How To Get Into A Top Law School With a Low GPA

Are you trying to get into a top law school? Do you feel discouraged because you’ve got bad college grades?

If so, you’ve come to the right place. I was once a C+ student who was told he had no shot at getting into a good law school. Instead of believing the experts, I decided to do my own research. I read books, online articles, and spoke to law school admissions officers.

And you know what I found out?

It’s absolutely possible. In fact, each year, hundreds of applicants get into some of the country’s most prestigious law schools.

Every. Single. Year.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely not easy. It requires discipline, patience, and hard work.

I know this because I did it myself. I got into Northwestern Law, a Top 14 law school, with a GPA less than 3.0.

NU-Law

How exactly did I pull it off?

How do you get into law school with a low GPA?

  1. Get a high LSAT score.
  2. Go get some work experience..
  3. Come up with an explanation for your low GPA.
  4. Consider applying early decision or early action.
  5. Apply to lots of law schools, especially those that accept applicants with low GPAs.
  6. Write an amazing personal statement.
  7. Use your recommendations and optional essays to highlight your strengths and counteract your weaknesses.
  8. Submit your application relatively early.
  9. If you’re waitlisted, send in a letter of continued interest.

If you want to know more details, keep reading. If you want a concise list of things to do, sign up to receive my free checklist 30 Tips for Law School Applicants with Bad College Grades.

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But first let’s discuss what you should NOT do.

Commonly Repeated Advice That You Should Not Follow:

1. Get more education to make up for your bad GPA

Do advanced degrees help you get into law school? No. Will they make up for a poor undergraduate record? No. Will they at least help a little bit? Maybe. But probably no.

Lots of well meaning advisors say “go to grad school, get better grades, and law schools will overlook your terrible college grades.” This sounds great in theory but never plays out in real life.

Why?

First, law schools know grad schools inflate GPAs. Undergraduate institutions may not necessarily have strict curves, but lots and lots of grad schools give out 4.0s and As like candy.

Second, law school rankings incorporate the entering class’ undergraduate GPAs but NOT their graduate GPAs. So taking a student with a 3.5 college GPA is better for their rankings than taking a student with a 2.9 college GPA + 4.0 graduate GPA.

Should you go to grad school?

That’s a personal decision. I can’t tell you whether it’s a good idea or not to go. But if your main reason for going is to make up for your low grades, DO NOT GO. Spend your time and money on LSAT courses instead.

2. Explaining Your Bad Grades in the Personal Statement

Should you address a low GPA in your personal statement?

HELL NO!

I hear this advice being dispensed all the time. Maybe it’s because it works for other grad programs. Or maybe because it works when you’re explaining bad high school grades in your college applications.

But law school applications are different. The personal statement is designed to showcase something unique and special about yourself. In other words, the personal statement should be 100% positive.

It may seem clever to mix in some explanation for your bad grades. But you already have another place to do that: The addendum. Law schools let you explain certain aspects of your application by submitting a short statement.

That’s where you should address your low college GPA. In the addendum. Not in the personal statement.

OK so we’ve gotten the 2 main things you should avoid doing out of the way. What now?

Get Your Mind Right

In the past, applicants have asked me:

My GPA is really bad. Are you sure I can get in with my grades?

My answer is always the same:

Yes.

Absolutely.

Look at this post I compiled describing the lowest GPAs that the top law schools have accepted. Sure, if you want to go to Harvard, Stanford, or Yale, you’ll need at least a 3.65. But if you’re willing to “settle” for Northwestern, Virginia, or Georgetown? 2.70. (In fact when I was in law school at Northwestern, I had a classmate whose GPA was in the low 2s.) And if your goal is to get into a Top 25 school, you could get in with a 2.42. A Top 50 school? 2.10.

The question you should be asking yourself isn’t:

Can I get in?

That isn’t the right way to think about law school admissions. What you should be thinking to yourself is:

Okay. I know that every year top law schools accept applicants with low GPAs. What do I need to do to make sure I’m one of those people? 

Reframe your mindset and take on a positive mentality.

Do Your Homework

The first step? Do your homework. Do research. Go and find out precisely how each law school treats low GPA candidates. Law school admissions officers do occasionally go on the public record explaining their philosophy on low GPA applicants.

There are three amazing resources that you absolutely need to take advantage of.

LawSchoolNumbers: This is a database of admissions information submitted by law school applicants. There’s GPA, LSAT, admissions results, and more. It’s not complete because it relies on applicants voluntarily submitting their info. But it covers A LOT of applicants so it’s a great resource to see how low law schools will reach when it comes to college GPA.

MyLSN.info: This is a website with an algorithm that predicts the odds of getting into any given schools based on your GPA and LSAT. The dataset MyLSN uses is based on what’s in Law School Numbers. Punch in different numbers and you’ll get a sense of what schools you’re in contention for. This is an incredible resource–don’t apply checking it out.

TLS Forums: This is an online forum with countless low GPA candidates who apply to law school. The best way to use the forum is to run a search for “Splitters.” As you’ll see, every year there are tons of low GPA candidates who apply and successfully gain admission to top law schools. If you’re willing to sift through all the noise, you’ll find some incredible stories in there. Also notable is the TLS thread How To Be A Successful Splitter.

Don’t ask your friends and family for advice. Don’t ask your pre-law advisor for advice. Don’t even ask people who got into law school for advice. I’m sure they’re all well-intentioned people but in the end they really have no clue how low GPA candidates can earn their way into law school.

Instead, do your own homework.

Do your own research.

What about admissions consultants?

Some admissions consultants might give you good advice. It really depends on who it is. There are some who provide amazing guidance and advice. (You can probably figure out who the best ones are by doing some research but feel free to e-mail me at contact@lexaholik.com if you want to get my thoughts). Just as a warning, be prepared to pay for quality. If you are going to consult with an admissions expert, you absolutely have to pay top dollar. It’s more expensive in the long run to get bad advice.

One Thing Matters More Than Everything Else Combined: Getting a High LSAT

There’s not really a whole lot for me to say here that isn’t conveyed by that headline above. Getting a high LSAT is the single best thing you can do to overcome your low GPA.

Period.

Fullstop.

In case I wasn’t clear, let me re-emphasize:

1. Can a high LSAT make up for a low GPA?

Yes. HELL yes. Nearly all law schools put more weight on the LSAT than your GPA. Even at GPA-focused schools, the LSAT makes a huge difference. At LSAT-focused schools, the LSAT is the only thing that matters. You don’t have to believe me. Look at what law school admissions officers themselves say. Or look at MyLSN and LawSchoolNumbers yourself.

The upshot?

Do whatever it takes to get that 170 score. It won’t be easy. Your first score is probably going to be a lot lower than that. But if you prepare correctly, you can overcome your practice test plateaus and score a 170 on the LSAT.

Personally, I believe you should spend as much money as it takes to get the highest LSAT score possible. There is no better way to spend your hard earned money than to raise your LSAT score. You’ll recover your investment when you land a bunch of big time scholarships or if you get into a school where you have extremely good odds of landing a Biglaw job with a starting salary of $180,000+.

There are certain LSAT prep materials that are better than others. I’ll be posting which ones in a future post. If you’re curious about whether you should sign up for a class, read my post Should You Take a LSAT Prep Course? Five Questions to Ask Yourself First. If you’re debating which materials or prep course to sign up for, feel free to contact me at contact@lexaholik.com for my thoughts.

2. Your Goal Should Be to Become a Splitter

Once you land that monster LSAT score you become a “Splitter” or someone with a low GPA and high LSAT. Splitters get into law schools at extremely high rates, far more frequently than their GPA would suggest.

What About Work Experience?

How much does work experience help in law school admissions?

By itself, a little bit. I wouldn’t say it’s a major factor, but it does matter. When law schools see that a candidate has a bad college GPA but has been working for a few years, they think “well maybe he/she has matured.” And some schools specifically recruit candidates with work experience. If you’ve got a bad college GPA that’s a few years old, have great work experience, AND have a high LSAT you would be nuts to not apply to this particular school.

There’s also another benefit to getting work experience that isn’t really emphasized by most experts.

Let’s say you’ve got two candidates who just graduated from college with a bad GPA.

  • Candidate A takes a few months to prep for the LSAT and submits their law school applications ASAP.
  • Candidate B decides to work a few years while doing LSAT prep over the next year.

Who do you think will get the higher LSAT score? Who do you think will seem more mature in their applications? Who do you think will have a better chance at getting in?

If you want specifics, I describe a few examples of jobs that will best help low GPA applicants in my free checklist.

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What Schools Should I Apply To?

Cast a wide net! Don’t be like this 3.0/176 applicant who was shut out of all of the Top 14 law schools. There’s no reason why this should have happened! Apply to every single school you’d like to go to. The biggest mistake you can make is to apply to too few schools and get shut out completely.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

Okay well sure I can apply to Harvard but there’s no way I’m getting in. Why throw away that money?

My response? First, you really never know. Maybe you’ll be the first low GPA candidate they accept. I’m aware that the odds of you getting in is probably less than 0.01%. But all it costs is just some money. If you can afford it, and you want to go, apply! Second, some schools offer fee waivers. You might get one, or you might be able to ask for one. In that case, the cost of applying is even lower!

Chances are, you’re probably not even thinking about Harvard. Maybe you’ve got a 2.8 GPA and you think “there’s no way I’ll get into a Top 20 school.” It’s true that it’ll be an uphill climb. BUT you’re wrong. With a 2.8 GPA and the right LSAT, you can get into multiple Top 20 schools! You just have to make sure you target the right schools.

What about Early Decision or Early Action? Will That Increase My Chances?

If you’re a low GPA candidate, you need every advantage you can get. Applying through binding Early Decision programs or non-binding Early Action programs may make sense. Doing so signals to schools that you’re a serious candidate, and if you’re applying through a binding ED program, you show that you’re committed to attending that school.

Applying ED is an especially strong move because even if you get deferred to the general admissions pool or are waitlisted, you’re not out of luck. Most general admissions candidates or waitlisted candidates will probably send a letter of continued interest saying they are super interested in School X. But if you send a LOCI, School X will believe you more because you actually applied ED.

Of course, applying ED is not without its downsides. If you apply ED and get in, you lose the ability to negotiate for a big schoarship. (The only way you won’t lose out is if you apply ED to a school that offers full scholarships to admitted ED candidates.)

So whether you should apply ED depends on whether you want to avoid overpaying for law school or avoid getting shut out of all the top schools. There’s no right answer here.

If you do want to maximize the effectiveness of your early applications, check out my post describing a specific EA/ED T14 application strategy.

Okay so we’ve gotten all the big picture stuff out of the way.

What about the application itself?

The Law School Application for Low GPA Candidates

1. Grades

If you’re still in school and have another semester or two left, you should have a single goal in mind: Get straight As. The LSAT will come later. For now just focus on getting straight As.

If you’re already out of school, you’ve got to come up with an explanation for your grades. Take a good, hard look at your undergraduate transcript. Do you see any patterns? Is there a split between low grades and high grades? What types of classes did you do well in?

There are so many ways to frame a weak undergraduate record. I describe some ways to spin your grades in my free checklist.

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2. Personal Statement and Essays

You’ve got to write a kick-ass personal statement. What do I mean by kick-ass? It’s hard to say because it’s dependent on your personal circumstances. However, it isn’t hard to figure out what topics to avoid. To see what I mean, check out my post Topics to Avoid in Your Personal Statement.

As for optional essays–write them all! If you don’t think you’re diverse, you’re wrong. What about your background makes you unique? (Hint: It’s not just about the color of your skin.)

And if they give you the option to explain why you’re interested in that law school, take advantage of it!

3. Recommendations

For most people with weak college grades, it’s kind of hard to get a good recommendation because they presumably didn’t have any strong relationships with their professors. The only thing I would say in regards to recommendations is that if you do have some control over what the recommender is going to write, ask them to praise your discipline and capacity for hard academic work. The biggest strike against you as a splitter is that you’re smart and lazy. Recommenders are best positioned to explain why you’re actually disciplined and hard working.

If one of your recommenders lets you write your own recommendation (one of mine did) go for it! I explain in my checklist how to specifically to take advantage of this opportunity.

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Putting It All Together

Okay we’re rounding the home stretch here. Some last words of advice:

1. Send a Coherent Message in your Application

Your law school application must have a single, unifying narrative. Maybe you’re the immature college kid who matured as he got older. Or maybe you’re the busy college kid who worked multiple jobs but learned how to prioritize her time. Whatever it is, make sure your resume, personal statement, essays, recommendations, and addenda support that single narrative.

You want to avoid a situation where your personal statement implies that you had bad grades because your mother was sick, and then a recommender who says you partied hard in college but matured later on, and a separate addenda explaining that you have ADHD. That may all be true, but it’s just going to sound like a bunch of excuses.

2. Applying Early in the Cycle

There’s no consensus on whether you should apply early or late. (By the way, applying early in this context isn’t about EA/ED programs–it’s just about the timing of your applications.) Some say submitting your application late doesn’t matter because you’re likely to make it in off the waitlist anyways. Others say applying early is better because schools will pounce on your high LSAT and admit you quickly.

I don’t know what the right answer is. There’s some evidence that applying early will help at certain schools. But if I were to err on one side, it would be to err on applying early. The biggest strike against you as a low GPA applicant is that you’re lazy, and sending your app in late just reinforces that perception.

3. What Should You Do If You’re Waitlisted?

If you end up getting waitlisted, don’t be discouraged! This is good news. That means you haven’t been rejected yet. When I was waitlisted by Northwestern I was devastated. But it turned out to be a precursor to me getting admitted.

I realize that it might be difficult to cope with the uncertainty, but remember: This is your big chance to overcome 4 years of poor performance in college. If you’re stressed, take a look at this post I wrote giving advice to splitters on the waitlist.

Once you make it to the waitlist (or if you’re “held;” “deferred;” “priority waitlisted;” or whatever) you should follow up with the law school to indicate your interest by writing a Letter of Continued Interest. If you’re not sure when you should send in that LOCI, check out my post on the topic. And if you’re curious, check out the LOCI I sent that got me into Northwestern.

If you’re willing to sit on the waitlist for a long time, you can get into some pretty amazing schools.

Conclusion

Wow! You made it all the way to the end of this extremely lengthy post. Congrats on taking this big step towards getting into a top law school. If you want more information on how to overcome your low GPA and get into law school, please sign up for my law school admissions e-mail list.

Good luck!

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