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September 27, 2005

GPA: Is 3.0 to low for top schools?

Another concerned law school applicant writes:

I need some help! What are law schools are going to think of my situation:
- 5-year dual-degree B.S.,B.A. in Engineering and English
- But, Overall GPA dragged down to just 3.0 due to awful, terrible grades in several Physics and Math courses (including 2 Fs)
- 3.3 Engineering Major GPA
- 3.6 English Major GPA
- 165 LSAT
- Do consistently well in the humanities, literature, philosophy etc. courses, English Honors student

Since my overall gpa is grazing at 3.0, numerically, wouldn't I be weeded out of most top law schools? I know law schools look sympathetically upon engineering (really, it's painful staring at equations for hours everyday), but it seems like I am in a gray area.

Any thoughts? The conventional wisdom is that a strong LSAT, statement, and letters of recommendation could make up for a lower GPA. Of course, if you really want to get in it seems smart to apply to schools that don't seem to have much problem w/a 3.0, as well.

Did anyone face a similar situation? How did things go? Any other suggestions?

Posted by mowabb at September 27, 2005 08:05 AM

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Scroll down and you'll see that I was asking a similar question about my own situation (good LSAT, graduate degrees, but low undergrad GPA). I've done a lot of looking into this, including talking to law profs and law school admissions people, and here are a few things I've found:

1. Some schools care more about numbers than others. It seems Penn, Northwestern, and NYU have a reputation for this, particularly, so these might be "top" schools that you shouldn't bother applying to. On the other hand, schools like Texas, Chicago, and Virginia seem to take a more holistic approach. Knowing this sort of thing can help in deciding how much your GPA matters, and where (or where not) to apply.

2. Find out about how much your LSAT matters. What I mean here is this: find out what the median/mid-point LSAT score is for the schools you're interested in applying to. If your score is at or better than that mid-point, then you're in pretty good shape. Chances are, your GPA will matter less in proportion to how much greater your LSAT is than that median. (Does this make sense?) In other words, if school A has a median LSAT of 166, and school B has a median LSAT of 161, then school A will likely care relatively more about your GPA than school B does.

3. Do all that you can to bolster the other parts of your application. From what I've found, those personal statements and letters of recommendation, etc., REALLY DO MATTER. Make sure they're good, and that will help to compensate for a lower GPA. Also, include addenda to your application if necessary/warranted. For example, if you can offer good, sound reasons for why your GPA might not be entirely reflective of your academic abilities (e.g., you were working fulltime while going to school, your mother died during a particular semester/school year, etc.) then the admissions committee will take that into consideration -- explain this stuff in a simple (NO MORE THAN 1 PAGE) addendum. But be sure you're just stating things matter-of-factly, by way of explanation -- don't serve up a sloppy sob story.

Lastly, I've talked to a couple admissions people who say that the LSAC's online tool for gauging liklihood of admission is fairly reliable. Do you know the one I'm referring to? They have a search tool on the LSAC website that allows you to plug in your GPA and your LSAT score, then it will give percentages for liklihood of admission to most law schools. Apparently, at least a few admissions people think this is reasonably predictive, so it's worth a look.

My advice would be to choose maybe 10-12 schools to apply to, which run the range of liklihood-percentages. In other words, pick 1-2 schools that you have only a 10% chance of getting into, 1-2 schools that you have 90-100% chance of getting into, and a range of 6-8 schools in between (25%, 40%, 60%, 75%).

Good luck!

Posted by: Doc at September 27, 2005 11:18 AM

There will be allowances made, too, if you've been out of school for a while. Allowances are also made for majors like engineering.

The LSAC stuff will help you narrow your focus, but don't let it limit you. If your heart is set on a particular school because of their focus or faculty or some other factor (location, LRAP, etc.), don't rule it out just because you think your GPA is too low. Just make sure that your ancillaries are superb and that you let that school know WHY you want to enroll there.

Posted by: kristine at September 27, 2005 11:28 AM

I think everything that has been said is right, but I only have one thing to say. In my experience, law school admissions departments don't look at what your major is as much as they look at the GPA (sucks I know). This is even true for engineering.

I had a Chemical Engineering degree with a 3.6 GPA (plus work experience in a law firm as a patent agent) and 167 on the LSAT. While I'm not complaining about where I got into (Minnesota), I was surprised that I didn't get into any of the slightly higher ranked schools to which I applied (Northwestern, Michigan, and UVA). The biggest reason I could come up with was my GPA, which for engineering was awesome, but compared to a 4.0 looks bad (even if the 4.0 is from a dance major).

That being said, some schools have a better understanding of the strength of engineering students, and if you write a good personal statement explaining that the low GPA has to do with some early problems that you overcame, you may fair better than me.

Good luck.

Posted by: Unreasonable Man at September 30, 2005 06:12 PM

After rereading my post, I think it sounds a little harsh.

No matter what, you will get into a law school. you have a really good LSAT score, and it is impressive how well you did in undergrad despite some really bad grades in some classes. Be sure you emphasize that, and do your best to explain away the bad grades.

Posted by: Unreasonable Man at October 2, 2005 01:43 PM