If you are looking for a law school where you won’t have to live and die by the curve, you better plan on crushing the LSAT — the vast majority of law schools grade on a harsh curve, and only a handful of elite schools at the very top of the US News rankings do things differently. Today we will tåake a look at schools with grading policies that disguise below average grades.

While all law schools employ a curve of some sort, some of them lump the middle and bottom end of that curve into one big “pass” category, so you may not have to worry as much about below average grades hurting your transcript. Elite law schools do this to make it difficult for prospective employers to distinguish between “average” candidates at their school on the basis of grades. The pass fail grading system is thus designed to not penalize those students that might otherwise have had a few mediocre class grades here and there.

Elite schools can do this because there is still strong demand to employ even their lower ranked graduates. Non-elite schools, on the other hand, are better served by allowing employees to differentiate among their graduates, even though this very often results in dividing students into winners and losers. Law school is indeed a competition, but like we always say, win the LSAT and admissions game and that competition gets a lot easier (if you are looking for a place to start, check out on guide to prepping for the LSAT).

Law Schools With Pass Fail or Other Irregular Grading Systems

Yale Law School —

YLS is famous for “basically not having grades”, but that’s something of an exaggeration. There are in fact several levels of performance recognized: honors — for above average performance, pass, and low pass. [source]

Additionally, first term 1L grades are simply given “credit” with no distinctions, so you can really ease into law school life. Must be nice.

As far as how easy it is to “pass”, I have it from a friend at YLS that it’s not almost everyone, if not everyone, gets at least a “pass” grade.

Harvard Law School —

HLS has a similar system to Yale’s, with honors, pass, and low pass. [source] Formerly, these grades were handed out on set curve: 37% honors, 55% pass, and 8% low pass in classes with over 30 JD and LLM students. This curve, however, is no longer enforced, which likely has resulted in even fewer low pass grades being handed down.

Stanford Law School —

Like it’s two peer schools, SLS has a pass/fail type of grading system, with honors, pass, and RC (restricted credit), that last mark going only to work that is “plainly unsatisfactory.” [source] My guess is that this mark, like other low passes, is given out only very rarely, basically to those who didn’t put in even a minimum of effort.

Columbia Law School —

At Columbia, it appears students have the option to be graded on a credit/fail system. I will try to find out how popular this option is. Otherwise, grades are given on a traditional A, B, C, etc. curve. However, grades are not reported to employers unless the student receives a distinction reserved for the top third of the class. [source] Seeing this friendly grading system makes me sort of wish I went here instead of U Chicago, where the grades still have integrity and are reported.

NYU Law —

Though NYU appears to grade on a curve, the GPA is apparently not reported, like at Columbia.

Berkeley Law —

UC Berkeley grades on a pass/no pass/substandard pass system with 10% of 1L receiving pass with high honors and 30% of first-year students receiving pass with honors in each class. There is no required curve for the grades of Pass and below, and faculty members are not required to give any Substandard Pass or No Credit grades. [source]

So that’s that. If you want some options other than the traditional A, B, C grades, get into a top school. If you want to go to a top school and still be graded on a full curve, go to UChicago or Columbia!


University of Chicago, J.D., 2012 Ready to Kickstart your LSAT Prep? Join the LSAT Mastermind Study Group


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