As a prospective law school student, the first thing you’ve probably realized about law school admissions is that they are competitive, very competitive. Every top tier law school receives thousands of applications each cycle fighting for between two and three hundred seats. Admissions committees, in an attempt to whittle down the applicant pool to more manageable size, use two specific numerical metrics that play a very significant role in your application process. The first is the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), a four-part standardized test that attempts to measure a student’s reading comprehension, analytical and logical reasoning skills. The second, and slightly less important, metric is your cumulative undergraduate GPA. Although law schools claim to take a holistic approach when judging an applicant, it is clear from admissions data that an applicant’s undergraduate GPA and LSAT score account for the vast majority of his or her overall portfolio.
Undergraduate GPA vs. LSDAS GPA
The average person associates a student’s Grade Point Average (GPA) as a calculated average of the letter grades they’ve earned over the course of a specific time period. A normal undergraduate GPA ranges from 0.0-4.0 with a 0.0 equating an F and a numerical grade of a 4.0 equaling an A. Well, in typical law school style, admissions committees complicate things once again when calculating a student’s GPA. Instead of just taking your undergraduate GPA, the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) modifies your GPA to an LSDAS GPA. The differences between the two are usually small and insignificant, but some students may find that their scores vary quite drastically.
There are two main differences between GPA and LSDAS GPA. First, while your undergraduate GPA ranges from a 0.0 to a 4.0, the LSDAS GPA ranges from a 0.0 to a 4.33, where the extra .33 accounts for a mark of an A+. Although most undergraduate institutions don’t offer A+ grades, and instead just award a 4.0 to an A, institutions that do offer this mark give their students a slight advantage for law school admissions. If your school does not offer an A+ grade, don’t go marching up to the dean’s office demanding your extra .33 boost to your LSDAS GPA. In the grand scheme of things, the difference is insubstantial, and since the majority of universities don’t offer that high of a mark either, comparatively few students gain an advantage.
However, the second modification that the LSDAS makes to your GPA affects many students each cycle. Students who generously took advantage of their university’s academic forgiveness policies will possibly see a noticeable drop in their LSDAS GPA. Academic forgiveness, in this case, refers to classes that a student may have been able to retake because of poor marks, replacing their old grade with their new (and hopefully improved) one. Your LSDAS GPA will count all of your grades, including grades that were replaced with new ones because of academic forgiveness as well as the new grade itself.
*Your LSDAS will not, however, take into account withdrawn or dropped classes.
Again, most students will note little difference between their GPA and their LSDAS GPA, but those that do probably took advantage of programs at their universities that allowed for grade modification.
How Important is your GPA for Admissions?
As an undergraduate, there is no doubt that you spend the most amount of time and effort towards maintaining a competitive GPA. After all, your cumulative GPA is the average of four (or more) years of hard work! Unfortunately for all you hard workers, your GPA is not the most important factor in your law school admissions process.
Although law schools will never admit this, your undergraduate GPA will only account for about a third (at most) of your overall law school resume. While your LSAT score will weigh roughly 55%-60% of your student portfolio, the rest is made of lesser items such as your Letters of Recommendation, Personal Statement, extracurricular activities, and any previous work experience. Some students may be disappointed that their GPAs don’t factor into admissions as much as their LSAT scores, but there is a simple and obvious reason for this occurrence: there is no way for law schools to compare GPAs from different universities and across different Majors.
Comparing the GPA of a Biology student from Harvard to the GPA of a Liberal Arts student from Random College University is both unfair and practically impossible. Every university has different expectations of their students; they all grade differently and use different metrics to judge their student’s overall marks. Once you add in the differences in difficulty for various Majors and Minors, any sort of comparison becomes null and void.
The fact is that law schools expect their incoming class to be able to manage a full workload, succeed in their courses, and react favorably when obstacles bar their path. Success as an undergrad is not impressive to admissions committees. It’s an expectation. Therefore, a high undergraduate GPA is more of a necessary condition than one that will grant you admission to the school. While a low GPA can certainly keep you out of many top law schools, high marks will not get you in.
There are hundreds of students every year with 4.0s that don’t get into Harvard Law School because of sub-par LSAT scores but you don’t see too many 175+ LSAT scores slipping through the cracks to second tier schools because they didn’t get a 3.5.
However, because admission to top tier law schools is extremely competitive, you should do everything in your power to give yourself the best chance at getting noticed. So even though it is not the defining factor in whether you get accepted or not, you give yourself the best chance by ensuring your GPA is as high as possible. On the other hand, if you didn’t do as well in undergrad as your peers, the LSAT gives you a perfect opportunity to make up some ground and compete with the best.
Law School GPA Requirements
Every year law schools release the undergraduate GPA averages of their incoming class in the form of a range of the 25th to the 75th percentile. Although these ranges differ from year to year and from school to school, it’s safe to say that a standard median range of 3.5 to 3.85 is expected for top tier law schools. As you go further down the rankings, the GPA medians fall respectively, but still hover in the 3.2 to 3.8 range even as far down as the 100th ranked school.
Detailed readers will note that these are but ranges, and obviously there are outliers in every average. It’s true that you can still get into a top tier law school with a sub-par GPA. Dominate the LSAT, get some great work experience, network your ass off, and you’ll have a very good shot at the best of the best. But it will be tough. Everyone applying for seats at the top institutions has a great LSAT score; most have relatable experience, fantastic recommendations, as well as a good GPA. So how are you going to set yourself apart? How are you, law school applicant #93283, going to make the admissions committee remember your name?
The answer is to make sure you put every ounce of effort you have into that extra 10% of your law school portfolio, made of items like your resume, recommendations, personal statement, and other extracurricular/work experience.
A splitter, in law school terminology, is a student who has an LSAT score and GPA that vary from each other by a significant margin. A traditional splitter has a much higher LSAT score than GPA when compared to the rest of the field. A reverse splitter, on the other hand, has a higher GPA than LSAT score. So Student A who scores a 172 with a 3.1 would be considered a traditional splitter while Student B who scores a 158 with a 3.9 would be a reverse splitter. Usually, reverse splitters have a much tougher time gaining access to law schools that are on par with their GPA because it is much harder to compare GPAs among different universities and majors than it is to compare the LSAT, which is standard for all applicants. On a level playing field, i.e. The LSATS, Student A displayed higher ability than Student B, giving him the distinct advantage, assuming everything else in their applications is of equal measure.
Securing a seat at the best law schools is imperative to your long-term success as a lawyer. Higher ranked law schools tend to open more doors to internship, networking, and career opportunities, so graduating from the best law school you can is in your best interest as a future professional. However, getting into the best school you can is clearly contingent upon your undergraduate GPA. As an undergrad, you should do everything you can to boost that GPA as high as possible. Although a ridiculously high GPA won’t get you into law school, a poor one can keep you out, so be mindful of your current position. Remember that your LSDAS GPA differs from your traditional GPA, so try to avoid taking advantage of your school’s academic forgiveness policies. And if your current GPA isn’t in the range of your target schools, you need to concentrate on the other aspects of your law school portfolio in an attempt to prove to admissions committees that you can and will succeed in law school.
For Your Convenience: GPA Ranges for Top Law Schools
Below are the GPA medians for the top 30 law schools in the nation in order of their US News Rank. The first number is the 25th percentile while the second is the 75th. Clearly, some universities weigh an applicant’s GPA higher than others.
Note: The “ * ” symbol denotes that two schools are tied for a specific rank
1) Yale Law School: 3.84-3.98
2*) Stanford Law School: 3.77-3.95
2*) Harvard Law School: 3.76-3.96
4*) Columbia University School of Law: 3.58-3.82
4*) University of Chicago Law School: 3.65-3.96
6) New York University Law School: 3.54-3.84
7*) University of Pennsylvania Law School: 3.55-3.94
7*) University of Virginia School of Law: 3.53-3.93
9) U.C. Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall): 3.68-3.91
9*) University of Michigan Law School: 3.57-3.83
11) Duke University Law School: 3.58-3.85
12) Northwestern University Law School: 3.38-3.84
13) Cornell Law School: 3.54-3.77
14) Georgetown University Law Center: 3.43-3.82
15*) U Texas-Austin School of Law: 3.52-3.82
15*) Vanderbilt University Law School: 3.43-3.85
17) UCLA School of Law: 3.58-3.89
18) USC School of Law (Gould): 3.51-3.8
19*) University of Minnesota Law School: 3.36-3.89
19*) Washington University in St. Louis Law School: 3.34-3.78
21*) George Washington University Law School: 3.43-3.9
21*) University of Alabama School of Law: 3.31-3.94
23*) Emory University Law School: 3.35-3.82
23*) University of Notre Dame Law School: 3.43-3.8
25) Indiana University Maurer School of Law: 3.39-3.88
26*) The University of Iowa College of Law: 3.46-3.8
26*) Washington and Lee University School of Law: 3.4-3.73
28) University of Washington School of Law: 3.5-3.82
29*) Arizona State University College of Law: 3.3-3.82
29*) Boston University School of Law: 3.52-3.83