The GPA as a number is overrated. A GPA at "School A" can mean something very different from the same GPA at "School B." Even at the same school, your major greatly effects your GPA, as any engineering major can tell you. Cumulative GPAs can also be deceptive, as some students struggle in their first semester or year, maybe earning a few C's before hitting their stride senior year with the 'picket fence' of straight A's. For these reasons, we always look at the transcript not just your GPA to see the facts of your academic history, not just the numerical shorthand.
Interestingly, we hear far fewer complaints about the GPA than another required 3-digit number, even though the GPA has its deficiencies. What we do hear is student concern that their GPA will not make them a competitive applicant because it is below our median. Here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about GPAs:
- We look at the whole transcript, not just the GPA. We look for grade trends, upper class courses, and course variety. Law is going to be unlike the courses you took in college, so we want to make sure you have a variety of academic preparation.
- Pass/Fail: one or two pass-fail classes is acceptable, but more than a few makes us wonder how you will handle four graded law classes each quarter, so include an addendum if there are any special circumstances at your school that require multiple pass/fail grades.
- Study Abroad: we typically see your transcript from study abroad, but will look more closely at classes you took at your college. In our experience, study abroad programs are typically less rigorous than classes taken in residence, so if you did complete an academically oriented program please include a short description of the work on your resume.
- We don't think there is a perfect major for pre-law students. We like to see a variety of coursework; what is most important is that you took challenging classes, and did well in them.
- Senior year grades: if you are applying at the beginning of your senior year, it is a good idea to send us your first-semester grades when they are available. In some cases, we may ask to see those grades before making a decision on your file, so don't stop working once those applications go out!
All of this hopefully helps you understand how we review transcripts, and gives you insight into what we think is important. Your college coursework is a critical part of the application, but it is also preparation for studying law. Try to take challenging classes, particularly those which require substantive, analytic writing, and remember that your senior year is not the end of your academic experience and you should use it to prepare for the next educational adventure -- law school!