Do Advanced Degrees Help in Law School Admissions?

Earning another degree may not be in your best interest.

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Public schools--especially two-year institutions--are enrolling more college students.
Public schools--especially two-year institutions--are enrolling more college students.

This is an installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature in the Law Admissions Lowdown that provides admissions advice to readers who send in questions and profiles. If you have a question about law school, E-mail me for a chance to be featured next month.

Dear Shawn: I'm a prospective law student applying this cycle. I have a question that I'm hoping you can answer for me: I'm considering earning my mediation certificate, and I'm curious what your thoughts are. The program is offered through a number of schools, including my alma mater, so I'm certain that it's not some type of fraudulent scheme. However, the program is on the pricey side. Basically, I don't want to spend the money if it's not going to pull any weight on my application.

My LSAT scores are pretty mediocre (mid 150s), but I graduated summa cum laude and I have some decent points on my résumé (Congressional internship, research experience, post-undergrad employment for a federal judge, legal clinic volunteer work, and I currently work in a law firm). I'd like to get into schools that are in the 158/159-164 LSAT range.  

In your opinion, is it worth it to spend the money? Will having an alternative dispute resolution certificate on my résumé pull enough weight to make it worth it? -Should I Spend the Money?

Dear Should I Spend the Money: Your time and money would be better spent trying to improve your LSAT score, rather than earning the mediation certificate. Law schools are not necessarily concerned with you having a background in conflict resolution, as you are going to law school to learn these skills.

Instead, they want to see that you can think and write analytically, that you have a clear reason for going to law school, and that you have been involved in your community. Mediation certificate programs tend to be a better fit for individuals not seeking to attend law school in its entirety; they are not perceived as an effective "stepping stone" to law school. 

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It looks like you have good professional extracurricular experience. Since you have a strong GPA, the main factor that will hold you back from the schools you want to attend is your LSAT score, not a lack of law-related experience—of which you have plenty. Consider a different LSAT preparation approach (maybe one-on-one tutoring if you have previously done group classes), and try to raise your score just a few points. It can make all the difference. Good luck! -Shawn

Dear Shawn: I am a 22-year-old recent college graduate. I have decided to take a year or two off before applying for law school. I was told that perhaps a leadership position in the professional world would help offset my GPA, so I have taken that into consideration. I have started a small non-profit, and I currently hold an officer's position with my university's development team.

My GPA was a 3.5 and my practice LSAT scores are in the high 160s. If I get it above a 173, would I have a chance at a top 7 law school? Or would it benefit me more if I get a master's degree first to show strong academics? -Need Better Grades

Dear Need Better Grades: Your GPA is not low enough to significantly hurt your chances at most top 7 law schools, especially if you have a very strong LSAT score (mid 170s). While a GPA of 3.8 or 3.9 is ideal, many applicants with your grades and even lower GPAs are admitted to top law schools every year. (Schools also consider your undergraduate institution and major when evaluating your application.)

If you are currently scoring in the high 160s on the LSAT, it is certainly possible to raise your score several points through an LSAT class or personalized LSAT tutoring.

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If you decide to obtain a master's degree, note that your GPA for that degree will not replace or be averaged with your undergraduate GPA in the application process. Admissions committees will see the transcript for your master's program, and they likely will appreciate your academic improvement, but you will be compared to other applicants based solely on your undergraduate GPA and LSAT score.

If the only reason you want another degree is to improve your GPA for law school applications, this is not a worthwhile investment of your time and money. I hope this helps you make the right decision about your future. -Shawn