How Law Schools Weigh GPA, Early Decision Applications

Shawn P. O'Connor

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

If you have a question, email me for a chance to be featured next month. This month, I answer questions from applicants who wonder how GPA and early decision applications factor into their admissions chances.

Dear Shawn: I am currently a college junior, and I spent my first three semesters in an undergraduate engineering program that unfortunately deflated my GPA. Now, as a double major in economics and politics, I am maintaining around a 3.9 major GPA but have a cumulative GPA of 3.3 because of the engineering classes.

My hope is to bring my cumulative GPA up to a 3.5 by the time I apply. However, after reviewing statistics and charts on admission criteria, I see that my cumulative GPA doesn't keep me in the running at many of the top schools to which I wish to apply.

Do top law schools consider major GPAs and courses taken? Will they factor in that I have switched majors? Would they look at an addendum explaining a lower cumulative GPA? Thanks a lot for your help. -Grade Point Analysis

[Get tips on applying to law school with a low GPA.]

Dear Grade Point Analysis: Initial evaluation of your application will be based on your cumulative GPA and LSAT score. Thus, your 3.3 GPA -- or 3.5 if you improve it -- will be what admissions committees consider. If you are concerned about your GPA, you can offset it by putting significant effort into your LSAT studies to demonstrate your true abilities.

In addition, it is indeed a good idea to write an addendum to your application explaining the circumstances that resulted in your lower GPA, and highlight your steady improvement. They will factor that into their decision.

For example, my team and I worked with a student who was quite ill on and off during a semester and her grades suffered. I helped her draft an addendum showcasing her otherwise pristine GPA and demonstrating why her transcript was not necessarily an accurate representation of her abilities.

Also, by crafting unique, authentic essays, you can further demonstrate your fit for the school and increase your chances of admission. -Shawn

[Find out how your LSAT score affects applications.]

Dear Mr. O'Connor: I am a senior at an Ivy League school. After reading your article about applying early decision to law school, I thought I would reach out to get your take on my situation.

NYU is without a doubt my favorite choice. However, I'm wary of shutting the door on Harvard. My stats put me in a good position for either, although my LSAT is on the lower end of Harvard's range. I am not sure if I should apply ED to NYU or not. -Undecided about Early Decision

[Learn how to submit successful applications to top law schools.]

Dear Undecided about Early Decision: If New York University is your top choice hands down, then certainly apply early decision. Doing so will increase your chances of admission because law schools want to accept students who are going to accept their invitation, and by applying early decision you commit to attend if admitted.

If NYU is your top choice out of your target schools, but you would prefer to attend Harvard if given the opportunity, then you should apply in the regular cycle to both, since Harvard does not offer an early decision option.

The reason I say that is if you apply early decision to NYU and are subsequently admitted to Harvard and you decide that's where you want to go to school, you could get yourself into a sticky situation.

Law schools take early decision very seriously, and it is considered a binding contract to attend that school if admitted. You could end up getting your offers revoked from both schools if you try to get out of your commitment to NYU.

Even though applying early decision will improve your odds, it does not guarantee admission and can only make a marginal difference. Applying in the regular cycle should not drastically affect your admissions chances. Good luck with your decision! -Shawn