As you get your law school applications ready for submission, one of the many things you will have to do is send in your college transcript (or transcripts, if you’ve attended more than one school) in to LSAC for processing. LSAC takes your transcripts, converts your grades to a 4.0 scale, and calculates an overall GPA for you–your “LSAC GPA.” What some students are surprised to note, though, is that their LSAC GPA is different than their transcript GPA–and not in a good way, either.
Why is it that for some students, their LSAC GPA is different from their transcript GPA? First, let’s talk basics:
- You have to submit transcripts from all undergraduate institutions you have attended. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t graduate from one of them, or if one of them is from when you took college classes in high school. You have to submit them all.
- LSAC does not calculate a “major” GPA. If you want admissions officers to be aware of that number, you need to point it out yourself. The best place to do that is on your résumé.
- If your grades are reported on a 0-100 scale, or an A-F scale, they will be converted to a 4.0 scale. This is the scale LSAC uses to convert them. This often confuses students; however, the grades themselves aren’t changed, and admissions officers are aware of this conversion, so it doesn’t affect you negatively.
Now, all that having been said (particularly that last point, where I stated that “the grades themselves aren’t changed”), why is that for some students, their LSAC GPA is lower than their transcript GPA? It boils down to what LSAC chooses to add into your GPA that your school may not.
From the LSAC website:
Any grade notation that signifies failure (such as No Credit, No Credit/Fail, Not Passing, Incomplete/Fail, Withdraw/Fail, Unsatisfactory, Fail, etc.) is converted to zero on the 4.0 scale and is included in the calculation of the GPA, even if the issuing school considers the grade to be nonpunitive. Failure is defined as credit attempted but not earned. […] Incomplete and Withdraw grades considered punitive by the issuing school will be included in the conversion. The only exception to this policy is for No Credit, Withdraw/Fail, repeated courses, and incomplete grades specifically explained in Grades Excluded From Conversion.
All grades and credits earned for repeated courses will be included in the GPA calculation if the course units and grades appear on the transcript. A line drawn through course information or a grade does not eliminate the course from GPA calculation if the course units appear on the transcript.
So what does this mean, in plain English? That even if your school does not count a failing grade into your over all GPA (e.g., the grade is “nonpunitive,” meaning your GPA is not punished for it), LSAC may count it intheir calculations as a 0.0. This is particularly relevant for students who took a class, failed it, and then repeated it to have the failing grade “replaced” on their transcript. Unless the grade was completely taken off your record (or if only the grade is shown on your transcript and not the number of units you attempted), then it will counted in.
LSAC will also count in grades even if your schools “removes” them from your transcript by having a line go through them. If the grade is in your transcript, and the number of units you attempted or earned are next to it, then it will be included in the LSAC transcript calculations.
These repeated/removed classes are what will trip up students. Often, a school will “replace” the grade for a failed class with the passing repeated grade, but will not remove the first attempt from the transcript. The school does not count it–LSAC does. And, in doing so, adds one more grade of 0.0 into your average.
Be careful when considering courses you have withdrawn from: If your school considers the withdrawal non-punitive, then it won’t be counted. If it is considered punitive, then it will be counted as a 0.0 by LSAC (often, the easiest way to tell if it is punitive is if the “W” is accompanied by another letter–“such as WF=Withdraw/Fail, WU=Withdrew Unsatisfactory, WNP=Withdrew Not Passing” according to the LSAC website–although that is not always the case). In the case of withdrawn courses, I recommend contacting LSAC to get their take on your particular case.
Of course, unless you have a considerable number of repeated, incomplete, punitive no credit, or punitivewithdrawn classes on your transcript (and the vast majority of law school applicants don’t), then the difference won’t be significant (and is often just a tenth of a point or less). However, even a tenth of a point can cause stress to an applicant, particularly when they don’t know why it happened. That’s why it’s important to not only make sure to keep you nose clean during your academic career, but also be very aware of exactly what’s showing up on your transcript. Before submitting your transcript to LSAC, order one for yourself and analyze it. That way, when you get your converted LSAC GPA, you can avoid having a heart attack (and won’t have to waste those 45 minutes on the phone, yelling at the poor LSAC employee who picks up the phone and has to bear the brunt of your academic outrage).
To read all of LSAC’s policies on grade conversion, check out this page on the LSAC website. And, of course, if you have any questions about how a certain grade may be converted in your transcript, make sure to contact LSAC. They’re the authorities, and will give you the final word on how you can expect things to go.