This is the first installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a new monthly feature in the Law Admissions Lowdown that provides admissions advice to readers who write in with their profiles. If you have a question, E-mail me for a chance to be featured next month.
This week, let's focus on what to do if you have a low LSAT score or GPA.
Dear Shawn: I am an African American woman of Haitian descent. I have a 3.43 GPA from a small school in the South, and my LSAT score is 139. However, I do have significant work and extracurricular experience. I am involved in student government and in community service projects that empower girls, and I have interned in two Florida state government offices. Do I have a chance of getting into a top 100 law school, or even a top 40 law school? Any feedback would be appreciated. -Hoping for a Chance
Dear Hoping: Thanks for writing! No matter how strong your work experience is, it is very difficult to get into any law school with an LSAT score under 145-150. For most of the top law schools, you generally need even higher scores, though I have had some clients with LSATs in the low 160's admitted to Harvard Law School, and even a couple in the 150's admitted to other top 10 schools.
[Find out how to prepare for the LSAT.]
If you really want to attend a top 100 law school, you should work to increase your score above 150. If possible, take a class or consider private tutoring to maximize your studying time. When evaluating LSAT programs, look at the qualifications of the teachers, including their LSAT scores and years of teaching experience, to ensure they not only know how to excel on the test themselves but also how to convey effective strategies to you.
Once you get your LSAT score up a little higher, you will be well-positioned for admission to many of the top 100 schools. Best of luck!
Dear Shawn: I went to Columbia University and graduated with a 3.45 GPA. My LSAT score is 172. In college, I was an officer in the Linguistics Society and in two sports clubs, a leader for a freshman backpacking orientation program, and I studied abroad junior year in Budapest. I am now in the Peace Corps teaching English at a small village school. My previous work experience includes a nonprofit focused on women lawyers and a summer internship at a boutique litigation firm.
Here is my question: My GPA was 3.72 going into senior year, but it dropped drastically by graduation. I basically stopped going to class due to depression. Should I focus on the things I did do during that year (worked part-time, ran a marathon and raised $4000 for charity, and served as an officer for two clubs)? Or would it seem odd that I was able to do those things yet crashed and burned academically? -Senior Slump
[Get tips on how to deal with depression in college.]
Dear Senior: Thanks for sending in your profile! If you have low grades at any time in your college career, you need to explain them to the admissions officers. If you say nothing, they are left to assume you just got lazy or didn't care about school, which, of course, is not the case for you or most students with low GPA's or past academic slumps.
To avoid giving the impression that academics are not a priority, do not emphasize everything else you were doing that year, as your involvement in those activities could actually undermine your argument that your lower grades are a factor of your illness rather than a lack of effort.
Instead, students in your situation should explain any physical or mental health challenges they faced (in your case, your depression), any family issues that arose that impacted their grades, or anything else that disrupted their academic progress.
[Find out how to battle senioritis.]
A succinct, straightforward explanation of the external factors that impacted your academic performance shows that you are taking responsibility for your grades while also providing admissions officers valuable context.
I recommend having a trusted friend or family member or an admissions expert read over your explanation before you submit your application. It's always helpful to have an extra set of eyes reviewing this material. Good luck!