How to Apply to Law School Later in Life

Find out how to handle grades, scores, and decades of work experience if you're an older applicant.

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This is the third installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature in Law Admissions Lowdown that provides expert admissions advice to readers who write in.

This week, let's focus on how to maximize your chances of admission to law school if you are an older applicant.

Dear Shawn: Thank you for the opportunity to E-mail you a question. I plan to apply to law schools in the fall of this year. My undergraduate GPA, which I obtained from 1992-1996, is 3.1. I have enrolled in a bookkeeping program at my local community college. I am currently taking the first two courses this semester, then eight more in the coming semesters. Law schools will see the grades for all courses except three courses next spring. I am on track to earn two A's in my two current classes. Let's assume A's in the future courses as well.

I understand that my undergraduate GPA is set in stone. But, given the age of the GPA (16 years) and the freshness of the accounting/business courses taken this year, may I "mentally pretend" to have a higher UGPA (say 3.4) when trying to realistically assess my chances of admission to selective law schools? (My LSAT is 162.) Thank you again for your time and help. -GPA Concerns

Dear GPA Concerns: I have worked with clients 20+ years out of school, and, unfortunately, no matter how long you have been out of college, your undergraduate GPA still factors heavily into the admissions process.

When you submit your application to LSAC, they combine your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score to create an index value that the law schools use to compare you to other applicants. After this initial numerical calculation, other "soft factors" are taken into account, like your recent community college classes.

To combat your lower GPA, you should try to increase your LSAT score—which I know can be tough. Even an increase of just a few points would meaningfully increase your index, since the LSAT is weighed more heavily in that calculation. You should also describe in your application any extenuating circumstances that help explain your low undergraduate GPA.

[Read more about handling a low GPA.]

Remember that you will also need a strong academic recommendation. If it is not possible to get a recommendation from an undergraduate professor, you could use one of the professors from your community college. Ideally, the recommender should be a full-time professor who has a Ph.D. Best of luck!

Dear Shawn: I was hoping you could give me some insight into my chance of getting into a top tier law school. I am a 40-year-old student at a mid-level university. I currently have around 3.9 GPA, and I have yet to take my LSAT (my practice tests are currently in the high 150's). Before I retired and decided to return to school to pursue law, I worked for 20 years adjudicating labor disputes.

Here's my question: Do you believe with my past work experience and my high GPA, I would have a good chance at admission at a top tier school, even if I have an LSAT score below 160? I would really appreciate your expert opinion. -Non-Traditional Student

Dear Non-Traditional Student: While your GPA and work experience are exceptional, you need to prioritize the LSAT. It is possible, but quite rare, to gain entry to a top 10 law school with an LSAT in the high 150s or 160s. 

You will be much better positioned if you can increase your LSAT score to the high 160s or 170s. It may seem like a daunting task, but with the right combination of motivation and a top-notch preparatory program, it is possible.

[Follow seven tips for LSAT success.]

If you're considering prep classes or tutoring, look closely at the size of the classes and instructor qualifications to be sure you are working with true experts. Good luck!

If you have a specific question for Law Admissions Q+A, please E-mail me with your profile (GPA, LSAT score, education, work experience and extracurricular/leadership experiences) for a chance to be featured next month. Given the response volume, I apologize that I typically cannot respond individually to each submission, but I will consider all of your questions—and you may be featured in any of the next few installments of Law Admissions Q&A. So, please stay tuned.