law students and alumni are a great source of information, so don't be shy to ask. They've been in your shoes and had to make the same decision once upon a time. They're more than likely happy to help.
3. Ask around online.
Not everyone has a law student or lawyer in their network, or one they feel comfortable reaching out to. Whether that's the case or you just want to collect as much insight as you can, ask law students online about their school. Just be sure to take anything you read online with a grain of salt - unfortunately not everyone is going to be truthful or trustworthy.
4. Consider the strength of your application (objectively).
Think realistically about your GPA and LSAT score and the average acceptance statistics for each law school. The more schools you apply to, the more money you're going to have to pay and the more time you're going to have to spend putting together applications. Compare your personal statistics to the schools' averages so you can get a better idea of the law schools that are realistic for you.
5. Think about where you want to practice.
While you don't need to go to law school in the same city you want to work in, being somewhat nearby does help. For example, if you go to law school in Toronto but want to practice in British Columbia, you'll have to put in a lot more work (and not to mention time, money and travelling) to meet with firms and build a network in another province.
How much does it cost to apply to law school?
The cost of applying to law school can add up quickly. It varies from person to person but these are some of the costs you can expect to incur when applying to law school.
1. LSAT prep materials.
While many free LSAT resources are available online (like Khan Academy), most students do spend some money on LSAT prep materials. Prep materials that you may need to pay for include study books, sample tests, tutoring, and LSAT courses. Some students buy a few books and self-study for the LSAT while others prefer to study with the help of an LSAT prep company.
2. The LSAT.
It costs $200 USD to write the LSAT - which is close to $270 CAD. There are additional costs associated with the LSAT like $125 USD for a test centre change and $125 USD for a test date change. Note: added costs may not apply to the LSAT-Flex - the online version of the LSAT during COVID-19.
3. Your application.
To apply to law school, there's a cost for each school you apply to. It costs on average $100 to apply to each school. So the more schools you apply to, the more expensive your application will be. In Ontario, OLSAS charges a $200 application service fee on top of that. Keep in mind that you'll also have to pay for your transcript requests. A law school application can easily end up around $1000.
How long does it take to apply to law school?
The time it takes to apply to law school differs for everyone. Applications typically open in late August and close in the fall or early winter. Most law schools accept students on a rolling basis, so it can help a little to submit early. However, it's more important to take your time and submit your best application possible, even if that means submitting it the night before the deadline.
You can expect it to take around 4 months to complete your law school application (this means writing the LSAT (not including study time), completing your personal statement(s), getting letters of recommendation, sending your transcripts, filling out your autobiographical sketch, and sending any other necessary documentation).
What do I do after I submit my application?
1. Check your email and be patient.
After you hit submit, you’ll have to wait at least a couple of months before you hear back from law schools. Until then, do your best to stay patient and keep your fingers crossed. Most law schools will first send you an email with your acceptance, so be sure to check your email regularly.
If you start to hear about other students receiving acceptances, don’t stress. There are many waves of acceptances that come out beginning in December and ending in June or July. Don’t be disappointed if others have been accepted and you haven’t heard back yet. Stay patient!
2. Don't lose hope if you get put on a waitlist.
Law schools get thousands of applicants each year. You can see more exact numbers here. Because of this, law schools have created waitlists to put a hold on the applicants they’re interested in, but don’t currently have room for. If space opens up (because other candidates reject offers, miss the acceptance date, or drop out for other reasons) the law school will send out offers to those on the waitlist. We can’t predict the chances that you’ll receive an offer while waitlisted, but they do happen.
3. Make a provisional acceptance.
If you’ve received an acceptance, congratulations! You’ll have the ability to make a provisional acceptance, meaning that you accept the offer but keep your other applications in the running. Provisional acceptances are helpful when you receive an acceptance but still haven’t heard back from another law school that you’d prefer to attend. Provisional acceptances automatically turn into a firm acceptance after a specific date.
4. Make a firm acceptance.
A firm acceptance means that you have fully accepted an offer and are taking all other applications off the table. Applications to other schools will be cancelled and your name will be removed from any waitlists.
5. Pay your deposit.
To keep your spot, you’ll have to pay a deposit towards your tuition (typically around $500). Check your law school’s website to find the deposit due date. Deposits may take a few business days, so try to submit your deposit well in advance of the due date.
6. If you receive a rejection, try again.
Many applicants (it might even be fair to say the majority) don’t get accepted the first time around. If law school isn’t in the cards for you this round, contact the admissions team at the law school(s) you applied to. They may be willing to discuss your application and provide helpful feedback. This will help you to improve your application and try again next year. The most important thing is to not give up. You’ve been through the application process once, so you know what to expect and you’ll be able to put together an even stronger application.