COVID-19 and Law School Applications – UPDATED 5/19/21

The COVID pandemic and the response to it continue to impact various aspects of the law school admissions process. This post is updated regularly with new information and new questions (and answers), but remember that events are moving VERY fast these days, and circumstances are changing all the time. When in doubt, double-check the info to make sure it’s up to date. Don’t hesitate to contact individual law schools for the most accurate info about their own admissions process.

What about the LSAT?

NOTE: LSAC is updating this page regularly as new information emerges or as plans change.

Though at least June 2022, the LSAT will conitnue to be in the online LSAT-Flex format. However, beginning with the August test, LSAC will re-introduce the “experimental” section—an unscored section that LSAC uses to test out new questions. Accordingly, the test you take online will have four sections, three of which are scored. You will not know which section is the unscored one (just that you have an extra section of one type).

What to consider as you plan for the online test:

First, for the foreseeable future, the test will be online as LSAT-Flex.

Second, LSAT-Flex is different from the in-person test. The online version has just three equally weighted scored sections (instead of the traditional five, with four graded)—one each of Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning (arguments), and Analytical Reasoning (logic games), along with one unscored experimental section (beginning August 2021). That means that the reading comprehension and logic games sections are weighted more relative to the in-person test, and the arguments weighted less (because each section type represents one-third of your score, rather than one-quarter or one-half, respectively). This may affect how you’d want to prepare for the test.

Third, LSAT-Flex requires particular equipment and operating systems, a stable internet connection, and an interruption-free environment for two hours. You should assess whether your current computing systems and environment can meet these requirements. LSAC has committed to working with candidates to secure the appropriate equipment and testing location for those who need it – for details, see the FAQ section of LSAC’s LSAT-Flex post.

Finally, there is no indication that law schools will view the LSAT-Flex any differently from the in-person LSAT, although LSAT-Flex scores will be flagged as such. As with regular testing, admissions officials will certainly take note of any big score jumps (for example, between and in-person test and an online one), and in such cases, an explanatory addendum is appropriate. Over the next few years, both LSAC and individual law schools will be conducting research to assess the relative predictive value of the online version, but that research won’t impact admissions for at least a year or more.

If you are a UMass student or alum and would like to discuss your particular situation, please feel free to contact me.

Should I take the GRE instead?

Roughly 30% of ABA-approved law schools now accept the GRE, and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) is offering an at-home GRE test through December 31st for those affected by COVID-19 cancellations, in addition to its test center locations. But there’s obviously more to this decision than just those two factors. Read more here about how to decide between the two exams. Note as well that the GRE’s at-home test has some equipment requirements that may not match what you have available to you.

Will law schools take into account how the pandemic has impacted test prep and might impact test experiences going forward?

To some extent, yes. Remember that the admissions process is never just a numbers game, even as the LSAT and GPA weigh heavily in decision-making. Admissions committees really do engage in holistic reviews of applications, taking into account all the many factors that have gone into shaping applicants and their experiences, perspectives, and so on. Without question, the pandemic and the challenges it is presenting to all of us will play a role in the admissions process from here on out, and law school admissions officials have been consistent in their messaging to this effect. But: don’t fool yourself into thinking that your LSAT score won’t matter at all. It will. And remember that almost all applicants are experiencing some level of disruption right now, so if you have some special claims in that regard, they should be different or more extreme than what is rapidly becoming the new normal.

My internship was cancelled or moved online—how will this affect my application?

First, remember that law-related internships are not the make or break of a law school application. In fact, admissions committees are not generally too concerned with whether you’ve completed such an internship or job—rather, they’re interested in learning more about whatever you’ve done, and what you’ve gotten out of it. So if your internship in a law office has been cancelled, don’t worry about it having an impact on your application. Instead, pursue whatever opportunities are still available to you and are meaningful to you. That might mean finding an ad hoc job to replace some of your lost income, or volunteering to help folks more seriously impacted by the epidemic, or caring for family members. Whatever it is, it will add to the overall portrait you’ll be able to present to the admissions committees.

But law-related internship or job opportunities are important for helping you decide whether a legal career is right for you. If an in-person internship was going to be the thing that helped you decide whether to apply in Fall 2021, you might want to consider pushing back your application to the following cycle. There are no downsides whatsoever to working for some period of time between college and law school, and for those of you who really aren’t sure yet whether this is the right path, a post-grad law-related job could help you decide. You could also pursue an academic-year internship in a local law office or legal organization—and perhaps even earn credits for that internship.

One or more of my Spring 2020 classes was converted to Pass/Fail—will that count against me in the law school admissions process?

No. Again, the law school admissions committees are looking at the whole picture, not just one grade or set of grades. What’s more, they welcome addenda explaining anomalies in your academic record. A brief explanation of the circumstances will suffice to allay any concerns they might have. This is true whether you’re applying this year or several years from now with perhaps an odd-looking Spring 2020. And of course, a large number of applicants in the future will have odd-looking Spring 2020 semesters on their transcripts—almost all undergraduate institutions offered some form of alternative grading for that semester. (Indeed, all of the law schools did the same.)

In addition, LSAC has announced that they “will place a letter in the CAS report of every applicant enrolled during Spring 2020, to remind law schools going forward that the semester was one in which many schools changed their grading systems in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.” This should help especially future year applicants, as Spring 2020 hopefully fades into a distant memory.

That said, it may be a good idea to submit an addendum regarding your particular choices regarding P/F for Spring 2020. This is especially true if you elected P/F in more than just one or two classes (at UMass, about two-thirds of students converted one or more classes to P/F, and about one-third took all of their courses P/F). It’s not that it will count against you! Rather, you want to make sure the admissions officials understand all the circumstances surrounding your decision.

UMass offered expanded Pass/Fail again in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. How will law schools view P grades for these semesters?

Again, context matters more than anything else. If you opted to take one or more classes P/F in 2020-21, you’ll want to submit an addendum explaining the circumstances that made that option the best choice for you.  While admissions officers might be a little bit more concerned with 2020-21 P/F grades—especially if you took all or most of your classes P/F in Spring 2020—they are, as always, open to learning the particular circumstances that led you to make that choice. Many might be assuming that Spring 2020 was the REALLY awful semester, and the 2020-21 academic year was merely regular awful, so you’ll want to help them understand why circumstances prevented you from doing your best work this year.

How can I decide where to apply if I can’t visit law schools or attend law school fairs?

We’ve written a whole other post to answer this question!

Is the UMass Amherst Pre-Law Advising Office still open?

Of course!! If you’re a UMass Amherst student or alum, I’ll never stop being here for you, even if “here” is in some virtual space. Email me with any questions or to make an appointment for a phone/Zoom meeting.

By Diane Curtis
Diane Curtis Pre-Law Advisor & Senior Lecturer Diane Curtis