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So What is a good GPA for Law School Admissions?

Well, a good GPA for law schools is of course the GPA that gets you in to the school of your dreams! This article will take a general look at the GPA you need to get in to the various tiers of the top law schools. We will discuss the GPA needed for the well known ‘top 14′ schools in more detail, but also cover down through the top 100 law schools. But first, a little background on why GPA is important and how students’ GPA affects law school rankings.

The Ivey Guide to Law School AdmissionsYou may wish to dig deeper in to this question by reading a book that covers the subject. This should give youare better idea of the methodology admissions deans employ in sorting law school candidates. I recommend the Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, which was written by a former dean of admissions at my Alma Mater, U Chicago.

View The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions on Amazon

Why is a good GPA required for Law School?

Plain and simple, law schools view your GPA as an indicator of your potential to work hard and succeed in law school. A good GPA is in fact correlated with performance in law school (though not so strongly as the LSAT, which partly explains the greater weight given the LSAT in the admissions process).

Law schools want students who will try hard and succeed in law school in part because these same students are considered likely to flourish in the real world, bringing money back to the law school and enhancing the school’s reputation.

The other primary reason that law schools desire high GPA students is that law schools are ranked in part on the strength of students’ combined GPA.  A little rankings 101: The US News and World Report (USNWR) rankings are the dominant rankings in the law school world. They are incredibly important to law schools because law students use these rankings in deciding which schools to attend. Under USNWR’s current methodology, median undergraduate GPA is responsible for ten percent of a law school’s ranking, making it a significant factor.

GPA required for the Top 100 Schools

Obviously the lower you GPA is the higher you want your LSAT to be to compensate for it. As a general matter, the applicant pool for law schools is filled a lot more students with great GPAs than great LSAT scores. Because there are more such students to go around, there is a less severe drop off in GPAs than you see with LSATs as you go down the rankings. No top 100 school has a median GPA below 3.0, and only two schools have 25th percentile GPAs below 3.0.

Lets take a look at the T100 schools at the highest level of generality. The following chart list the lowest 25th percentile GPA found in a school within that tier, so generally you would want to have a GPA above this number to have good chances of admission.

 

Law School TierLowest 25th Percentile in Tier
Top 3 (HYS)3.76
Top 6 3.54
Top 10 3.53
Top 14 3.53
Top 25 3.31
Top 50 3.29
Top 75 3.09
Top 100 2.95

Note that as a general rule, when you hold a GPA matching the 25th percentile at a school, you typically want to have a 75th percentile LSAT score for the best shot of admission. Students with that split, called ‘soft splitters’, fair pretty well actually.

What conclusions should you draw about law school admissions from the above chart? Schools all the way down to the 100 mark have a majority of students clocking over a 3.0 GPA or a B average. With grade inflation, maintaining a B is generally considered easily within reach at American universities, but it still requires assiduity and a commitment on your part to do your work and attend classes. This means that the broadest level, those are the kind of students law schools are looking for — they want people who will at least put in an effort. Law school isn’t for slackers (see our post ‘how hard is law school?’ for more on that).

Furthermore, harder working is better. If you are considering law school you want to keep your GPA as high as possible. Your GPA is the best way of signaling to law schools how hard a worker you are.

Now let’s take look at on a somewhat greater level of detail starting with GPA for top law schools within the T14:

A Good GPA for Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, and NYU- The Top 6

While Harvard Yale and Stanford have clearly separated themselves from the pack a bit (A whopping 3.76 is the lowest 25th percentile GPA in the bunch, meaning that 75% of the class has that GPA or better), all of these school are generally going to require a very strong GPA for good chances of admission. Bear in mind the following chart uses the 2013 USNWR rankings.

Law SchoolGPA 25th/75th LSAT 25th/75th
Yale 3.84-3.98 170-176
Harvard 3.77-3.95 170-175
Stanford 3.76-3.96 168-173
Columbia 3.58-3.82 170-174
U Chicago 3.65-3.96 167-173
NYU 3.54-3.84 169-173

Yale is clearly a standout. A 3.84 is a hard GPA to maintain anywhere, and especially at the very strong schools that Yale Law School pulls many of their students from. The other thing that catches the eye on this graph is that Chicago seems to be going somewhat more for a good 25th percentile GPA instead of a high 25th percentile LSAT. This I believe is a somewhat recent shift, which though slight, is worth noting. I promise to do more investigation in to any historical trend regarding U Chicago’s emphasis on GPA.

The general picture that emerges though is that that you want a 3.75 GPA or better for confidence at HYS and a 3.55 GPA or better for Columbia, Chicago, and NYU. The sharp drop off here shows that there aren’t a lot of students with these great GPAs to go around (at least not ones with great LSATs to go with them) and schools are competing fiercely over them.

Having a GPA over 3.8 is going to make you highly sought after, and raises the potential to get scholarship money offers from these schools. If you are reading this before your GPA is set in stone, I highly recommend you shoot for a 3.8 or better (easier said than done I know). This number tends to convert a GPA from the merely acceptable to the highly desirable. Well a 3.75 GPA is often good enough at the very top, a .1 jump to 3.85 provides a huge boost.

A Good GPA for the Rest of The Top 14

Let’s take a look at what is considered a good GPA for the rest of the Top 14 schools- U Penn, Virginia, Berkeley, Michigan, Duke, Northwestern, Cornell, and Georgetown. Again these are 2013 numbers:

SchoolGPA 25th/75th LSAT 25th/75th
U Penn 3.55-3.94 164-171
Virginia 3.53-3.93164-171
Berkeley 3.68-3.91 163-170
Michigan 3.57-3.83 166-170
Duke 3.58-3.85 166-170
Northwestern 3.38-3.84 164-171
Cornell 3.54-3.77 166-169
Georgetown 3.43-3.82 165-170

The thing I wish to note right away this that there is not a lot of difference between the GPA profiles of Penn, Virginia, Berkeley and Michigan, and those of the schools rounding out the top 6 (Chicago, Columbia, NYU). By and large these schools are all pulling from this same 3.5-3.9 range. Considerably more candidates are available in the 3.5 to 3.7 range, so be aware that in these schools you greatly increase your chances of acceptance and scholarship money to be above that range.

Michigan it appears cared a little bit more about getting its 25th percentile LSAT up than having a high 75th percentile LSAT. This is something to note if you are a low GPA/high LSAT splitter. You might have better luck at Northwestern, which is considered on the forums to be the most friendly to low GPA/high LSAT splitters. I would caution hopeful applicants not to read to much in to this- generally it is thought that Northwestern is likely to favor such applicants a lot more when they have excellent work experience. The Northwestern law students I know confirm that Northwestern gives heavy consideration to work experience in making admissions decisions. That said, they still take plenty of applicants straight from undergrad provided they have desirable number.

Berkeley is worth discussing the most here. Berkeley is traditionally considered something of an outlier among the T14 for the greater emphasis they place on GPA. This appears to still be their practice, as their 25 percentile GPA is markedly higher than their peer schools. Berkeley is notable however because if you look at user submitted application data on LawSchoolNumbers, there are a fair number of applicants getting accepted with scores in the lower LSAT range for the school without an absolutely stellar GPA to balance it out. If any school in the T14 can honestly assert that they look at the total applicant, not just the student’s numbers, it may be Berkeley.

To win scholarship money on the strength of you GPA at these schools, you want to have a GPA in the 3.85 range for Penn, Virginia, Berkeley and Michigan. For Duke, Northwestern, Cornell, and Georgetown, you have a good chance of drawing scholarship money with a 3.8 or better. It is often sufficient to have just one number above a school’s 75th percentile to draw scholarship money. That is because they are able to cover your lower number with students that have a higher number there.

On the low end, expect to have a GPA of ~3.5 if you want good chances at any of these schools, though there are appears to be some wiggle room at Georgetown and, as already discussed, Northwestern. Expect that you will have to have an LSAT score that is very strong for that school to have good chances with a lower end LSAT.

The Big Picture

Staying above a B average will allow you to get in somewhere, but generally your law school options improve considerably as you pass the 3.5 range. A significant boost then occurs as you hit 3.7-3.75 and again at 3.8-3.85.

If law school might be in your future, do everything you can to claw for GPA points, as it can heavily affect your outcome in your admissions cycle. Generally it is thought that GPA accounts for something close to 25% of whether or not you get in to a certain school.

For more on the subject of LSAT and GPA requirements for law school admissions, please check out the sister article to this, ‘What Is A Good LSAT for Law Schools?’

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or if you’d prefer, get in touch with us on twitter @onlawschool or facebook.

Best of luck in your cycles!

23 Comments

  1. I had about 3.67 or a 3.7 in my undergrad (rough first semester in the wrong major. Ugh.). At the moment, I honestly can’t remember off the top of my head which of those it is (was over a decade ago), but it isn’t lower than that. That said, I managed a 4.0 in my MBA which I completed in 2009. Would you imagine that the more recent GPA could figure at all into the selection process? I was pretty determined in my MBA to get a 4.0, as I always felt that I left myself down in undergrad. I always figured no one else really cared what GPA I received in postgrad, but it mattered to me. Now that I’m considering law school, however, it stings a little to think that undergrad is still the only GPA that will matter. Considering, as you mentioned in your post, undergrad is what is used to rank schools, however, I can see why that could be the case. Certainly, there will be other factors to consider as well, but I’m only starting the process of studying for the LSAT. Hopefully, after a few months I’ll have something to show for it and can boost my chances with a respectable score. 🙂

    • Joshua Craven and Evan Jones on

      Evan here. Don’t worry, I had a around a 3.7 GPA. That really isn’t low. You might write a short addendum to explain that the grades you got in that first semester weren’t representative, but they’ll probably see it on their own.

      Sadly, the 4.0 MBA isn’t going to help much. If the MBA is from a fairly good school, that will be an excellent soft factor in any case. Good luck!

  2. Hello,
    I know this post is older, but I am hoping someone might be able to offer some advice.
    I am currently a junior at an R1 university, and I have a 3.928 gpa. I graduated from a community college with a 3.922 gpa. Those numbers look great, but I have two problems from my past.
    The first is 12 hours at one community college (the one I graduated from) from 1998 that I failed due to a family member’s death causing me to miss finals. The other is from 2009, where I had 6 hours that I missed withdrawing from due to leaving an abusive relationship. Those 18 credit hours kill my gpa (as near as I can figure, it will be around a 3.65).
    Will these kill my chances at top 14 schools? Are top three completely out? I scored a 163 on the diagnostic lsat at the university (studying for June 14 now). I have solid letters of recommendations from my department, and have a compelling backstory.

    • That’s okay Jenn. We see every comment the same even if it’s on an old post.

      Here’s the deal: Your 3.65 GPA is not that bad, even ignoring the special circumstances. It might make Harvard and Yale a little tough, but not even that isn’t impossible. Get a 170+ score and most of the T14 should be within reach.

      You should certainly write an addendum explaining the circumstances behind your lower GPA. The best cheap resource we know of to show you how to do this well is Ann Levine’s book, The Law School Admissions Game

      Although you probably won’t be have quite as strong a cycle as someone with a 4.0 LSAC GPA, I would expect you to do better than the typical 3.65. Focus on getting that great LSAT score. Good luck and stay in touch!

  3. Hi Evan,
    Thank you for responding! I ordered Ann Levine’s book and read it in one sitting. It is excellent!
    Second question for you… I recently ordered the LSAT Trainer for prep. I would have ordered the Powerscore series but its not in the budget currently (I left my previous career in Healthcare Business to pursue college full-time, so money is tight). Have you had any experience with the LSAT Trainer? I thought it looked like it might be a good fit for me. I do have the option of using a tutor, but self directed study will not be an issue for me.
    Thank you again for the help!

    • I’ve only looked at the LSAT trainer a little, but it seemed like a good product. Mike Kim has a good head on his shoulders and all his advice that I’ve seen is spot on. I would just stick with self-study unless you have major problems.

  4. Evan,

    The GPA’s that are posted on USnews as the schools’ median GPA and 25th/75th percentile, are they the GPA of the student after it has gone through the LSAC standard of accounting for A+’s as 4.33’s and community college courses and whatnot, or just the GPA from the undergrad that the student is applying from?

    • That is after the LSAC accounting. Believe me, they don’t miss a trick in terms of making things look as high as possible!

  5. Hi, I currently go to a well known university in NJ, Rutgers in NB to be precise. My gpa is currently 3.2 and I plan on doing really well in my LSATS I’ll be taking in September. Do you think there’s any chance of making it into a great school such as NYU or of that level? I’m worried.

  6. Hello, I am a freshman in a community college. I am heading for law my GPA is around 3.75, but I have a problem. I failed a law and business elective class in high school, and I was wondering if that effects my admission for law school?

    • Yes. Those numbers will get you in pretty much anywhere… with some pretty healthy scholarship offers. Yale is always a bit of a wildcard no matter what your numbers are, but assuming that the rest of your application doesn’t throw up any red flags, you’re going to have a strong chance of getting in pretty much everywhere you apply. I’d still recommend applying to pretty much all of the Top 12 schools to maximize your leverage in scholarship negotiations.

  7. Hey,
    I’m currently a sophomore in college with a gpa of 3.65 I’m working hard to maintain and build it every course I take. Do you guys think by my senior year I can reach the 3.9 ballpark? I really want to get into NYU or Columbia I’m not really impressed by Ivy league schools, but I would like to get into one of those two. I haven’t taken my Lsat , but I am gearing towards that by studying here and there.

  8. Hey guys,

    Just wondering how much of a significant difference it would be applying to law schools with a 3.8 vs a 3.85. I am hoping to apply this upcoming Fall semester but if I forgo the application and wait for senior year grades, I can probably bring it up to a 3.85. Would waiting an entire year to apply with the .5 increase be worth the wait? Let me know.

    Thanks!

  9. I’m a Junior and have a 3.31 in Purdue’s Aerospace and Astronautics program–unfortunately I have zero idea what my chances look like. What caliber of school should I apply to? And do law schools consider course difficulty?

    • Ryan Holguin on

      At Purdue with a 3.5 and thinking the same thing. Had to work hard for that, hope they really do take into account difficulty and lack of grade inflation at Purdue

  10. My daughter has a 4.0 graduated from Cornell University but is struggling with the LSATs. She took the Sept 2016 exam and scored 151 and is taking again in December. She has been studying for literally over a year. She is an over thinker and analyzes too much so struggles with the timing. Her accuracy of what she completes is very good, but she has to complete more of exam to raise her score.
    My question is, if she doesn’t raise her score will she have zero chances of getting into T14 law school? And are there any schools out there ( such as Cardozo in NYC that will give her scholarship money? She would prefer to be in a major city NY, philly, DC.

    Where would she get scholarship money based on her amazing GPA alone??? She will have a great recommendation from a professor who was a mentor to her and she was also published in an undergraduate law review publication from a top school.

  11. Joshua goldstein on

    Hi guys my name is Josh I’m still only a junior. My gpa is around a 3.4-3.5 right now and would plan on keeping it around there. What do you think would be a good score for the LSATS? Also, what would you consider Albany law school? Tier wise

  12. Hi! I have recently changed my career plans and set my sights on law school – I am at Duke with a 3.8 GPA but have not taken the LSAT yet. I was curious as to if law schools admissions take into account the difference in general university rigor when comparing GPA’s. I would assume they would have to recognize the difficulty differences in keeping a high GPA at a Tier 1 versus lower tier schools for common sense’s sake, but I don’t really see any acknowledgement of that as it seems to purely be a numbers game from what I’ve read. Any insight?

  13. Dear Evan,
    my GPA is only 2.3. I am a dual student in Germany, working and studying at the same time (Bachelor of Engineering). How is the change to apply for law School? Is it possible to make my scores better through a strong LSAT?
    Thanks in advance

    Lin

  14. Pingback: How To Decide If You Want To Become An Attorney - Order and Justice

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