Weighing The Value of a Challenging Class, a Low Grade & Some Time Off

Here’s a recent inquiry from one of our listeners and some info from our podcasts that may be helpful:

I am a college senior with one semester left before I graduate. I am currently studying for the LSAT. This semester I chose to take a logic class and while I am learning the material, the class is difficult and I already know it’s going to lower my GPA. Therefore I’m thinking of holding off on law school right after I graduate. How highly do law schools look at GPA’s if an individual takes time off from school to concentrate on employment or professional experience?

Not surprisingly, some of our guests, including admissions deans from top law schools, have offered their insight on these points.  So, why not hear (or read below) what they’ve had to say on these topics.  If you want to hear from our experts directly, just click on the podcast links below.

•  Mitigating Weaknesses in Your Law School Application: Identifying and Fixing Weak Spots.  In this segment, Dean Rita Jones, of Boston College Law School, emphasized the importance of taking challenging undergraduate courses and said that too many easy classes are a potential weakness in your candidacy.  “It could be a weakness if you’ve taken too many intro-level courses later in your college years, maybe having several jobs on your résumé but no apparent advancement in responsibility or position, lack of demonstrated leadership in co-curricular and extracurricular activities, no demonstration of a long-term commitment to any one endeavor. These are things that I would look for. I don’t know that candidates always think [about] that, but I think it’s something to consider.”

How should you deal with a low grade in a particular class or a weaker GPA?  Dean Jones had the following advice: “You can retake classes. That won’t raise a poor grade or change a GPA, but it might show you’re moving in a better direction. . . I would not suggest retaking a class to, say, boost the GPA unless the low grade was really due to not understanding the subject and that’s something you really want to know. I mean, if it works, if it’s important for you to really have that knowledge that you did not get from the class, it might well be worth repeating it. But I would suggest repeating it just for purposes of boosting the GPA.”

• What’s Your Major? The Courses That Help You Get In & Succeed in Law School is another segment tackling this issue.  Sarah Zearfoss, Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions,University of Michigan Law School says admissions officers like to see curricula that is both deep and broad. “You should  certainly be trying to take challenging courses in whatever is your chosen core field, to show that you can perform at a very high academic level. And then it’s also important though that you branch out and test yourself in areas outside your comfort zone. So classes that give you experience [such] as close reading of texts, detailed analysis, logical reasoning, and extensive writing are always helpful.”

In comparing different majors in the admissions process, Ann Perry, Associate Dean for Admissions, The University of Chicago Law School reviews the entire application, and discerns how the student performs in their major fields. “So, it’s looking at their transcripts, seeing what courses they took. Did they challenge themselves within their major, meaning they took upper level classes beyond maybe what was required? I like to see some writing classes — and even hard science majors sometimes take writing classes — because I think that’s a core skill that it would be nice to come with for law school, even though you take a whole year of legal writing. So it’s evaluating that, but also here’s where letters of recommendation become helpful, especially when they’re from a professor who the student had, who can really kind of talk about this student’s academic ability.”

• Nontraditional Law School Applicants & Students:  Tips to Help You Apply, Find the Right Fit & Succeed, focuses on the value of taking time off after earning your undergraduate degree and before starting law school. The show offers some perspective on how admissions deans view applicants who take time off.

For example, Frank Motley, Assistant Dean for Admissions, Indiana University Maurer School of Law said that when he started at Indiana in 1977, most people applying had not taken any time off. Increasingly, students are taking time off to work before coming to law school as is often seen with business schools.“Well, business schools require that students have some work experience because they find that they become better students and add more to the classroom experience. While law schools haven’t required that, I think that people are seeing one or two years experience does add to their maturity and makes the law school experience much more relevant.”

Johann Lee, Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Northwestern University Law School adds that nontraditional students tend to have time management skills, also a great help. “If you’ve been holding a very competitive complex job, then you learn time management skills. You learn really good time management skills. And so I think when you enter the law school environment, having to juggle a lot – juggle your class work, extracurricular, co-curricular activities, I think old students tend, to me and historically, they seem to do well because they have the ability to juggle a lot of things and do a lot of things effectively.”

Also in this show, Veritas Prep’s Adam Hoff explains that law school is a numbers game — until it isn’t.“Schools are not able to just disregard the LSAT or disregard the GPA. Even if they think those markers are not as appropriate for a nontraditional or an older applicant. But what they are able to do is say, look, we think that the rich experience this person has, we think their nontraditional approach, is going to add so much value to the experience for other students. They’re going to bring so much diversity and spice to the classrooms that we’re willing to absorb the hit on this particular LSAT score.”

Listen to these shows to get more information on this topic!