If you are applying to law school, you will come across an unusual and somewhat confusing term: Splitter. And no, it has nothing to do with baseball pitches, cutting down trees, or a certain San Antonio Spurs/Philadelphia 76ers basketball player. In admissions parlance, a "splitter" is someone who has LSAT and GPA numbers that are split between high and low marks (and often the medians for a law school play a role in determining if one is truly a splitter). While this concept is relatively easy to follow, over time a number of variations have cropped up, so let's look at each:
Traditional Splitter (or just "Splitter"): A traditional splitter is a person with a high LSAT score and a low GPA. This is not the worst setup because your high LSAT score counterbalances the low GPA (yes, a four-hour test outweighs a four-year degree). What determines what the "high" and "low" are? Usually the 25th percentile and 75th percentile medians from the law school under discussion. For example, at Georgetown University Law Center, the 25%/75% GPA and LSAT numbers are:
LSAT 25th / 75th percentiles: 163 / 168
GPA 25th / 75th percentiles: 3.48 / 3.84
Thus, a student applying to Georgetown with a GPA below 3.48 and an LSAT score above 168 would be considered a traditional splitter. Traditional splitter numbers can be a bit problematic because it's difficult (and often impossible) to change your GPA quickly.
Reverse Splitter: A reverse splitter is a person with a low LSAT score and a high GPA. This is initially more problematic because high GPAs are relatively common, and each school has a different grading curve, so a high GPA at one school may not be equal to a high GPA elsewhere. The good news is that you can now attempt the LSAT as many times as you need to reach your target score, so you can change this designation far more easily than if you are a traditional splitter.
Super Splitter: A super splitter is a person with a very high differential in LSAT score and GPA (especially when compared to the 25/75 percentiles), such as a 178 LSAT score and a 2.1 GPA.
Super Traditional Splitter: A super traditional splitter typically has a very high LSAT score and and a very low GPA, such as a 174 LSAT score and a 2.6 GPA.
Super Reverse Splitter: A super reverse splitter has a very low LSAT score and very high GPA, such as a 147 LSAT score and a 3.9 GPA.
An additional factor in the process is that some schools are splitter friendly and unfriendly:
Splitter Friendly: A splitter-friendly school is one that tends to offer relatively more admits to splitters. Northwestern is a school that has been splitter-friendly in the past. There are also reverse-splitter friendly schools!
Splitter Unfriendly: Yes, you guessed it, a splitter-unfriendly school tends not to admit as many splitters (Berkeley is one school thought to be splitter-unfriendly). This doesn't mean they don't admit any, it means they admit them at a lower rate than other schools.
Splitters are very common in the law school admissions process, and if you fall into one of the categories above, you shouldn't be overly concerned. Low LSAT scores can be corrected by retaking the LSAT, and low GPAs often come with some cause for the low grades that can be used to create a compelling personal statement. In either case, don't give up hope! Your admission results may be a little more varied than other candidates, but there are plenty of splitters at every law school.
Questions or comments, please post them below!
Image: "The Splits" courtesy of Ian Sane.