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Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Muller: College Majors That Produce the Highest (and Lowest) LSATs and UGPAs

MajorDerek Muller (Pepperdine), The Best Prospective Law Students Read Homer:

Several years ago, Professor Michael Nieswiadomy (North Texas) released a paper (available on SSRN) [blogged here] on the LSAT scores of economics majors. I thought I'd make some inquiries with LSAC for some data on this subject to follow up.

I asked for all data of 2013 applicants and matriculants to law school. Applicants self-identified one of 142 majors; they could select more than one if they so desired. I obtained the median LSAT scores, and the median GPA scores, for these groups. ...

As you can see, the best prospective law students were the Classics majors. Even though there were just 190 of them, they achieved a 159.8 LSAT and a UGPA of 3.477--the highest in both categories. ... The chart below includes the comprehensive list of all majors with at least 150 applicants, sorted by LSAT score. Some very small majors (e.g., Art History, Music, and Policy Studies) scored quite well. ... Among those majors with at least 1000 takers, the top major was Philosophy, followed by Economics, History, English, and Political Science.

Here are the Top 10 and Bottom 10 college majors by LSAT and GPA (the full list of 46 majors is here).

Derek 1


Derek 2

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Until these data are controlled for selection bias, they are cocktail-party interesting, but not useable. There may be no causal relationship at all -- e.g., studying classics may not help with either LSAT or GPA. It may simply be that students with more of the kinds of endowment that contribute to high LSATs and GPAs choose to study classics.

A really interesting question would be whether, controlling for LSAT and GPA, particular majors get better first-year law school grades than others, or pass the bar at higher rates.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Apr 8, 2014 8:30:19 AM

Math's in the top ten, as is biology, but I wonder how a STEM major affected those scores. In general, the top ten seem to be difficult humanities majors while the botton ten are the easy ones.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Apr 8, 2014 8:38:18 AM

Fascinating mostly in the sense of "cause OR effect"? I am going to make the bold assumption that students with "curious minds" and the desire to know a range of intriguing and even fundamental matters tend to gravitate toward certain types of "intellectual" courses. That certainly doesn't mean that those courses are the only ones in which such students enroll but that intellectual curiosity is a characteristic of bright and inventive people who are likely to do better on the LSAT than those who find a range of knowledge "boring" and "impractical". When my son was in college he asked me whether he should major in business-type matters or Classical Humanities. He wanted to go to law school and I responded that Classical Humanities provided the fundamental principles of Western knowledge while business majors were basically a dime-a-dozen. He did the CH route, was Phi Beta and Summa Cum Laude, and had something like a 173 or 174 LSAT. Now did he do that because of Classical Humanities or take CH because he found the stuff of interest and (unlike virtually all students today) actually of use in analysis? Maybe a combination. But what the stats above the author provided suggest to me is that I would really give a "leg up" in recruiting to students who major in things such as CH and look hard at majors such as Communications and Business because basically they represent a fundamental lack of imagination and intellectual curiosity.

Posted by: David | Apr 8, 2014 9:14:13 AM

Something else that probably plays a role: undergraduate selection and undergraduate institution bias.

You can't major in criminal justice, law, marketing, or business management at schools like Harvard, Duke, or Williams - they don't offer these majors. Indeed, with the exception of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School's undergraduate programs in finance and the like), I'd bet that the "top" undergraduate institutions, whether R1 or SLACs, simply don't offer the majors we find at the bottom of the list. The graduates of these schools tend to score the highest on the LSAT, so if we remove their alumni from consideration (as these majors aren't offered), it's no wonder why we get the list we get.

Similarly, is it easy or popular to major in classics at most "non-top-tier" undergraduate institutions?

Posted by: c3 | Apr 8, 2014 12:04:26 PM


My understanding is that while one can have an undergrad "concentration" in finance from the Wharton School at Penn, the actual degree bestowed is a BS in Economics. Splicing hairs, to be sure, but I think Penn technically still honors the old Ivy agreement of "No finance or business majors."

Anyways, I remember seeing, many moons ago, a study that concluded that engineering majors had the best first year grades in law school.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 8, 2014 1:01:35 PM

Un-interestingly, the majors with the highest LSATs also have the highest GPAs. This tells me that majors in criminal justice apply to law school even if their grades aren't that good. Classics majors only apply if their grades are high. This is not all that surprising. After all, why else were you taking Criminal Justice?

It think the interesting statistic would be the ratio of LSAT/UGPA.

Posted by: Pete E | Apr 8, 2014 4:23:52 PM