While the American Bar Association recently signaled that accredited law schools may soon be able to relax their requirement that applicants submit a standardized test score, the two most influential factors in law school admissions remain grades and LSAT or GRE scores.
Accordingly, many applicants have concerns about being a “splitter,” an applicant with low grades and high test scores or vice versa.
Being a splitter is a relative position — what matters is how your grades and test scores compare with the medians for your target schools. What counts as a low LSAT score for a highly selective law school might be a high LSAT score for a less-competitive school.
[Read: What Is a Good LSAT Score?]
That is why the most important advice for a splitter is to apply to a wide range of law schools. Most applicants might want to target roughly a dozen law schools that suit their preferences, but splitters may want to add a few more.
After all, law schools vary in the relative weight they give to grades and test scores. Most law schools tend to give LSAT scores a bit more weight, but some schools care more about grades. The admissions process is inevitably subjective, and some admissions officers might be more forgiving of a gap than others.
Nevertheless, if you are concerned about how a target law school will perceive the gap between your grades and test scores, there are a few steps you can take to address the issue.
If Your LSAT Score Is Low
The easiest way is to retake the LSAT. The LSAT is currently offered nine times per year, and applicants are allowed to take the test three times within one testing year, five times within the current and five past years, and seven times total.
If you apply with multiple LSAT scores, schools will see all of the scores you received but they will generally consider your highest score. Thus, there is no real penalty for retaking the LSAT.
Even if a repeated retake tastes like humble pie, it’s worthwhile. There are always ways to get over a rut in your scoring, and for many applicants the third or even fourth time is the charm. If you do manage to raise your score more than 10 points, include an addendum about how you improved.
To give yourself ample leeway for retakes, aim to take the test at least a few months before you plan to apply to law school. Retaking the test may even be worth postponing your applications by a year if needed.
Taking the GRE or GMAT won’t help much if you’ve already taken the LSAT, since schools consider the LSAT by default if you submit scores from both tests. However, if you haven’t taken the LSAT and are merely concerned about scoring low on practice exams, that may be an option.
Unless you have a good reason why you were unable to retake the LSAT, an LSAT addendum to explain a low score is rarely helpful. Now that the test is offered remotely and fairly frequently, it’s hard to justify not retaking the test. However, if you have a good explanation for why your test went poorly and you were unable to retake it in time, an addendum may be worth a shot.
If Your GPA Is Low
If you are still in college and your grades are low, consider waiting to apply to law school until after you graduate. Most students tend to perform their best toward the end of college, and a strong finish will bolster your argument that you have overcome any early stumbles.
You could also consider shoring up your academic strengths by taking extra classes, even outside of your primary institution. Securing strong letters of recommendation from professors in whose classes you excelled can also help compensate for lower grades elsewhere.
If one or two outlying grades brought down your average, or you had a semester or year that went awry, consider writing an addendum to your transcript to briefly and professionally contextualize your underperformance.
Note that grades fade in importance the further you are out of school. Some law schools, like Northeastern University in Massachusetts and Northwestern University in Illinois, explicitly emphasize work experience when evaluating candidates.
Finally, be wary of what you read about law schools on online forums. Applicants and commenters can fixate on GPA and LSAT scores because they are concrete and comparable metrics. Admissions officers look beyond these numbers at your overall candidacy. While low grades or test scores may be a fatal weakness in many cases, they are not the only factors that matter.
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