Getting into Law School with a Low GPA

James Eimers

Getting into Law School with a Low GPA

If you are reading this blog, you’re probably already aware of the two numbers critical to your law school application success: your LSAT score and your GPA. Different schools assign different weights to each of these numbers, but both numbers will play a large role in where you will end up studying law. While the best route to a relatively stress-free application cycle is to make sure your application features both a strong LSAT score as well as a high GPA, not everyone is fortunate enough to have these assets. What do you do if one of your numbers is lagging? What’s the trick for getting into law school with a low GPA?

If you don’t happen to fall into the enviable category of top applicants, don’t abandon hope just yet: There are strategies you can use to enhance your application in the face of a low GPA or LSAT score. For this article, we’ll focus on getting into law school with a low GPA.

First, some clarification. What, exactly, is a low GPA? Well, it depends on the school. Given the disparate landscape of GPA ranges for admitted law students, a 3.5 might mean something very different from an admissions perspective at one school than it does at another. As a general rule, if you find your GPA hovering near or below the 25th percentile for a given school’s admitted class, then you can consider it a low GPA for that school.

It’s important to note, however, that not all similarly low GPAs are equal. For example, a student with a low GPA who started off with poor grades freshman year but who has shown steady improvement ever since, is better situated than a student with the opposite grade trend.

If you find yourself in the low GPA boat come application season, there are a number of actions you can take to improve your odds. Here’s some advice for getting into law school with a low GPA:

Explain any mitigating circumstances surrounding your GPA

There are many reasons an applicant might be applying to law school with a subpar GPA; some of these reasons are more compelling to admissions readers than others. Suffering the death of a close relative, battling an illness, or facing other uncontrollable life events that would impact even a top student’s academic performance—these are all explanations for a lower GPA that should be highlighted in an addendum to your application. If, however, your GPA suffered because you simply didn’t take college seriously, then it’s best not to explain your poor performance. Consideration of context can make a difference for getting into law school with a low GPA, if you can point to something that has changed in your ability to succeed as a student.

Become a “splitter” by conquering the LSAT

Most applicants without all-around impressive application numbers fall into a category informally termed “splitters”—because they split their performances across the relevant metrics. If you’ve got either a high GPA and a low LSAT score, or a low GPA and a high LSAT score, then you’re a splitter.

With a low GPA, your LSAT score becomes all the more important. If you have a low GPA, you should aim to become a splitter with an LSAT performance well above the target school’s 75th percentile. It’s worth spending more time preparing for the test than you otherwise might in order to increase your chances of getting into a law school with a low GPA.

My colleague David, a Harvard Law School alum, talks more about becoming a "splitter" and other tips for getting into a law school with a low GPA here:

Secure strong recommendations

Although recommendations won’t typically make or break a law school application, these can be extremely important in borderline admissions cases. With a low GPA, it is critical to secure the strongest possible recommendations for your application. This means finding recommenders who truly know you, enjoy working with you, and can speak to your strengths as a student outside of purely grade-based assessments. Glowing praise can be the key for getting into law school with a low GPA.

Consider working full time before applying

More and more law schools have come to value work experience in their student bodies. In addition to offering you an alternative venue in which you can showcase success, such work experience will put a bit of distance between you and your GPA (the longer you work, the greater the effect).

Unfortunately, law school isn’t quite like business school where longer-term, stellar work experience can nearly negate a less-than-stellar GPA, but there is still some benefit to be had here. Try to find work that is substantive, meaningful, and relevant to your legal goals. Another factor to keep in mind: adding work experience to your resume is also an opportunity to secure an additional recommendation for your application. With a few years of successful experience, you can display a new slate of positive accomplishments separate from your grades.

Lower your sights to more realistic target schools

While this may not be as attractive as some of the other strategies mentioned, it’s prudent to expand the scope of your applications if you are aiming to get into law school with a low GPA. If your goal is to ensure that you gain admission somewhere, then you need to include schools where your GPA is comfortably at or above the 50th and 75th percentiles of incoming students. Paired with the other strategies, this will ensure that you have the best possible selection of schools from which to choose.

Applying to law schools with a lower GPA than you would like isn’t ideal, but it also isn’t the end of the world. Be realistic about your overall goals, and incorporate as many of the above strategies as possible into your applications. These steps should help you when striving to get into law school with a low GPA.

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