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Law School Admissions Tip: Underplaying A Weak Undergraduate Performance

Posted in Test Prep on January 19, 2011 by

Every other Wednesday, our friends at Clear Admit will share one of their excellent tips for navigating the law school admissions process. For more advice, be sure to check out their blog.

An applicant’s undergraduate performance is an important part of the law school admissions process, as one’s academic history indicates his or her potential for success in the academic environment of a law school.  In addition, the writing and analytical skills developed through the undergraduate experience are considered key for a successful career as a lawyer.  However, some applicants may not have performed well as undergraduates or may feel as though their undergraduate records are not accurate reflections of their abilities.  Today we’d like to offer some tips to help law school applicants who are in a position where they need to assure law school adcoms of their academic abilities.

1.  Use your last semesters to demonstrate your true abilities. College seniors applying to law schools have the opportunity to end their undergraduate careers on a high note.  The results of working hard in one’s last year of college will pay dividends—many admissions committees look to students’ later grades to examine their performance and improvement as an undergraduate.  For that reason, if you are a college senior dissatisfied with your earlier grades, you should dedicate the time and effort to excel in your last year or semester, as this will go far in illustrating your academic abilities.

2.  Demonstrate your potential.
The LSAT is the perfect opportunity to show that you have what it takes to be a competitive law school applicant.  First, scoring well on the LSAT demonstrates your ability to succeed in the type of work required in law school and a legal career.  In addition, the LSAT is used as a way to fairly contrast applicants’ abilities, as admissions committees are aware that grades vary depending on undergraduate institutions’ grading polices and grade inflation.  Therefore scoring well on the LSAT shows that not only do you have the academic chops to succeed, but you are a competitive candidate when compared to law school applicants who attended other undergraduate institutions.

3.  Show improvement. Law school applicants can easily demonstrate their strong and/or improved academic abilities if they have completed and done well in a masters or other post-undergraduate degree program.  Successfully completing this degree in a demanding discipline or at a top university is a further testament to one’s current academic abilities.  Enrolling and doing well in individual post-undergraduate courses is another good way to show one’s improvement, especially if these courses are similar to the ones with which the applicant had difficulty as an undergraduate.  Keep in mind that strong performance in graduate school won’t erase a mediocre undergraduate GPA, so showing that you have improved academically since your undergraduate days could, at most, influence the adcom’s opinion of your abilities.

4.  Explain what happened. Most law schools have addendums in which applicants can explain extenuating circumstances behind any weaknesses in their applications.  This is the perfect opportunity to provide a mature explanation of any undergraduate weaknesses, such as failing grades, if significant outside forces kept you from doing your best in school.  Keep in mind that it’s best to keep these responses as brief as possible and to emphasize how you have grown, as well as to only write a GPA addendum if there is a real and compelling reason behind the poor academic performance.  For example, writing an addendum about how you worked full-time while taking courses in order to support your education would be a good idea, while explaining that your grades suffered because you were overcommitted in student organizations would not.  In addition, law school applicants may choose recommenders who can explain the applicants’ undergraduate performances and attest to their excellent academic abilities which are not reflected in their undergraduate records.

In discussing your undergraduate performance, keep in mind that honesty and maturity are key in showing law school admissions committees that you have what it takes to be a law school student who would benefit the school’s community.