Apply to Law School With a Low GPA

Shawn P. O'Connor

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q-and-A, a monthly feature of Law Admissions Lowdown that provides admissions advice to readers who send in questions and admissions profiles.

If you have a question about law school, please email me for a chance to be featured next month.

This week, I will address questions about how to successfully apply to law school with a GPA significantly lower than your dream school's average.

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Hi Shawn: I'm a rising senior at a liberal arts college interested in applying to law school in the fall. I have a GPA of 3.11 currently and a 170 LSAT score.

As my GPA is quite low for getting into any of the top 14 ranked schools, I'm thinking about taking summer courses to increase it; however, if I take classes, I would not be able to do a summer internship. Will it be more appealing to law schools if I spend the summer taking courses to increase my GPA or get practical internship experience? -Grades vs. Experience

Dear Grades vs. Experience: Thank you for your question. It is one of the most common inquiries I receive when working with my law admissions clients at Stratus Prep.

Many potential law school applicants mistakenly believe that their numbers -- GPA and LSAT score --; are the sole determinants of their admission to school. While those factors are certainly important, there are myriad facets of your application, such as extracurricular activities, internships, recommendations and essays, which also weigh heavily in law school admissions decisions.

That said, if you have previous internship experiences from prior summers, I recommend taking summer courses with the goal of getting your GPA into the 3.2 to 3.25 range, which would make a significant difference.

I worked with a student who had very similar numbers to yours who increased her GPA to 3.2 over the summer. She also spent this time working with me to put together a stellar application package, and was admitted to a top-five law school. Hopefully, you will have the same good fortune. -Shawn

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Dear Shawn: I am entering my final undergraduate year. Although I attend a highly ranked university in Canada, my cumulative GPA is rather weak. I expect to get around 155 on the LSAT, and I'm also starting a research project that will be supervised by one of my professors.

Considering the factors listed above, does it help that I am completing my undergraduate degree at a very competitive university? Will law schools look at that and be more lenient with regard to my grades? -Seeking a Competitive Edge

Dear Seeking a Competitive Edge: It is certainly true that it is more challenging to achieve a high GPA at a competitive, rigorous institution and/or in an especially difficult field, such as engineering. When law schools initially assess your application quantitatively, they do not take into account the rigor of your undergraduate institution, so you will likely be "on the bubble" at many of your top choice schools.

However, when law school admissions committees debate individual candidates, they do recognize the strength of your undergraduate institution and the relative difficulty of your major.

At the same time, admissions readers are undoubtedly also going to have applications from students with very high GPAs who attended similarly rigorous universities and, perhaps, even your university itself. Thus, the academic rigor of your undergraduate institution alone will not erase a low GPA.

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One way to balance out lower numbers is by submitting truly compelling essays and recommendations which force the admissions committee to go beyond the numbers and consider you for admission. This is very possible.

At Stratus Prep, we have had a student with a 159 LSAT admitted to Yale Law School, a student with a 3.0 admitted to Northwestern Law School, and three students with LSATs between 161 and 163 admitted to Harvard Law School. -Shawn