The U.S. is home to some of the best law schools in the world, so it’s not uncommon for students from every continent to come to the country to pursue their law degree. In some…
The U.S. is home to some of the best law schools in the world, so it’s not uncommon for students from every continent to come to the country to pursue their law degree. In some academic fields — mainly the sciences — the transition is fairly smooth, but the law school application process presents some idiosyncratic difficulties for international students or non-native English speakers.
Knowing these three things can help you better prepare for the law school application process:
— The LSAT is not really about comprehending the reading.
— You can turn your language disadvantage into an advantage.
— Your GPA may be better than you think.
The LSAT is not really about comprehending the reading. In the world of grad school standardized testing, the LSAT is unique in that it requires the reading of lengthy passages — often longer than 50 lines — under severe time pressure. Obviously, that puts non-native students at a disadvantage, given that they likely haven’t had the same practice in reading English, nor have they started doing it as early as the average applicant.
Personally, I made a leap in my LSAT scores once I realized that it’s not paramount to actually read and absorb the entire passage. Trying to memorize every line is a common mistake among those studying for the LSAT, but one that those relatively new to English pay a much higher price for. Instead, briefly read the passage once to understand the topic, then skim over the questions to see which parts you should focus on in the passage. It would be counterproductive to master parts of the reading that would not help you answer the questions.
Given that the reading comprehension sections of the LSAT are notoriously hard to study for, I chose to focus on the logic sections. Not only do they outnumber the reading comprehension sections, but the language barrier is much easier to overcome when reviewing a short paragraph rather than a long passage. Similarly, true to their name, these sections don’t test your vocabulary or the pace with which you read, but rather your logic and attention to detail, which should be much more transferable than language skills.
You can turn your language disadvantage into an advantage. Many non-native English speakers are wary of the actual application for several reasons. For example, the personal statement is the school’s first real glimpse into the student’s writing skills, which are very important in law school, and applicants whose native tongue isn’t English may be worried that their grammar and vocabulary won’t match up with that of their peers. While this may be true, the issues here can be mitigated by having another person look over the essays and point out any mistakes or other problems.
More importantly, this perceived disadvantage can be spun to be an advantage in your application. In your journey to the United States, surely you gathered some unique experiences not shared by those who grew up in this country, or you were raised in an environment that has a different perspective on the U.S. and current events. Law schools highly value diversity, and it is these qualities you would do well to discuss in your personal or diversity statements, as they would set you apart from the pack.
Additionally, if you happen to come from a family that immigrated to the country in search of a better life and you are the first one to pursue higher education, make sure to use of the many opportunities available to first-gen applicants, from fee waivers to scholarships.
Your GPA might be better than you think: I work with many applicants from other countries, and most assume that their GPA is calculated by simple conversion — so for example, someone graded on a 0-100 scale would simply divide their GPA by 25 to get their American GPA — or that a B in their home country is taken at its face value and viewed just like a B from an American institution. This is not the case. As you can imagine, grading varies wildly between countries, and LSAC has a system to adjust grades in a fair way.
While the Law School Admissions Council doesn’t publicly state how it converts grades from other countries, it does account for harsher grading systems, In Israel, for example, an 85% GPA would have a student graduating with honors, and LSAC recognizes it would be unfair to turn an honors student into a B student. However, don’t count on LSAC to do your job for you; make sure to include an addendum explaining the different grading systems and urge schools to view your transcript in that context.
Applying to law school is a time- and effort-consuming endeavor, and it can be much more daunting when you’re not a native English speaker or don’t understand the mechanics of the application process, but make no mistake about it: If you make law schools aware of your origin story, they will evaluate you as a candidate in that context. If you make sure to build on the diversity you can bring to the table through emphasizing your unique characteristics, you might be surprised with how well your application will be received.