One of the more common inquires I receive from readers is about how LSAC will calculate GPA. Because the policies are a little obscure, I’m going to try and shed some light on the process so you might better know what to expect. Hopefully, you won’t be blind-sided like I was with a substantially lower GPA than you anticipated having.

When you apply to law school, you have to submit your undergrad transcripts to the Credential Assembly Service (or CAS), a part of LSAC. Depending on your academic history, your LSAC GPA (the number law schools will use to review your application) might actually be somewhat higher or lower than your degree GPA. Here is an easier to read summary of LSAC’s transcript summarization policies — the formula’s by which LSAC determines your GPA for the purposes of law school applications.

Based on the following, you will be able to get an idea if your GPA will be significantly different after the calculation. Also, if you are in undergrad still, be aware of these polices to make sure there are no nasty surprises in store for you when you apply to law school.

LSAC GPA Calculation

LSAC will convert your individual grades to a number in the same way that your college or university calculates it: by multiplying each of your grades by the number of credits you received in it, adding it all up, then dividing by the total number of credits. Out comes a single number that represents the weighted average of all your grades. So if you earned a 3.5 for half your credits, and a 4.0 for the other half, you’d have a 3.75.

However, while the basic calculation may be the same, LSAC converts to a scale that may differ from your school’s and likely has different policies as to which grades are included/excluded. We’ll look at these in turn.

LSAC Grade Conversion

The first and perhaps the most unfair thing that LSAC does to your GPA is convert it to numerical scale so that everyone has a number for a GPA. Regardless of how your undergrad does it, LSAC will assign you a number on a 4.0 scale (well, actually a 4.33 scale). Here’s a look at their conversion table:

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(source: LSAC.org)

The principal unfairness of this system is that because LSAC’s scale goes to a 4.33, you might be at a disadvantage if you attend a school that doesn’t give out A+ grades: the highest your GPA can go in that case is a 4.0. However, students who attend institutions that give A+ grades could have a GPA as high as 4.33, and any A+ grades they have on their transcript will better balance out lower grades.

Also perhaps unfairly, passing grades get rounded-up to the nearest whole number, so if you squeaked into the “highest passing grade” category at a school with such a system, you get a 4.o for that grade, even if in your professor’s mind it was closer to a 3.5.

Now let’s look at what grades LSAC does and doesn’t include when calculating GPA.

What LSAC Considers When Calculating GPA

The big kicker is that LSAC may consider things that your undergrad institution may omit from it’s own calculations. This may help or hurt you depending on the circumstances, but the tendency is for LSAC to take the strictest possible view of your academic record (i.e. their policies will tend to hurt your GPA than help it).

Here are the key policies that most often will lead to a difference between your degree GPA and your LSAC GPA.

  • Any grade received after you graduated will be left out. Thus you cannot boost your GPA after graduating by taking more undergraduate credits. At the moment of graduation, you GPA is set in stone forever.
  • Similarly, any college level class you took before graduating for which you received credit and a grade will count. This means transfer credits count. Any college level classes you took in high school  (such as AP credits) that you earned college credit for will count. Basically, LSAC will include anything you received a grade for and for which you got credit at your degree-granting institution.
  • Withdraw and Withdraw/Pass grades will be left out—so long as the school considers the grade non-punitive. If you successfully withdraw from a class, it will not count against you. However, many undergraduate institutions give punitive failing grades if you withdraw after a certain deadline. These may count against you depending on how LSAC interprets your school’s policy. Avoid having any punitive withdraw/fail grades at all costs. This is probably the number one source of nasty surprises when calculating your LSAC GPA.
  • Passing grades in pass/fail classes are left out. Here’s the bad part: while a passing grade does nothing to help you, a fail grade will count as an F. Likewise, in a pass/D/F class, if you get the D grade, that will count against you. Don’t take any P/F classes unless you plan to pass.
  • The original grade for a repeated course will not count IF the credits for the original grade do not appear on your transcript. This is probably the biggest source of confusion in LSAC’s policy. Basically, if you repeated a course BUT still got credit hours for the first take, LSAC is going to factor both the old grade and the repeat grades into their calculation. That can be pretty punishing if you got a D originally.
  • Study-abroad grades. Currently the LSAC’s transcript summarization policy is silent on the matter of study abroad credits. In the past, it was their practice not to factor foreign earned grades into your GPA so long as you did a year or less of study abroad and the foreign-earned credits were not “sponsored” by your degree granting institution (i.e. they weren’t basically considered by your college to be the same as taking classes at the home institution. I will make sure to check on the current policy, so ask me in the comments if you are concerned about this.

For more details, consult LSAC’s transcript summarization policy.

Here is the big thing to note: failing grades, in whatever form they come, are generally going to count against you if your institution considers them “punitive”, meaning you attempted the credit and did not pass. There may be some wiggle room within your institution as to what category a fail is in.

As such, before you submit your transcript to CAS, you may wish to make a case to your school to consider any withdraw/fail grades or the like as non-punitive (administrative fails for example, such as a withdraw/fail, may be considered non-punitive). Your school should be familiar with how LSAC interprets their transcripts and can at least tell you what to expect.

Do not attempt to hide grades from LSAC by, for example, not sending in a transcript from a school you transferred out of. It is at the very least likely to delay the processing of your application and at worst could become an issue on your character and fitness exam should they think the omission was intentional. Don’t do it!

Updating Your Transcript

Many people apply to law school while they are still in undergrad. While it is policy that you are supposed to update your transcript as you receive new grades by sending it to LSAC, in practice you do not have to do so. If your grades improve, you certainly should send LSAC an updated transcript. If your grades drop a little, it my be best to drag your feet. Just be aware that your law school will eventually require you to submit your full certified transcript, so they will see it one way or another if you fail some senior courses. While I doubt it would affect you if you are already admitted, it’s best not to risk it. Try not to fail any senior classes.

Ask Questions

Hopefully this made it a little more clear how your transcripts will be interpreted. I know there will be questions I have not anticipated, so let me know in the comments if you are wondering about your particular situation. I’m happy to contact LSAC and figure out how a policy would affect you!