Without a doubt, the undergraduate GPA and
LSAT score are amongst the most important factors in the law school admission decision making
process. As numerical indicators, they are fairly objective; however, this does
not mean all is lost if one of these is off the mark for your target school.
This is particularly true of the undergraduate GPA, even if you have already
completed your undergraduate degree. While one cannot undo a poor past academic
performance, there are multiple strategies to mitigate it. In some cases an
academic addendum might be appropriate. Applicants might seek to soften the blow
through smart letter of reference writer selection. In certain circumstances, an effective
strategy might be building an alternate transcript.
Creating an alternate transcript – or demonstrating another set of grades
post-bachelors degree – can provide law schools with evidence that one's past
academic performance may not be the most accurate indicator of current academic
potential and the law school may attach less weight to the past grades. The
effectiveness of this strategy will depend on a number of factors.
Randomly taking courses in various disciplines or taking a couple
100-level courses or an introductory golf course will do nothing to help your
case, even if you receive A's in the classes. Choose your courses wisely with
the following considerations in mind:
Take courses that allow you to develop a thorough
knowledge-base of a particular area. Just as there is no one 'pre-law'
undergraduate curriculum, there is no prescribed list for acceptable post-bacc
coursework. However, the coursework should interest you and should ideally
complement the themes and 'wow' factors of your application. So, if you want
to get into patent law, for example, engineering classes might be in your
best interest. Other applicants might be best advised to steer toward the
liberal arts end of the spectrum.
Take courses that will strengthen the skills most
critical to success in law school. Senior Consultant Susan Brooks says
that while admission committees don't "discount the rigor or value of hard
science or business courses, they have to be certain that a law school
applicant can write well and has the ability to read and comprehend large
volumes of material, as well as articulate well-reasoned perspectives or
conclusions from that material."
Look to correct a perceived deficiency of your
undergraduate record. Did you perform poorly in English literature
classes? Logic? While certainly it doesn't make sense to retake
bio-chemistry classes if this is what is pulling your undergraduate GPA
down, if your past academic troubles manifest themselves in coursework more
closely related to law school (writing, etc.) then some additional courses
to assuage these concerns might make sense.
The rigor of the coursework and the reputation of the
institution count. Susan emphasizes that "law schools want assurance
that you are taking challenging coursework which allows you to be engaged in
classroom discussions with your professors and classmates – just as you will
be doing in law school."
Letters of Recommendation
Chances are that an applicant who needs to strengthen an academic
record through additional course work does not have past professors lining up to
write letters of recommendation. Taking additional courses can provide the
perfect second chance to secure one. Begin classes from day one with an eye on
creating this opportunity. Participate in class discussions; visit professors
during office hours to discuss projects and exam results. Your goal is to create
a story that shows you are a different student than the one reflected in your
Depending upon your particular situation, a good way to
reinforce an alternate transcript may be to have a testimonial through a recent
letter of recommendation by a university faculty member to back that up. In this
case, the faculty member writing the letter should be made thoroughly aware by
the applicant of the role that his or letter will play in the application.
Commit Yourself 100% to Success the Second Time Around
Mediocre post-bacc work will not do anything to mitigate a poor
undergraduate GPA; if anything, it will create greater doubt as to your ability
to handle the academic rigors of law school. If you decide to pursue an
additional semester or two of coursework, be sure that you have the time and
motivation to do it well.
An alternate transcript can sometimes be an effective strategy in correcting a
deficiency in past academic performance. It is worth noting, however, that
additional course work, will not change the undergraduate GPA as calculated by
LSDAS, and therefore will not be factored in to the index calculation used by
law schools. The schools will certainly see the academic work, as they will
receive a copy of the transcript; however, applicants are often disappointed
when they learn that the GPA side of the index calculation cannot be changed
once an undergraduate degree has been conferred. In this regard, alternate
transcripts can be considered as 'soft factors.'
Additionally, not all schools weigh post-bacc coursework equally
in the decision-making process. The circumstances of an individual applicant
will further dictate the effectiveness of this particular strategy, even within
the same school's applicant pool. Accordingly, the presentation of information
regarding post-bacc coursework should be carefully planned and executed.
Susan recommends that applicants submit an addendum to explain
post-bachelor's degree academic work. "The addendum is an extremely important
document. It allows you to explain why your grades were low during college,
serves to clarify why you completed post-bacc work after you've already received
a bachelor's degree, and allows you to 'make your case' to the committee."
Do you want to discuss your grades and
how they may impact your prospective law school
candidacy? Call us at 1.800.809.0800 (+1 703.242.5885
outside the US and Canada) and we'll be glad to talk to
Law School Features