At Which College?

The reputation and difficulty of your college tends to be the most important of the factors affecting evaluation of your grades. The quality and reputation of undergraduate institutions varies greatly, and most law schools give this some consideration in evaluating your file. They do this in several different ways.

Some schools used to adjust your undergraduate GPA up or down depending on the difficulty of the institution.  I don't know of any school (including Berkeley) that still uses this system.

The common misperception that LSAC adjusts your grades up or down based on difficulty is entirely false! LSAC will convert an A- to a 3.67 instead of a 3.7, and a B+ to a 3.33 instead of a 3.3. They will convert other grading systems to a 4.0 scale. They will not adjust for the difficulty of your school or your classes.

So why are your grades so different? Perhaps LSAC has a better memory than you -- they count ALL your grades, not just the good ones. If you failed a course, LSAC will count the F, even if your school doesn't. If your school has any kind of grade amnesty or clean sweep program, LSAC will not honor it; those bad grades are part of your history, and will be included in your GPA.

Most schools use the mean gpa and mean LSAT score reported by Law Services to evaluate your college. Law Services reports the number of people from your school who have applied to law school within the last three years, and reports the median grades and LSAT scores of all those applicants. These numbers can be compared to help judge the quality of the school and of your grades.

A few schools keep their own data on students from various colleges who do well at their law school. This tends to contribute to the phenomenon of "feeder" schools, by causing a positive feedback loop. Thus, UCLA may notice that Penn students with grades above a 3.4 tend to do well. Given two applicants, one from Penn and one from Lehigh, they may select the one from Penn based on their previous experience. Next year, their body of data supporting the belief that Penn students do well will have grown, while the data on Lehigh will not have. Penn will become known as a "feeder" school for UCLA.

Some schools informally evaluate the rigor of each undergraduate institution, resorting to numerical data only when they are unfamiliar with the school. This informal evaluation can be worth as much as five or six index points, however -- a school's entire discretionary range.

Most schools use some combination of these methods, rather than any single one.

"How Do They Judge My College?"

Is your school a "difficult" school? Local reputation is often not indicative, since your school is now being judged on a national level. Even if you know that your school is a "top" college, the amount of grade inflation may devalue your grades. For instance, Yale is not always considered to be a difficult school, because its mean grades are so high.

USNews and other rankings also aren't helpful.  Your school's rank may be based on facilities, quality of student life, etc., as much as on academic rigor.  And some rankings have been broken into so many pieces that every school gets to a top something -- but top in your region may not matter if the region is considered weak.  

The LSDAS Report is a good way to find out how law schools perceive your college.

  • If the mean college gpa is lower than 3.0, your college does not have much grade inflation.
  • If the mean is 3.2 or higher, the grades are worth less.
  • If the mean LSAT for your school is above 158, it's a top college.
  • If the mean is 154 to 158, it's a pretty competitive school.
  • If the mean is 150-153, it's an average college.
  • And if the mean LSAT is below 150, the school is considered poor.

Colleges Outside the U.S.

Beginning in 2006, students whose college degree is from outside the U.S. and a school not processed by Law Services (i.e., those of you who needed WES or IERS to translate your academic record) need no longer spend a fortune getting your grades converted.  LSAC will now accept foreign transcripts, send them to an analyzing service, and produce a report. However, this report WILL NOT be the same as the ones given to a person attending a U.S. or approved foreign college. You will NOT receive a GPA, and your grades will count as "No GPA" on the Applicant Profiles in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide .  

There is no additional fee for this service (called JD CAS -- the JD Credential Assembly Service); it is included in the standard LSDAS fee.   For further information, click here for LSAC.   

What Difference Does it Make?

I had one student from a rural area who joined the Army to pay for his college education. When he finished his tour of duty, he came home and applied to colleges. When he compared Penn to Temple, both seemed equal to him -- big famous schools in a big city. Since Penn cost so much more, he chose Temple. (I almost made the same choice as an undergrad, but was saved by poverty and geography. Both schools offered me a full scholarship, and Penn was within walking distance of my home, so Penn it was!) This man graduated with a 3.99 GPA and a good LSAT score, and was rejected by both Yale and Columbia. I can't help wondering if he would have been accepted had he gone to Penn instead of Temple as an undergrad.


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