Pre-Law: Grades

Earning good grades in challenging courses demonstrates academic excellence. Compiling an impressive record is a critical first step in the process of getting admitted to the law school of your choice.

Avoid using the pass/fail option as it doesn’t give enough information to evaluate your performance in that course. But don’t worry that a single pass will hurt your overall GPA—for most classes in which pass/fail is the only option, LSAC does not include the pass in its recalculation of your grade point average. And really don’t worry about those classes you took P/F during the Spring 2020 semester! Most students took one or more classes P/F that semester. If you converted all of your courses to P/F in Spring 2020, you might want to include an explanatory addendum with your application, but generally this is not something the law schools will be concerned about. Indeed, LSAC “will place a letter in the CAS report of every applicant enrolled during Spring 2020, to remind law schools going forward that the semester was one in which many schools changed their grading systems in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.” This should help especially future year applicants, as Spring 2020 hopefully fades into a distant memory.

Clear up any Incomplete grades before you apply to law schools since they may adversely affect your GPA and the quality of your transcript.

Avoid repeating courses unless absolutely necessary. Although UMass calculates your GPA without reference to the first time you took the course, most law schools and LSAC will recalculate your GPA to include both grades. This also means that if you’re contemplating retaking a course, you should only do so if you either want to gain mastery over the material or you need the better grade to complete your major or other academic program. An A in your second go-round with Organic Chem will not look better than an A in some other upper level course you really care about.

Although law school admissions committees look favorably on a high GPA, a less than stellar GPA will not necessarily keep you out of law school. Every school’s application offers applicants an opportunity to explain any academic lapses. If you had a bad semester or two—due to a tough transition to college, a family or medical crisis, or some other understandable reason—don’t hesitate to let the admissions committees know. The information will give context to your transcript and help them make sense of the blip in your academic record. Point out a steadily improving trend in your course work. If you have returned to school after an absence, calculate your GPA since you returned (if it’s higher) and include that figure in your application. On the other hand, if you did poorly in a single class, but your transcript is otherwise strong, don’t draw undue attention to it by writing about the circumstances — that one bad grade will not impact your law school admission chances. For assistance in deciding whether to write an academic-related addendum, or for feedback on your draft, contact the pre-law advisor.

Don’t be discouraged if your GPA is lower than the average for schools to which you want to apply. There are other factors which admissions committees consider. When it comes time to prepare your applications, the Pre-Law Advising Office can help you identify and highlight your strengths.

More “How to prepare for law school” resources.