Dave Killoran and Jon Denning from PowerScore were recently featured in an article by U.S. News detailing how a student's undergrad GPA factors into their law school admissions chances. You can read this incredibly informative article that also includes insight from some of our peers here. Below we have included the full interview transcript with Dave and Jon that goes even further in-depth on how law schools evaluate undergrad transcripts, how to compensate for a lower GPA, and more!
U.S. News: Why is it that at top-20 law schools, the average GPA of incoming students is close to a 4.0?
Dave Killoran: “This is the result of the selectivity of the Top 20 law schools combined with long-term grade inflation at undergraduate universities. You have more students than ever with higher GPAs, and law schools that are ranked partially on average GPA, and thus they have a very high incentive to accept as many high-GPA students as possible. Add in relatively small class sizes, and you end up with very high average GPAs.”
U.S. News: How much do GPAs matter in the JD admissions process?
Dave Killoran: “They matter quite a bit, and along with your LSAT score are one of the two biggest factors in your application. GPAs are attractive because they provide a hard number that law schools can track and control via who they admit, and because they allow admissions officers to instantly compare GPAs between students, which is not something so easily done for extracurriculars or career achievements. In short, law schools love a standardized, universal metric when evaluating applicants.”
U.S. News: Do law school admissions officers look at GPAs differently depending on student's college major or undergraduate institution?
Dave Killoran: “Certainly, although perhaps less so than most people would think. Some majors are more desirable for law school whereas other majors are not held in very high esteem, so that can have an effect. And in some cases a law school might have a good or bad history with graduates from a particular school, which can affect how they evaluate applicants from those colleges.”
U.S. News: Can someone compensate for a less-than-stellar GPA through an amazing standardized test score or impressive essays and/or work experience?
Dave Killoran: “Yes, without question, and there is a long history of students using LSAT scores to compensate for lower GPAs. Students with low-GPA/high-LSAT credentials are called Splitters, and law schools can use these applicants to fill gaps in their applicant pool, and boost numbers as needed.”
U.S. News: How do law schools evaluate college transcripts - do they care about the types of classes someone takes, i.e. the topics and rigor of those courses?
Jon Denning: “Yes, law schools actually have a fairly limited amount of information about each candidate, especially when you consider that they are entering into a three-year commitment with each person and student successes and failures are a direct reflection on the school itself. So, they will look at undergrad major, classes taken, grade trends, and general performance to get insight into the type of student they are evaluating.”
U.S. News: What would you tell an ambitious law school applicant who was wondering whether their GPA was high enough for them to get into a top law school?
Jon Denning: Your GPA is only one factor in your application, and you will be evaluated on the entirety of what you submit, so strive to make every element as strong as possible. Also, do your research, and take a look at the various medians at each school—that information can help tell you how realistic your chances are when you apply.
Finally, and as we often stress, undergraduate GPA is typically the most fixed application element for students in their senior year (or beyond), so if that number is below the median at a target school it becomes all the more critical that other, less pre-determined factors—the LSAT above all—are as impressive as possible. An exceptional four hours in a testing room can outweigh four less-than-stellar years in college, so it’s never too late to drastically improve your admissions odds with a top LSAT score!”