Your GPA is an important part of your application, but it doesn’t tell your whole academic story. Law school admissions officers also take a close look at other aspects of your college transcripts to build a fuller picture of your undergraduate education. Did your coursework really prepare you for law school? Were you always hunting for that easy A? Did you use college as a time to develop charmingly varied interests?

Let’s consider how we can approach a transcript like a seasoned admissions office reader:

Not All 3.8s Are Equal

Law school admissions officers know that first-year college grades are a worse predictor of law school success than grades received in the sophomore, junior, and senior years, because first-year grades disproportionately reflect the quality of a student’s high school education, not their overall academic aptitude. 

Admissions officers also know that different undergraduate institutions have different grading curves. A 3.8 GPA may be top of the class at a demanding school; at a school with high-grade inflation, a 3.8 may be the median. 

In addition, admissions officers consider the difficulty of your major and the rigor of your course selection when assessing your undergraduate record. For example, they know that STEM courses tend to grade more harshly than those in the humanities and adjust their assessment of a candidate’s GPA accordingly.

How to Review a Transcript Like a Law School Admissions Officer

When an admissions officer assesses an applicant’s transcript and academic record, they tend to ask themselves:

  • Did this applicant challenge themselves as an undergraduate? Are there too many withdrawals or Pass/Fail (P/F) classes? (Note that P/Fs during Covid are no reason to panic: admissions officers are aware that P/F courses were standard during that time.)
  • What are the trends in this applicant’s undergraduate grades? Did they improve over time? If an older candidate received poor grades early in undergrad, but went on to establish a successful career, or if an applicant had an illness or death in the family that resulted in a down semester, admissions officers may be inclined to cut the applicant some slack. 
  • What courses did this applicant take? Were they relevant and rigorous?
  • Did this applicant win any academic awards or honors that demonstrate exceptional achievement such as summa cum laude?
  • Did this applicant write a GPA addendum? If so, does it offer valuable additional context to the applicant's transcript? Applicants have the opportunity to write a GPA addendum, a short statement that explains any outlier grades or semesters on their transcript. This is a topic we cover in extensive detail as part of 7Sage’s admissions consulting. 

Does It Matter Where I Went to Undergrad?

A brand-name undergraduate school is not necessary for admission to a competitive law school; what’s most important is that you bloomed where you were planted. That being said, if admissions officers aren't familiar with the rigor of your undergraduate institution (or believe that it lacked rigor), your LSAT score may be given more weight in the admissions officers’ consideration. If you thrived at an institution and/or in a field of study renowned for its rigor (e.g. STEM at MIT or anything at West Point), that can be viewed as a significant positive.

Does It Matter If I Didn’t Graduate Pre-Law or Major in Political Science?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is no, but your application should present an argument for why law school is the right place for you. That said, countless applicants who didn’t take law-adjacent courses in their undergraduate careers are admitted to law school every year; they simply use their work experience and written statements to explain their trajectory in a logical and compelling way.

Does It Matter That I Now Have a Master’s or PhD?

Yes and no. Although admissions officers do request all graduate transcripts in addition to your undergraduate records, only undergraduate grades get factored into your LSAC GPA, so only undergraduate grades impact law schools’ median GPAs for purposes of ABA reporting or USNWR rankings, which makes undergraduate grades most important. That said, successful graduate work with strong grades can demonstrate the academic ability to succeed in law school while adding texture and dimension to your application. Grad school adds to your “soft” factor, and many top schools view PhDs (more so than MAs) as a significant plus.

Our Final World on Transcripts

The higher your undergraduate GPA and the more rigorous and relevant your undergraduate record, the better positioned you’ll be for admission to law school. That said, your application cannot be reduced to a single data point. Your GPA and transcript may be set in stone, but the rest of your application isn’t; that’s where you have the power to influence your admissions outcomes, and that’s where you should focus your time. Order transcripts early, so they can be processed while you’re working on the rest of your application, and make sure to write an addendum for any outlier grades.