Welcome to Law School Success Stories, where we discuss 7Sage applicants who made the most of their GPA and LSAT score.
👤 Who: “Sanjay,” a recent college grad
- 📈 Top LSAT: 170
- 📉 GPA: 2.99
- 🏆 Accepted at UVA
🔎 Initial Assessment
Sanjay had applied the previous cycle and been accepted to GW and Fordham with substantial scholarships. During the year since applying, he had taken the LSAT two more times (for a total of five attempts), ultimately raising his score from 155 to a whopping 170. This made him determined to take another crack at the T-14, despite having a GPA well below their 25th percentiles.
A phone call with Sanjay revealed that he was not only a finance whiz, but a funny and down-to-earth guy. His low GPA had been due, in large part, to a debilitating skin condition that struck him at the beginning of college. The resulting social anxiety caused him to miss classes frequently during his first and second years. Sanjay saved up enough money to begin a new treatment regimen, and by the fall of his third year, he was earning good grades.
Our task, then, was to convince the admissions committee at a T-14 school that his GPA didn’t reflect his ability to succeed in law school, and that Sanjay was so smart, ambitious, and congenial that they simply could not turn him down. We developed a three-part strategy:
- Put his GPA into the larger context of his academic ability and the extenuating circumstances of his first two years.
- Craft memorable essays that highlighted his financial acumen and entrepreneurial experience.
- Highlight an intangible but no less important asset: Sanjay’s personality.
💼 The GPA Addendum
You might suppose that selling a top school on a low-GPA candidate might hinge on an effective GPA addendum. This is true, to an extent. It was a crucial part of our strategy to surround that 2.99 with context without appearing to wallow in excuses. But it’s just as important to recognize what an addendum really is: a piece of business that should briskly clear the way for the application’s real show-stoppers, the PS and DS. Sanjay’s business sense served him well in crafting a factual, unflinching, and unsentimental account of his illness and recovery. In 275 words, Sanjay convincingly did three things: 1) explain why his grades started off badly; 2) assure the admissions committee that the problem had been corrected and would not affect his future work; 3) demonstrate that his undergrad GPA was not an accurate reflection of the high-level work he had done and would continue to do in law school.
✏️ Crafting the Personal and Diversity Statements
If the goal of the addendum was to demonstrate that Sanjay’s low GPA was not the applicant’s whole story, the goal of the PS was to portray the rest of the story—in a way that consolidated the application’s overarching narrative. Sanjay’s storyline was about family and business. He had gotten his start helping his parents run their convenience store, paid off his college debts with daring day-trades, and worked a stint at Morgan Stanley before joining his brother’s start-up venture capital firm, where he learned to navigate high-stakes deals. In fact, his work on those deals forced Sanjay to become a quick study on the legal side of the business, making him realize that law school was the logical next step on his entrepreneurial path.
None of this was apparent from his initial PS draft, a digressive think-piece about improper regulatory oversight. It was clear that fairness and transparency in business mattered a lot to Sanjay, but we wanted him to write a story, not an opinion piece. To impress the admissions committees, he would have to showcase his business smarts while revealing his sensibility and character. We had to begin with fresh brainstorming.
The results provided a smorgasbord of material. I saw that we might begin with an appetizer of young Sanjay helping his parents manage the cashflow of their mom-and-pop store. This grounded the essay in what was closest to Sanjay’s heart—his family—while illustrating how his entrepreneurial spirit was kindled.
For the main course, my eye was drawn to a story from his current job, in his brother’s private equity firm, about a hotel acquisition deal which, because of the shenanigans of an unscrupulous manager, saddled the firm with millions in debt. Sanjay was chosen to lead the firm’s litigation strategy, despite having no experience in such matters. Viewed from a certain angle, the story began to look like a detective thriller. I could picture Sanjay digging through the county clerk’s records, tracking down a mysterious appraiser, issuing subpoenas, and ultimately using his discoveries to free his firm from the debt judgment. This took not only clever legwork but backbone, too, as Sanjay, barely out of college, stood up to the bullying of a high-powered opposing counsel.
After we polished the story by toning down the technical jargon and making sure Sanjay was the active protagonist in every paragraph, the result was an essay showcasing Sanjay’s resourcefulness, agility of mind, dependability in clutch situations, and passion for his work: exactly what the dean of a T-14 school would need to see in Sanjay to feel convinced enough to make him an offer.
Since the PS had focused on Sanjay’s hard-boiled business skills, our strategy for the DS was to complement the PS by shining a softer spotlight on his family background and his service to the community he grew up in. Returning to the brainstorm smorgasbord, we connected his legal aid work on behalf of an elderly tenant fighting eviction with Sanjay’s memories of his own immigrant parents facing housing discrimination. Sanjay was able to draw a memorable lesson from his work with the elderly client without sounding patronizing or self-congratulatory.
💕 The Indispensable “Why School X” Essay
If you really want to get into the school of your dreams, write a sincere, detailed, and above all well-researched “why school X” essay. Use it as an opportunity to showcase complementary interests. Sanjay wrote not only about his interest in business and law, but also about his interest in wrongful convictions and the Innocence Project, discussing how a law professor’s book on that subject had inspired him to become a local activist. This essay paid off, and turned out to be useful in his post-application follow-through.
👷♂️ After the App
So what do you do once your applications have been submitted? We counsel our clients to proactively contact admissions offices from the get-go, establishing a friendly rapport with the people who work there and always following up. Boldness, persistence, and amiability are the order of the day for every applicant, but especially for those like Sanjay who are trying to beat the odds. So is having a clear but flexible strategy, and being armed with plenty of research about the schools you’re trying to get into.
Sanjay’s post-application story is an object lesson in these principles. He applied ED to a different school, and when he got rejected, decided to switch his RD application to ED at UVA, an even higher-ranked school. He was doubling down and raising the stakes—but the admissions office at UVA told him they couldn’t change his application status to ED. Sanjay didn’t take this lying down. Just before winter break he reached out directly to the dean via email, acknowledging that his request had been denied but explaining his reasons for wanting to switch to ED and reiterating his interest.
Sanjay waited patiently until just after winter break, then reached out again to the admissions office, this time explaining that he was interested in the Business and Law program and asking if they could connect him with a student from that program. That same day, Sanjay received an email directly from the dean, proposing a phone call.
Sanjay was ready for that call. He read the dean’s vibe and met it with a good-humored attitude. He was also prepared for what turned out to be an informal, impromptu interview: explaining, again, why he wanted to switch his application to ED, and talking about his work in the venture capital firm, which he’d written about in his PS. Finally, the dean asked him why he wanted to attend UVA. Here, because of his “why school X” essay and research, Sanjay was prepared to speak not only about his interest in business and law, but about UVA’s Innocence Project Clinic.
The upshot? Right then and there, the dean cleared his throat and…offered Sanjay admission!
- If you are a low-GPA applicant, tell the story that the numbers can’t tell.
- Write essays that show the great things you’re capable of.
- In your dealings with admissions offices, be proactive, persistent, polite, and ready to follow up!
- Doing your research will give you a fighting chance when opportunity strikes.