Introduction: Law School Admissions and Your GPA
As a pre-law school student, you’ll need to do everything you possibly can to give yourself the best chance of gaining admission to the most prestigious law school possible. This article will break down the importance of your undergraduate GPA and what you should keep in mind when applying to the top law school of your choice.
The two main metrics that accredited law schools use to judge and weigh law school applicants are:
- Your LSAT score
- Your undergraduate GPA.
While many law schools will preach that they judge their incoming class based on a more holistic scale—taking into account such factors including LORs (letters of recommendation), one's undergraduate major, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, personal statement, etc., this is only partly true. When it comes down to it, the combination of your LSAT score and your GPA will likely be the defining factors determining whether you’ll be a competitive applicant for top-ranked law schools. The other factors are important still, of course, but are often used more so for borderline applicants.
Note: It's also important to keep in mind that this article will address top schools more directly than just any law school. Lower tiered law schools and unaccredited ones will likely not look at GPA as heavily as, say, Yale, Stanford, or Harvard.
In this article, find comprehensive information that will include the following:
- GPA basics—how law schools generally use GPAs in determining an applicant's status
- How important is your undergraduate GPA?
- Average law school GPA requirements
- A list of the median GPA requirements from this country's top law schools
Most of you are aware, I’m sure, that your GPA (grade point average) is the cumulative average score or grade that you receive from all of your classes combined. In most school systems, this is graded on a 0.0 to 4.0 scale—with an A amounting to 4.0 and an F worth a 0.0.
However, law schools look at it slightly differently. While most undergraduate institutions don’t award marks above an A, those that do award an A+ for excellent work give an advantage to their students. That is because law schools grade undergraduate students on a 0.0 to 4.3 scale instead of the normal 0.0-4.0. This gives students whose schools don’t award grades above an A a slight disadvantage. However, because so few schools actually give out these grades, it makes little difference to applicants. So, if you're a top student with an abundance of A's at a school that doesn't believe in A+'s, don't fret!
How Important Is Your Undergraduate GPA?
How important is your undergrad GPA, exactly? In true legal fashion, the answer will be somewhat lawyer-like: It depends.
Your GPA, While Important, is Not the Be-All, End-All
The most important thing you need to know about your undergraduate GPA is that it is not the most important metric concerning admissions committees. Schools won’t admit this, but your GPA probably accounts for only about 25-30% of your overall law school portfolio, while your LSAT score is closer to 60%, with the remaining 10-15% being made up of LORs, personal statements, extracurriculars, and other lesser items.
Your GPA Is an Indicator of Important Factors, Though
While your GPA is only worth about half of your LSAT score, it is definitely not something to ignore. Although a 4.0 GPA won’t get you into law school alone, a sub 3.0 GPA or worse will most definitely prevent you from getting into the majority of the top law schools. These universities don’t use your GPA as a defining factor. Rather, it is an indication to them about how you can handle a workload, live on your own, how responsible you are, etc. Admissions committees expect you to be able to handle responsibility. You are, after all, aspiring to become a lawyer. Therefore, a high GPA is not impressive, but it is still fairly indicative of the fact that you have a chance at making it through law school unscathed by the rigors of intense classes and competition.
Comparing GPAs in Law School Admissions is Difficult
Furthermore, it is hard for admissions committees to decide how to compare a GPA at one school versus another. For example, an engineering major at Princeton University will most likely have a lower GPA than a liberal arts major at a local community college. However, this does not mean that the Princeton graduate is less capable than the liberal arts major with a higher GPA. He or she simply went to a more competitive university and earned a more objectively difficult major. Bottom line: judging the differences between GPAs is very difficult, which is why admissions committees can only use your GPA in a limited capacity.
Average Law School GPA Requirements
Here's a helpful hint: If you are considering going to law school and are still in the early years of your undergraduate education, you may want to consider avoiding extremely difficult majors, especially ones that curve to 2.0 GPA (unless you can come out with outstanding numbers).
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Most aspiring law school students who are fighting to get into tier-one law schools have GPA medians ranging from 3.6-3.9, and very rarely do median GPAs drop below 3.5 for competitive schools. I’m not suggesting that you plan out your whole course schedule to only take the easiest classes, but if you are planning or set on attending a top-tier law school, you should consider doing all you can within reason to help boost that GPA to match your target schools' medians.
Your GPA Counts More When You're a Splitter
When a student has a high GPA and a low LSAT score (or vice versa) they are referred to, in law school lingo, as a splitter. Splitters have difficulty judging where they will end up being admitted to because they usually fall above a specific schools medians for one metric but below for another. In such cases, splitters need to concentrate heavily on the remaining 10% of their portfolio, even more so than the standard applicant.
So, keep in mind that a great GPA will not get you into law school, but a bad GPA will definitely keep you out of one. That being said, admission to top law schools is very competitive, and any advantage you may have will come in handy when it’s time to make decisions, especially if you're a splitter. Having a higher GPA will allow you to get into schools that may be slightly out of your LSAT range.
Law School GPA Requirements for Top Law Schools
Here I’ve listed the top 20 law schools in the country along with their GPAs (25th-75th percentile ranking) from varying classes in the last 2-3 years (the oldest is from the class of 2013, the newest is class of 2016):
- Yale: 3.84-3.98
- Stanford: 3.76-3.95
- Harvard: 3.77-3.95
- Columbia: 3.54-3.81
- U Chicago: 3.67-3.95
- New York U: 3.55-3.94
- UC Berkeley: 3.62-3.88
- UPenn: 3.58-3.93
- Virginia: 3.49-3.94
- U Michigan: 3.59-3.87
- Duke: 3.62-3.84
- Northwestern: 3.35-3.85
- Georgetown: 3.44-3.8
- Cornell: 3.5-3.77
- UCLA: 3.55-3.88
- U Texas-Austin: 3.56-3.8
- Vanderbilt: 3.48-3.84
- USC: 3.54-3.77
- Minnesota-Twin Cities: 3.41-3.9
- George Washington: 3.43-3.9
* Most data collected from Top-Law-Schools.com
In conclusion: Law schools care a lot about your GPA. A lot.
More important, however, don't forget to keep in mind that a high GPA is more of a necessary condition rather than one that will secure you a seat in next year’s upcoming class. As a student, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to secure yourself the highest GPA possible to keep yourself competitive with most of the best law schools in the nation. Do your best and play the game—you'll need to know it well if you want to be a future barrister. Hopefully, with savvy course scheduling and good ol’ fashioned hard work, you’ll put yourself in prime position to snag a spot at your dream school.
Some Additional Insightful and Useful Reading
SM on April 21, 2020:
I was an athlete in college and have a terrible GPA. Made great money with sells but wondering would they take in consideration I was young and carefree and somehow if I tested great on the LSAT, then consider me? Or I need to somehow get my GPA back up?
Scott B. (author) from Princeton, NJ on September 27, 2013:
^Of course, which is why if you KNOW you want to go to law school, you may want to play the game and take an easier major to give yourself that nice GPA boost.
Eric Schmit on September 24, 2013:
I talk like a lawyer but can I think like one???...first of all LSAT score predicts how you will do on homework assignments in school... not finals...it is not an indicator of how good a lawyer you will become (lookup Johnny Cochran...)....second on GPA ..3.9 in English and 3.6 in Chemistry are not an apples to apples comparison...and 3.9 in Biology and 3.6in Economics is not the same thing...if you want to be a Clerk major in English...if you want to get into patents then major in one of the sciences....I could go on but I'm out of time...
Mid-life changer on August 28, 2013:
Would love to know what is your take on someone who did poorly freshman year college, took time off, came back and did very well, lots of As in very difficult math econ courses, for an overall 2.9ish GPA, at a prestigious liberal arts college, theoretically scores 165-170s on LSAT and had 20 years as highly distinguished/visible paralegal, far exceeding published industry compensation, at prestigious Big Law -- routinely hires top Harvard etc grads -- and a top boutique (Big Law floated the idea of paying for law school for said person, who declined at the time to avoid the inevitable 2400 billable hours lifestyle). Desire is to move into law/policy/human rights; I switched coasts recently to get out of the big city; seems law school is necessary at this point. Not opposed so long as doing something very socially useful.
Scott B. (author) from Princeton, NJ on July 21, 2013:
To be honest, with your experience, you probably won't have a problem with a law school workload. Law students who have recently graduated from undergrad usually have the toughest time adjusting because it's just so different from anything they've ever done before. But if you can handle the stresses of competition, you'll find that law school will enrich your view of how our society works while giving you the tools to actually make a difference.
Doodlehead from Northern California on July 20, 2013:
Nice article. Are you taking your own advice staying sane in law school? I wandered by as at the age of 59 I am completing an MBA and since things have gone "swimmingly" I thought about law school. I'll leave it at that!