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quarkquarkquark's avatar

Getting into a top 5 law school... with a low-ish GPA?

Asked by quarkquarkquark (1695points) May 8th, 2011

My cumulative GPA thus far in college is about 3.3. This is mostly because I hadn’t put much stock in grades until this year, and I have a habit of taking classes in things that I’m bad at. Sometimes this works for me and other times-like with the C I’ll get this semester in Calc II-it doesn’t.

I’m a junior.

I had always said I didn’t want to go to grad school. I’ve undergone what might be termed a change in interests. I’m sort of casually considering law school, but given the market and the various things I want to do with my degree, I know it won’t be worth it unless I go somewhere really, really good.

I have been told, seemingly preposterously, that grades are “25%” of law school acceptance. Well, supposing that’s true, where does it put me? I know I could write a great essay, I know I could get great recommendations, and I’m confident I could do well on the LSAT and maybe even get something close to a perfect score. I got twin 800s on my SAT reading and writing sections back in the day, and I can rock standardized tests like they’re nobody’s business.

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26 Answers

weeveeship's avatar

Are you URM (underrepresented minority)? If so, then yes. If not, then hang in there.

If you are interested in actual law school acceptance data, check out this site:

You will be able to see who was accepted into each school and what the person’s credentials were.

quarkquarkquark's avatar

I’m Jewish. Somehow I have a feeling that that’s not an underrepresented minority at Harvard Law School.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@quarkquarkquark Most people who apply to Harvard are Harvard material. Harvard just doesn’t have enough room to admit all the applicants. So this means it’s even harder for you to get in than meeting the requirements. So, probably no. If you really want to go, I’d suggest a couple years at a junior college to get your grades up.

jaytkay's avatar

Are you 5’3” and want to play NBA basketball? It’s pretty much the same procedure. Yes, it’s been done. No, I wouldn’t bank on it.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Do you live in a small town or outside of the east coast? If so, you have a good chance of getting into a state law school, which well serve you well if you are planning on going to law school in a community where you are planning on living. If you do really well on the LSAT, your chances of getting into a better law school increases.

The very wrong reason to go to law school is because you’re a liberal arts major and don’t know what else to do. An interview that Gretchen Rubin did about lawyers and happiness is insightful about why you should or shouldn’t go to law school. The link is to Part 2 of the interview and contains a link to Part 1. I know young people who graduated in the top 10 of their class, made law review, and could not get a job. 2009 saw 80% of law school graduates who thought they had jobs, receive severance packages before they showed up.

bkcunningham's avatar

What are the top five schools you are looking to attend?

bkcunningham's avatar

Well, @quarkquarkquark I was just wondering what ranking you personally are using. You can Google the schools and see the criteria for acceptance. The top five, according to US News and World Report, based on the “weighted average of the 12 measures of quality described here, are Yale University, Harvard, Stanford University, Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

I’ve known many, many excellent attorneys who didn’t attand any of these schools. They have each had successful careers and done some really great things.

jca's avatar

Why have an “all or nothing” attitude? Why say if you don’t get into the top 5 you’re not going at all? If you have an aptitude for law, then go to a state school and do your best. Be grateful to get into any law school and just go with the flow.

gailcalled's avatar

@quarkquarkquark: Anyone who is thinking Harvard should use an upper case “H.”

Essays and recommendations will not cut it at Harvard Law School if you have been a mediocre student. The admissions office has a huge pool from which to choose; they will not pay much attention to a guy with a good brain who has been a slacker.

And what do you mean, “I have a habit of taking classes in things that I am bad at”?

Either you are comfortable with most of the courses in a Liberal Arts curriculum or you’re not. It’s not like a Chinese menu..

quarkquarkquark's avatar

@bkcunningham, part of the reason I haven’t gotten good grades in college is because I ignored my parents and others when they suggested I keep my options open. I won’t make that mistake again. The U.S. is now chock-full of people with perfectly good degrees from perfectly good law schools who can’t get a job.

quarkquarkquark's avatar

@gailcalled, I’m not talking about a standard liberal arts curriculum. I’m talking about game theory and higher math. Liberal arts classes are no problem for me. “A“s across the board.

gailcalled's avatar

What about the issue of blaming your college performance on what your parents and others wanted? What do you want? What do you think is important? Forget the external influences. It’s your life.

quarkquarkquark's avatar

I’m really not blaming this on anybody; you clearly misread that post. Maybe go back and reread? People gave me solid advice that I ignored; I’m trying to determine if it’s too late to remedy that situation.

gailcalled's avatar

It’s never too late. Talk to the admissions office of a top-ranked law school and ask one of the officers about what would be necesssary to increase the odds of being admitted…such taking an extra year of college courses and acing them.

bkcunningham's avatar

Here’s from HLS’s site:

Class of 2013

Number of Applications: 7,610
Number of Admission Offers: 833
Percentage Offered Admission: 11%
Total Enrollment: 561

GPA 75th / 25th percentiles: 3.96 / 3.78
LSAT 75th / 25th percentiles: 176 / 171
48% women
37% students of color
12% hold advanced degrees
72% at least 1 year out of college
52% 2+ years out of college

135 undergraduate institutions represented by 1L class (261 undergraduate institutions represented by the entire student body)

42 states represented (plus DC)
22 foreign countries represented

Permanent Residence:
23% Northeast
15% Far West
13% Mid-South
11% New England
9% Southeast
6% Great Lakes
6% South Central
3% Northwest
2% Midwest
2% Mountain West

9% Foreign Citizens
Countries Represented: Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Sudan, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, UK, and Venezuela

For additional information, please refer to our HLS Fact Sheet (.pdf document).

bkcunningham's avatar

Also, from HLS’s site, “2010 Entering Class: 7610 applications, 833 offers of admission, 561 enrolled, 75th/25thPercentiles: GPA: 3.96 / 3.78LSAT: 176 / 171”

quarkquarkquark's avatar

Thanks you all, especially you @bkcunningham. I guess what I should be asking is whether transcript matters more than actual GPA. An admissions officer looking at mine would see plenty of As, A-minuses and B-pluses, with some Bs and a single B- or C+ thrown in for good measure pretty much every semester.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@quarkquarkquark That would be fine for a good state school. But for Harvard, they have tons of valedictorians applying with 4.4 GPAs who have taken AP classes, have tons of sports, arts, drama, and charity extracurriculars, plus holding down a part time job throughout high school, and don’t have enough spots to admit all those people.

gailcalled's avatar

@quarkquarkquark: How about finishing up your college years with style and diligence, taking the LSATS and applying to schools in several tiers? See what happens. You can always re-apply.

I know, for example, that Harvard Business School traditionally has preferred their applicants not to be fresh out of college but to have had several years experience in the business world.

jaytkay's avatar

@quarkquarkquark I’m trying to determine if it’s too late to remedy that situation.

Yes, you can remedy the situation, but your efforts would probably best be spent on something other than trying to get into an Ivy League law school.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have no college degrees.

On a daily basis I deal with incredibly smart and successful multi-millionaires with bachelors and law degrees from schools you probably never heard of.

Your fate is not dependent on getting into one of those five schools. There are many paths to success.

mote's avatar

This is a very useful article to read regarding law school, rankings, future job prospects and debt. Anyone seriously considering law as a career should be 100% confident that it reflects as much of a calling as a career choice. Paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to a low tier law school only to come out with a law degree that isn’t of great value can be a very painful and life altering decision. Much day-to-day law work is now being done by law firms in other countries for a fraction of the cost of US firms, and there are also now computer programs that achieve the same outcome. If you truly are smart and (now) motivated, you might do just as well in another line of work.

drdoombot's avatar

Having flip-flopped about law school myself for several years, and learning a lot in the process, my research has turned up that the LSAT counts for much more than it should. If your GPA is a little low, aim to get an LSAT score a little bit higher than the 75th percentile for the school you’re applying to.

In general, the higher your LSAT score, the more doors that will open for you. Sometimes, a nice score will only get you in at one school, but get you a free ride at another. Top 5 is a little too narrow though; you’ll be very successful if you can get into a Top 15 school and rank fairly highly in your law classes (you need to be in the top 15%-20% of the class in terms of grades). Of course, what I’m describing above are the guidelines that were true for many years but may have been upended by the recent recession and shifts in how document review and research is now performed (by computer programs and English-speaking, legally-trained Indians getting paid ⅓ the salary of American junior associates). Whereas the guidelines above might have been a formula for getting into a Big Law firm with a starting salary of $125k/year in the past, it now might just be a formula for a good chance of employment (which is very valuable in today’s economy, though perhaps not as financially lucrative).

To get a high score is possible, but it requires a lot of work; basically, studying for the LSAT should become your job/occupation for at least 3 months, though 6 months is recommended. I’m talking about spending 8 hours a day studying, like a real job. It would help to study up on some simple logic before you even begin; I recommend Logic Made Easy by Deborah J. Bennett. For the actual studying, you can’t do better than Powerscore’s Logical Reasoning and Logic Games Bibles, and of course, tons and tons of real LSATs for practice.

One thing you should consider, like I did, is: are you going to law school because you’ve mostly taken liberal arts classes and don’t know what to do with your life? Or do you have a real calling to do legal work? Law school is torture and has a whopping 80% dropout rate in the first year, so consider wisely if this is the kind of work you will love doing.

quarkquarkquark's avatar

I’m considering law school because I’m considering politics. The people I most admire are those who work behind the scenes in the White House. Many of them have law degrees from top-tier schools.

As for the LSAT, I will study. But I’ve done practice questions and I blow through them with ease. I have pretty extensive education in formal logic, and I’ve always been good at that kind of thing.

SofaKingWright's avatar

I don’t think you can slack and assume you can walk into the no. 2 law school, or equivalent in the country. Good luck with that. An LSAT is only going to make up for so much – unless you have something very unique to offer, or extenuating circumstances to explain or make up for your poor grades. Law school is ridiculously intense, so if you are slacking at undergrad are you sure you really want to go into the realm of law school?

With a low GPA and a decent LSAT you can most likely make it into a third tier law school. Personally I would say first tier is off the boards for you, unless you want to go back to community college and up your GPA.

seekingwolf's avatar

I think if you can kick butt on the LSAT, you could get into a number of decent law schools. Maybe not top-tier but decent ones. And that’s nothing to sneeze at! You can have a good career out of state schools.

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