chatI wish someone would tell students when they first get to college how important it is to get a a good GPA if they are considering law school as a future option. Alas, they do not. So how important is GPA? Very. GPA taken alone probably accounts for about a third of whether you get into a specific school. However, for any number of reasons– laziness, difficulty of the program, illness, and so on– many people graduate with a low GPA. This post is for the people with lower GPAs who are determined to get into a good law school.

The Law School Admissions GameThe Law School Admission Game: Play Like an Expert has more great tips on getting into law school! Check out our interview with author Ann Levine, and CLICK HERE to pick up a copy of her best-selling book.

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What Is Considered A Low GPA?

This depends on where you are applying to school. If you are seeking admission to a T14 school (the fourteen schools that have historically placed in the top fourteen in the influential USNWR rankings) anything below a 3.5 is generally going to place you below the 25th percentile for that school, meaning that about 75% percent of the students attending that school will have a better GPA than you. Generally, your GPA is considered low for a specific school if you are below the 25th percentile GPA of students entering that school.

The Importance Of Crushing The LSAT For Low GPAers – Making Yourself A Wildcard

Except for the very top schools, mainly just Yale and Stanford, the general rule of law school admissions is that you can predict where you will get in with a high degree of accuracy just by looking at two numbers: your GPA and your LSAT. For most schools, your chances of admission are close to 90% if you are over the median numbers for both LSAT and GPA. Check out the student profile page for schools you are interested in to see what median, 25th, and 75th percentile numbers incoming students have at a school.

What if you have a lower GPA you may be below the 25th percentile numbers at the schools you wish to get into. What’s to be done? Here is the rule-of-thumb: if you are below the 25th percentile GPA at a school, you want to have an LSAT at or above the 75th percentile to have a strong chance of admission. Having this combination makes you what’s called in law school admissions a splitter. It’s not the worst place to be: schools want students who boost their numbers or at least help keep them where they are. If you can’t provide in one area (GPA), at least help out in the other (LSAT). For a longer discussion of this, including an explanation on why law schools care so much about numbers, check out these posts:

How Important Is the LSAT?

What Is A Good LSAT For The Top Law Schools?

What Is A Good LSAT Score?

Returning to the subject at hand, the point is that with that high LSAT you all of a sudden become someone that the school might need to admit to get the student profile they desire. Your chances of admission are perhaps not as great as someone whose numbers are both above the medians, but they are nonetheless fairly high. From looking at self-reported data of law schools students applying with a GPA below the 25th but an LSAT above the 75th, it appears that your chances of success run pretty close to 75% or better. Again, the exception is the very top schools such as Yale and Stanford, where any given applicants chances of success are not very high because competition is so strong. Look at the What Is A Good LSAT For The Top Law Schools? post for more details on this.

Because a school would obviously prefer to get someone with a high GPA as well, you are a bit of a wildcard, but that’s fine! It’s good to be a wild-card. If they do decide they need you, you are actually in a pretty good position to draw scholarship money. Depending on the school’s needs, you may be better off than someone who is simply hovering right around the median numbers. This is because the school is going to have a lot of applicants to choose from who have about median numbers, however, they have trouble attracting students with higher LSATs, who often go to better ranked schools if they have a high GPA as well.

If you have a low GPA, you really need to put your absolute all in to the LSAT. Devote 3 months to studying intensely for it. If you can’t do that one thing, then I promise you that you are better off doing something else besides law school. Follow this LSAT prep schedule. Prep with the best LSAT books.

Now that you know a bit about how to study for the LSAT, it’s time to learn the other rule of being a good wildcard: low GPA/high LSAT splitters need to apply to a wider number of schools to have success.

The Importance Of Playing The Odds- Apply To A lot of Schools

Any fisherman or pick-up artist knows that you have to make a lot of casts before you get a bite. The same thing goes for applying to law schools with a low GPA. Whether you are a splitter or whether you are just throwing out Hail Marys to schools where you don’t have very competitive numbers, you will always benefit from casting the widest possible net with your law school search. It’s just good common sense.

Consider applying to 25 or even 30 or more schools and you might get a nice surprise. Schools do not auto-reject students just because they don’t have the best numbers. If they really like you, you may get in despite being below the normal range for the school, which brings us to our next point…

The Importance Of Being Perfect- Making Your Application Air Tight

Though it’s not recommended, students with great numbers can often get away with being lazy on their applications. This is never true when you have a GPA below the range of your target school. As a low GPAer you should make sure that your resume is flawless and that your personal statement glows with subtle perfection. The best way to do this is to ensure you get advice from the best sources. The following books are generally regarded as the two best resources out there to help with your law school application:

The Law School Admissions Game – By Ann Levine

The Ivey Guide To Law School Admissions – By Anna Ivey

These two books are required reading for anyone applying to law school, but I particularly recommend The Law School Admissions Game, as Ann Levine recently published a second edition of the book. The additional info takes account of recent trends in law school admission that might affect your strategy. We had the good fortune to interview Ann about her book recently so check that out too.

Putting a lot of effort into an application will help you shine by comparison with stronger applicants who might be lazy on their applications. Particularly focus on coming across as likable in your personal statement and you will boost your chances of getting into reach schools.

Need advice on your specific situation? Tell us your GPA and where you want to go and we are happy to assess your chances for you. Don’t worry, comments are completely anonymous. Feel free to use an assumed name! Best of luck and stay in touch.

522 Comments

  1. 2.02 cumulative/3.00 major gpa. I was a science major for 4 yrs and all my classes were at the graduate level since my school is in the top ten for the majority of their science majors. Senior year I changed majors to a social science that was my minor. Lsat practice ive gotten 170+. My former science professor/advisor agreed to be my letter of rec whenever I applied.

    Im applying to schools where average lsat is 150 & gpa 3.0.

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Well, I think you should reconsider just applying to schools in that range: If you do get a 170 or better, apply to a lot of the top 100. You will likely get bites at some places you didn’t expect, maybe even a T50 school, maybe even with some money. They will basically be writing off your GPA as a loss, but one GPA below their 25th percentile is much the same as another to them. The schools you appear to be contemplating now are probably out of the T100. I would still apply to a lot of those as safety schools. For most people, I’d say going to one of these schools with a big, big scholarship (close to full tuition) is probably preferable to a T100 or T50 with no money (though that depends on your personal circumstances).

  2. hi,
    I am an upcoming sophomore in undergrad. I decided to lose focus and attempt pre med studies my freshman year. The result was a 3.4 GPA. I am really worried about how this will accept my ability to get into law school. Is it still possible to get an acceptable GPA by the time I start to apply to law school? I am a political science and public policy and ethics double major. I am interning for a law firm and am still doing research from my pre-med idea. Any advice to strengthen my profile for law school?
    Thanks !

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      You have plenty of time to rectify that GPA. You could theoretically get a 3.85 if you keep straight A’s (or better if your school has “A+” grades). While you should certainly try your hardest to get perfect grades, a 3.7 or better is still a great GPA even for the top schools.

      A word on soft-factors: don’t do so much extra stuff that it hurts your GPA. Doing well in school should always be your main focus if you plan on intending law school. For extracurriculars, do one thing passionately rather than a lot of things halfheartedly.

  3. Hi Josh and Evan,

    First of all thanks a lot for the blog, it’s very helpful!

    I’m a rising junior with a 3.30 GPA from UChicago doing Economics. I have had investment banking internships in big banks but the work wasn’t particularly fulfilling and now I decided to go back to thinking about studying law which has always been a dream for me before even coming to the US. It is somewhat radical for me because I am an international student and according to my research with top international law firms, there are VERY FEW people from my country who did JDs in the US. I know that with hard work and endurance, I will get into some law school but the problem is, given my situation, I feel like I would only consider committing to law school if I got into the top 5.

    Its is, eventually, a personal decision but I still believe that given your experience, you might be able to provide me with some advice. Even though I still have a full year to raise my GPA, I don’t think its realistic to assume that it’ll be higher that 3.4-3.5. Do you think I would have a chance at those schools if I get stellar scores at the LSAT and play the wild card a little by being international? Or since I strictly want to go to those schools- the risk of not getting in is not worth the effort?

    • Joshua Craven on

      Anoni,

      I absolutely think that it is worth a shot. I think you are taking a very pragmatic approach to law school admissions by setting your sights on the top law schools and being willing to cut your losses if you are unable to get into a school that meets your standards.

      Since you are an economics major, I’d recommend doing a cost/benefit analysis in order to help you make a decision about whether to apply to law school. Here are some points to consider:

      Costs: LSAT prep books, LSAT course fees, time spent studying for the LSAT, time spent studying to improve your GPA during your 4th year, time spent preparing and submitting law school applications, law school application fees, etc. In addition, consider the opportunity cost of 3 years in law school.

      Benefits: extra motivation to increase your GPA (never a bad thing), a chance at earning admissions to a top law school, etc.

      Remember that law schools not only see your GPA, they also see your %ile rank within your class. Not all 3.5 GPAs are equal, and you will most certainly get some points for picking one of the most difficult majors at one of the best universities in the world. (Of course, I’m biased toward UChicago. Nevertheless I doubt many people would dispute that assertion.)

      I suspect that if you study particularly hard for the LSAT, you will be able to earn a very high score. If you are able to get a 175+ on the LSAT, then I’m very confident that you will earn a spot at a couple of top law schools. If you are serious about moving forward, I’d highly recommend walking across the midway to the UChicago law school and meeting with Dean Perry sometime. She is very helpful, and I’m sure she’d be more than happy to give you some guidance. (Plus, it never hurts to develop a good rapport with law school admissions deans prior to applying.)

      Best of luck! Please keep us updated on your decision & progress!

  4. Hey guys,

    i have a 2.8 science GPA with a lot of research experience in undergrad. I’ve been working full time in a top law firm for about a year now. I’m hoping to apply this upcoming cycle after I take the lsat. I’m PTing in the upper 170s and taking the LSAT in October. Do you think Northwestern would be a realistic shot with ED? I’m keen on staying in Chicago.

    Thanks!

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Yes Natalie, if you hit that score on your LSAT Northwestern is definitely within reach given that you have some good work experience.

      I wouldn’t even necessarily recommend ED unless you are sure you can handle full tuition cost. That’s a tough call that’s gonna depend on your individual circumstances.

  5. So I am going to be a senior physics major next year at a school with a very renowned physics program and right now my GPA is a 3.2. But there was one semester that really dragged my GPA down because my dad had cancer and I was battling depression. If not for that semester my GPA would be a 3.5. The semester immediately following that one I got a 3.8. So ideally after another semester or two my GPA should be >3.4. I have not taken the LSAT yet but my goal is ideally a 170. Also, for the past 3 summers I have had internships at several various research and over the school year I will be working with a very respected history professor. Do you have any idea what type of schools I should focus on? I saw that GW has a great IP law program and is a very good law school.

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Yes, definitely do everything in your power to get that GPA up. GW is obviously a good school. If you can get a great score on the LSAT no school would be fully out of reach with a 3.4 physics GPA. Do your best!

  6. I have a 2.41 GPA, I know it sucks, but I came in PreMed, battled depression and borderline passed every course I took that year (09-10). After that I brought up my grades and have mostly A’s, B’s and C’s. I took a few practice LSATs and got a 165, 167 and a 170 with the three I took so I volley in the same range as far as that goes. I want to go to the University of Pittsburgh and after talking with the Director of Admissions, she said to take the LSAT soon and apply for Fall. She said their decision making is based on five equal parts, the resume, the GPA, the LSAT, the recommendation letters, and the personal statement so I’m not a lost cause and can still get in. Any advice?

    • Joshua Craven on

      That is indeed a low GPA but don’t beat yourself up about it.

      First off I would advise against listening to any Admissions Dean about anything ever without heavily questioning it. I guarantee U Pitt makes their decisions like everyone else, with a heavy emphasis on the numbers. Of course, don’t bother calling her out on it, it won’t ingratiate you. Just always do your own research. She seems to be implying that you that you have uniquely good chances at U Pitt. That’s simply not true.

      U Pitt is likely struggling to fill their class like every other school at the moment. If you get a 170+ you, not them, are in the driver seat. With that score you should be able to get accepted to schools ranked similarly to U Pitt with a big scholarship. Don’t just apply to U Pitt even if you fully intend to go there no matter what. Apply to plenty of schools so that you have other offers to leverage for a bigger scholarship at U Pitt.

      Keep prepping hard for the LSAT. If you can get those scores now you have a solid chance to be well into the 170+ range come the actual test.

  7. 3.47 GPA and a 162 on the June LSAT which was alittle below what I had been scoring in practice. I was sick on test day and turns out I need surgery so I’m going to go for the 167-170 range on the October test. Not much real world experience but I have worked as a runner at a big law firm for about a year now. Grades do have an upward trend. My top choice would be Tulane as it is in-state but I would have to get some significant scholarship. What do you guys think about admission? And any info on how merit scholarships work or what kind of funds I could get with those numbers?

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      @Tim,

      Boost that LSAT and you’ve got good chances of being in a Tulane with big money (even with your numbers as they are I think you’ve got a good shot at a scholarship). Improve that score, then write an addendum to explain your lower LSAT score and I am sure they will disregard it entirely given the circumstances you are describing.

  8. Hi Josh,

    I will graduate this December with a 3.64 LSAC GPA. I have held a full time job as an aide to a state representative throughout my time in school. I score a 160 on the June LSAT and am taking it again in October. I am aiming for a T14. What is my magic number? If not a T14, what range is realistic for me? Does having full time, relevant job help my situation?

    Thanks for your help.

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Any 170 plus score is going to give you a good shot at several t14s. It’s a little hard to predict admissions results right now because things are in flux. However, it is clearly a good time to get admitted to schools that might have been a reach beforehand. Get a 172 and I’d say you are in at the majority of T14 schools. 173 and you might hit a T6. 168 or 169 might allow you to squeak into some t14, but your odds get way better if you do 170 or better.

      Good soft factors like that are always relevant, but remember that LSAT/GPA alone is going to determine outcomes 90% of the time. Prep hard and get a 170+, and those good soft will come in to play, giving you excellent chances at admission to a t14 with scholarship money.

  9. Hi Josh,

    I have a GPA of 3.7 and LSAT of 162. My top two choices are UCLA & USC but I know I’m on the borderline for it. With my GPA as is or higher (after the coming semester), approximately what LSAT score do you think I’d need in order to be competitive?

    • Joshua Craven on

      Hi Hopeful,

      Yes, with that GPA you are hovering near on the boundary line for UCLA and USC, right where a line that could be drawn on a graph it where it switches from more often rejected to more often accepted. But unfortunately you appear to be a smidge on the wrong side of it. With a 162, it appears that having a 3.8 is the magic number to see seeing high chances of success.

      While you have a definite shot even if just your GPA improves, getting a 165 or a 166 improves your chances greatly at USC. If you got a 167 with your GPA, you chances of success are very,very high, close to certain.

      UCLA looks to be a little bit tougher. 168 seems to be the magic number where students with 3.7 GPAs start getting in almost all the time. A 167 and below seems to land most people with a ~3.7 GPA on the waitlist.

  10. -3.0 non-LSAC GPA. Might be lower. Junior going in to Senior year. Applying this Fall 2013 cycle. Non- URM.
    (Took some pre-med courses freshman/soph. year) (Upward grade trend, but, not drastic. Not writing an addendum on low grades since my PS subtly covers a diff. reason for my low grades)
    -No real-world work experience.
    -Personal statement is solid. Started it early. Had multitude of individuals review it + provide feedback on it.
    -Letters of Rec finalized.
    -Currently working on diversity statement.
    -Currently studying for October LSAT. Aiming to pull a 170+.
    -Took June LSAT, received a score far below the median for my target schools. (10 points below).
    – Wish I could go to a T14 school. (GPA seems just too low though)

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      @anonymous,

      It looks like you’ve done a great job getting your application air-tight, which is great. However, as you know, that GPA is going to be a major, major handicap. That GPA puts you below the 25th for every top 100 law school except U of SF.

      Obviously, you simply need a great LSAT to get in in to a tier 1 (Top 50) law. Check the post we recently published, “5 harsh truths that will make you better at the LSAT” http://lawschooli.com/harsh-truths-that-will-make-you-better-at-the-lsat/ and look at the comment reply to Amy. That is a brief outline of the circumstances where we feel going to law school is currently justified. To hit those outcomes, you really do probably need an LSAT close to or in the 170’s.

      It is worth the shot to see if you can make it. However, this is advice that I give to everyone: Do not get too stuck on the idea that you have to go to law school. If you don’t get the numbers to go to a school you really want to go to, don’t later settle for something that you initially considered unacceptable. In the current economy, it’s a recipe for disaster.

      • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

        also @anonymous,

        If you do manage a 170+ Northwestern is known to be very splitter friendly, even to those with your GPA. However, you might have to work a few years and be able to show meaningful real-world experience, as they have a known heavy slant towards students who have done so.

      • Definitely will consider that. Need to get that 170+ first .
        Thank you,

        Anonymous

      • 2.8 lsac gpa with a 162. took the test twice. I thought a 162 would be good enough for T20 but now I’m having second thoughts. I haven’t studied in over 9 months, so I don’t think I should take it again. I have an upward grade trend except I got 2 Cs this semester in non-major class so I’m worried if that tarnishes my upward trend, even though my semester gpa is still higher than my cumulative . This is currently my last semester, I was considering going back to school for 1-2 years to take finance related classes to raise my GPA (regret having a humanities major). Or my other option is to to continue to look for a job to get real world experience to counter my low gpa . I want to go to the best law school possible , any insight would be extremely helpful.

      • Hello Josh, wanted to know what you think about my situation…
        I have been an Airline Pilot for 15 yrs, work for a major airlines here in the USA, went to a community college 15 yrs ago, have a AA in aeronautics. Now I have decided to join the ranks of the LAW!!!! sounds funny, I know…. never finished my Bachelors, because I did not need it, now I do and I’m doing so. I currently majoring in Criminal Justice at Florida International University in Miami, FL, and I am about finish with it.
        When I transfer my grades from my Community College, I saw that I had a GPA of 2.8!!!!!! I know, it sucks, but keep in mind, I was studying to be a pilot, not an easy thing to do. So now I am doing pretty good, I think, FIU GPA is about 3.3, and I am hanging there. I am about to start a course with Testmaster to prepare my self for the LSAT, taking place in June 2014. I know that the law schools probably will combine the GPA’s and that probably will hurt the final thing. I am not crazy about getting into one of those fancy schools, I just want to get in and out, pass the state bar and be done with it, as you can see it will be my 2nd career and I want it to start preparing for retirement here in Florida ( I am not that old!!!, 38 to be exact). There are several options here in South Florida, however I will like to attend FIU, because is cheap and I know the school, and I like it. I am beating myself now about that Community College GPA….. I was young, on my own, with a family to support and on top of it English was not my first language… I think I did OK…….so do you think I stand a chance????

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