How to Handle Extracurriculars on Law School Applications

Whether you were ultra-involved in college or were too busy for activities, find out what to do.

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In this installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature in Law Admissions Lowdown that provides admissions advice to readers who write in with their questions, I will focus on balancing extracurricular involvement with other important commitments such as academics, jobs, and family. 

Dear Shawn: I am a 22-year-old college graduate who maintained right around a 3.1 [GPA] for the majority of my undergraduate studies. I was a Division 1 athlete and captain of my team who, at times, wrongly prioritized athletics over academics.

After a career-ending injury my senior year, I took a rigorous course load in my final semester, focused on my studies, and earned a 3.9 [GPA] for that semester. I have taken the June LSAT and hope to score a 165 or above to help offset my weak GPA and allow me to be competitive at top 100 schools. However, I am worried law schools will take one look at my GPA and toss my application. -Regretful in the South

Dear Regretful in the South: First, let's focus on the good news—law schools look for applicants who were involved meaningfully in their college communities, and many law schools particularly value athletics, as it challenges participates to communicate effectively, balance competing demands on one's time, and most importantly, lead. You clearly seized this leadership opportunity by serving as captain for your team, and law schools will recognize that.

However, as you likely know, your undergraduate GPA is one of the single most important quantitative factors in your application, so impressive extracurricular experiences alone cannot compensate for a low GPA.

[Find out how to deal with low scores on law applications.]

Luckily, you can leverage other strategies to counteract this potential setback. In your personal statement, you should strive to convey a compelling story about how your sports injury helped you reprioritize academics and realize your full potential. Since you must delicately handle this situation, you might consider employing the help of an experienced admissions counselor. 

In addition to crafting a perfect essay, you should concentrate on obtaining your highest possible LSAT score. With a 165, you could definitely be competitive for admissions into a top 100 and probably top 50 school. If you could get above a 170, you would likely be competitive at a top 20 or 30 law school.

[Explore the U.S. News law school rankings.]

Schools combine your LSAT score and GPA using a mathematical formula, so every additional point you earn on the LSAT directly offsets your lower GPA. If you did not hit the high 160's or higher on the June exam and are confident you can do better, I would strongly consider retaking in October (which is still absolutely fine given the rolling nature of law admissions). Best of luck! -Shawn

Dear Shawn: I am 31 years old and am currently finishing an undergraduate/graduate degree with an accounting/finance focus. My GPAs are 3.97 (undergrad) and 4.0 (MBA).  

After sitting for the CPA exam, I would like to apply to law school. However, I have been reading that most top law schools like to see extracurricular activities on a student's resume/application. I work full time, go to school full time, and am raising a family. Therefore, I don't have time for anything else.  

How important are extracurricular activities in my case, and what can I do to compensate for not having any significant extracurricular involvement? Thanks! -Too Busy

Dear Too Busy: Your work experience, as well as the time you spend raising your family, can definitely be used to explain your lack of collegiate extracurriculars. For applicants who are traditional college students, admissions committees want to know that they are actively engaged in the life of their community. You can demonstrate such involvement through your job and time spent with your family. 

Your strong undergraduate GPA is a very significant asset in your application, and if you can obtain an equally strong LSAT score, you will already find yourself very well-positioned within the applicant pool. 

[Get tips to prepare for the LSAT.]

That said, when the admissions committees at your stretch schools are comparing you with other applicants with equally high numbers, they will want to see at least one meaningful extracurricular activity on your resume. If you do any work in your community, are a member of a professional organization, or regularly participate in a faith-based community, you may already have extracurricular involvement that you are not considering.

Otherwise, consider spearheading an initiative with a local volunteer group as that will offer you an opportunity to showcase your leadership skills. Good luck with your applications! -Shawn