Law School Admissions
June 15, 2005 9:09 PM   Subscribe

I have a question regarding attending a university but not including it in my law school application.

My situation is a bit tricky right now; I left one school after a major life trauma for a change of pace. It turned out that I wasn't ready for school at the time and did very, very poorly. Now, after a few years, I'm going back to my original school and finishing my degree. My upcoming graduation will not require any of the credit earned from my second school. But I noticed that all the law school admissions applications mention that you have to forward all transcripts. How much trouble can I get into for not sending in those transcipts? What is the likelihood that I will be "caught"? BTW, my current GPA at the original school is "okay", but my saving grace is the LSAT, recommendations, and personal statement. What should I do, and why?
posted by SeizeTheDay to Education (29 answers total)
 
If you do not provide information they request or are not truthful, you may be later expelled from the law school - after admission. Such expulsion may occur during 1L, 2L, or even 3L. That's a huge risk, considering expenses and the time and work you'll invest.
posted by quam at 9:22 PM on June 15, 2005


I'd echo quam's comments about possible disciplinary repercussions.

Additionally, failing to include a full academic history may come back to haunt you when you apply to the state bar -- some states require you to turn in your law school application in addition to your educational history (so inconsistencies would be noted), and the (bar) application questions are extremely probative. Evidence of fraud, falsity, or deception will not be viewed with much mercy - and may preclude your admission to the bar.

Most law school applications permit an essay at your discretion if you feel the need to explain some "blemish" on your application (such as a semester of uncharacteristically bad grades, an arrest/conviction, disciplinary actions taken against you, etc). I'd opt to include your transcripts along with a candid explanation of the bad grades. If this option is not available to you, you may consider finding a way to incorporate it into your personal statements - always good to write about obstacles encountered and the lessons learned from them.
posted by roundrock at 9:35 PM on June 15, 2005


Disclaimer: what I am about to recommend is unethical and dishonest, but will most likely get you in and shield you from expulsion.

1) Exclude your shoddy transcript when you apply.
2) After a few semestres of good performance at law school, ask the superintendent why your courses from the other school are not amongst your transfer credits.
3) When they say they never received your transcript, huff and whine and complain about them losing your paperwork, and then produce the "missing" transcript.

This may work. Or it may not. And let me stress again that this is unethical and dishonest. But then that's what being a lawyer is about, right? ;-) Just kidding.
posted by randomstriker at 9:39 PM on June 15, 2005


This is what I was afraid of...

Given that my past failures have to come in (I was academically suspended), although they won't affect my graduation GPA, what kind of LSAT do I need to get into a decent school at this point? My thoughts of schools are Villanova, George Washington, American, and a couple others in the Philly, DC, NYC area. Right now I'm averaging about a 170 in my practice tests and I think I can bump that to a 175, but will that be enough to conteract my terrible performance, or am I really screwed?
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:49 PM on June 15, 2005


Be honest -- and explain your black marks. In my med school interviews they asked me if there were any "red flags" on my transcript. I honestly had none, so I said no. If I did, I would've explained them and most importantly, explained why I did what I did, what I learned from those mistakes, and how they will help me (academically/personally/professionally) in my future schooling/profession.
posted by ruwan at 9:55 PM on June 15, 2005


Brag about your past, make it part of the amazing story of you. You overcame, you conquered adversity. Admit your failings with disarming candor, then describe how much better you have done since: "In my final 4 semesters, my GPA was blah blah blah." Seriously, this can make you a more interesting candidate.
posted by LarryC at 10:14 PM on June 15, 2005


LarryC is exactly right. To go from lousy to good speaks highly of you. And to be completely upfront & honest about it even more so. All true, so go ahead and spin it that way for all it's worth. After all, it's the great American story of failure and redemption. A real Hallmark moment. You'll have to hand out hankies to the admissions committee as they slap you on the back and wave you in.
posted by mono blanco at 2:19 AM on June 16, 2005


The most recent commenters are right. Plenty of people with really bad performances in their first college can combine a decent second-round college performance and a high-end LSAT to show that they're sharp and serious about turning their life around. Do as well on the LSAT as you can (obviously).

N.B., I don't know what your situation at your new school is, but to the extent that you have a professor there who knows your old story, it might not hurt to have him or her mention it in their rec., and explain what you've learned to do differently the second time around.
posted by willbaude at 5:33 AM on June 16, 2005


I agree with the above, this situation is exactly the sort of thing that should be discussed in your admissions essay, not swept under the rug.

what kind of LSAT do I need to get into a decent school at this point?

This is impossible to answer without knowing what school you got your BA/BS from and what your GPA there was. But the 170 vacinity sounds about right for the schools you've mentioned.
posted by falconred at 5:35 AM on June 16, 2005


Be honest. You may not get into GW, but you will get into a decent school. I had lousy grades in college (I was on academic probation for two semesters and graduated with a 2.4 GPA) but got a decent LSAT score (under 170 though) and I am in a top tier law school. By the way the schools you mentioned are all pretty widespread in the ranks - the standard is the US News rankings and the higher the ranking the more difficult it will be to get in to the school.

Factors that I believe helped me get admitted to school: (1) the personal statement; and (2) work experience after college. I recognized that I wasn't ready for law school when I graduated college, so I worked as a paralegal for a few years, and I wrote about that in some capacity - essay or personal statement. If you don't get admitted to the school you want to go to the first time around, consider working a few years and trying again.
posted by amro at 5:47 AM on June 16, 2005


Such a dishonest omission could also affect future bar admissions. Don't go there.
posted by caddis at 7:00 AM on June 16, 2005


Don't lie.

I had a similar issue when I applied to grad school. I didn't put it in my essay, but I did provide my references with the details they needed to assure the schools that I had gotten over the rough patch and was an excellent candidate. I did that on the advice that hearing it from me could sound like an excuse, but hearing it from my advisor/profs would sound believable. I don't know how true that is generally, but it worked for me.
posted by carmen at 7:03 AM on June 16, 2005


Be honest about it.

You do not want this to come back to haunt you later in your career.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 7:26 AM on June 16, 2005


If you hit 170 you'll be fine. Seriously. Be up front with your academic history when you apply, and point to your more recent grades and your high LSAT score as being more reflective of your academic potential than the grades you piled up years ago under traumatic circumstances.

Of the two major factors used in law school admissions -- GPA and LSAT -- your strength happens to be the more-rare commodity (high LSAT). There are a lot more law school applicants with a 3.75+ GPA then there are applicants with a 98%+ LSAT score (169+). Use this to your advantage.

The good news is that you're in control of one of these two factors -- the LSAT score. So keep practicing to make sure you come in with your desired score.

Check out law school numbers to see how the law schools treat students with various numbers. For example, last year American accepted a 2.5 / 167 and rejected a 3.98 / 158.

Cast a wide net with your applications. With split numbers, you never know. Good luck!
posted by herc at 9:44 AM on June 16, 2005


The only law schools that would make a fuss about having this sort of previous bad experience would be a lower-tier school that was desperate to boost itself into the Top 100 by jacking up its numbers. Any of the schools you listed shouldn't have that problem, and should be pleased to have someone whose story is one of remarkable turnaround.

I understand being ashamed, but 1) you have no reason to be, and 2) think about what a tendency to hide past screwups would indicate for your future career as a lawyer. You don't want to make it through law school and (somehow) the bar admissions process only to get disbarred because you once managed to profit from hiding the unpleasant truth.
posted by socratic at 9:52 AM on June 16, 2005


many law schools will tell you what LSAT score you'd need if you tell them your GPA, some schools even publish this information on their website
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 9:59 AM on June 16, 2005


Unfortunately, I have to disagree with socratic. All schools *will* care about your cumulative GPA, not just the lower-tiered schools. Even the elite law schools (typically considered those between Yale and Georgetown in USNEWS) are keenly aware of where they rank relative to one another and what they need to do to maintain or improve their standing. It's not as if it's easier to get in to UPENN than Thomas Cooley with a 2.5 GPA.

A good rule of thumb is to look at a school's 75/25 splits, published annually in all sorts of places. If one of your numbers falls at or below a school's 25% cut-off, then your other number should be at or above the school's 75% mark if you're going to be competitive for admission. "Soft" factors like your personal statement, work history, and recommendations play a part in tie-breaker situations (and with thousands and thousands of applicants law schools will get scores of applicants with similar numbers).

Also, use your total GPA as calculated by the LSAC, not as calculated by your academic institution. That's the GPA that law schools will use, and the LSAC uses a formula to compute GPAs that frequently deviates from the way schools typically compute the number. It's not uncommon for a student to take a .1 or .2 hit when the LSAC slaps its voodoo on a college transcript.

Have you considered contacting your former institution to see if you can change any of those grades from actual letter grades to "Incomplete" -- or even better, "Withdraw?" A little legwork now could really improve your chances for admission in the near future.

Lastly, while you should most certainly address the poor academic performance in your past, the best places to do this would be in a brief addendum to your application, as well as in your letters or recommendation.

Anna Ivey -- former dead of admissions for the University of Chicago -- has a regular column at Vault.com where she addresses topics like this. Worth checking out...
posted by herc at 10:24 AM on June 16, 2005


When I applied to law school, I inadvertently left out a couple of courses I had taken at a community college while I was in the army. (I got an A in both courses, so there was no reason to hide it.)

Any college will demand your Social Security Number when you enroll, and they apparently supply it to a database maintained by the service that assembles college records for submission to law schools. At any rate, I got a request to supply the transcript from the community college.

The upshot is that you can't hide the fact of your initial attendance. My advice is to make the best of it, giving pretty much the same explanation as you gave here.
posted by KRS at 10:28 AM on June 16, 2005


3) When they say they never received your transcript, huff and whine and complain about them losing your paperwork, and then produce the "missing" transcript.

I have a hard time believing any administrator who has also taught classes would swallow this one very easily. This (I have the impression) is a fairly standard student line used about "missing" homework, just on a more important scale. It will be especially clear when the transcript isn't entirely good.
posted by advil at 10:56 AM on June 16, 2005


many law schools will tell you what LSAT score you'd need if you tell them your GPA, some schools even publish this information on their website

I think SeizeTheDay (don't substitute initials) is looking to get into a better class of school than those. The best schools go well beyond formula in admissions. This actually should help here.

Be honest, you have good scores and good grades where it counts. You will do fine.
posted by caddis at 11:12 AM on June 16, 2005


If the credits earned at the first school do not count toward anything, I'm not convinced they're actually important, actually... You don't have to include irrelevant past jobs on a resume, for instance. I would call the admissions dept and ask them directly. Let them know you took classes which ultimately did not go toward anything, and find out whether this is information they're interested in. They will undoubtedly notice that your graduation date indicates that you did not begin the BA you earned for a few years later than usual, but you coulda been in jail, or taking cruises with a sugar daddy, or a bassist for a momentarily successful band, or something. I mean, if they want this info, certainly supply it, but I'd check what they want, considering that effort was basically moot - you took no credit for it, so it's not obvious you should have to take 'debit' (if you had transferred passing credits with low grades, obviously that would be simply part of your transcript).

Re: LSATs, remember that a lot of people do slightly better on preps than the real thing, and also that the jump from 170 to 175 is fairly significant. Certainly keep trying, but don't pin all your hopes on that... (of course, you may not succumb to anxiety, or may just get lucky, or whatever - just pointing it out.)
posted by mdn at 11:28 AM on June 16, 2005


You don't have to include irrelevant past jobs on a resume, for instance.

You do when you give me that resume. You leave a time period blank and I will ask. If you purposefully omitted negative jobs I will not hire you. If you stretch the time periods to cover a bad job and I catch you, I will fire you once I find out later. Most employers act similarly. Don't try pulling that crap. It isn't worth it.
posted by caddis at 11:35 AM on June 16, 2005


Have you been assigned an admission officer? It may be worth your while, especially if you intend to visit schools anyway, to schedule an interview with an admission officer to discuss your application. You can also schedule an informational interview over the phone, which allows you to learn more about the school and segue into your story. Stating your case--which any competent officer would not hold against you--in person will help to ensure that it makes its way into your file from the officer. I'd also recommend attaching a brief and clear explanation. It may also help to ask them to calculate your GPA based only on grades at your official alma mater. Don't make it the focus of your application by any means--the story here is your success and readiness for the future.

So few graduate applicants pick up the phone to contact offices of admission. Though the stakes are high and the officers are often busy or traveling, they're trained to establish personal relationships with applicants. Often these admission folks aren't much older than you, and they're generally good-natured and sympathetic. Stating your case to someone who will review your application and ultimately make a recommendation to the committee is a smart idea.
posted by hamster at 12:29 PM on June 16, 2005


Let me also weigh in on the side of disclose all. This is exactly the sort of thing that could really hurt you down the road if you hide it. The potential downside down the road is much greater than the more immediate downside of disclosure. On a simple [cost of immediate disclosure] < [cost of later disclosure * probability of getting caught] basis, you should disclose.
posted by Mid at 1:52 PM on June 16, 2005


Does your current (or degree-granting) intuition have a pre-law advisor? Many do, and that person may be able to give you specific guidance to help you maximize your unique application.
posted by herc at 2:10 PM on June 16, 2005


Don't try pulling that crap. It isn't worth it.

right, I guess it's just a field thing - I'm in teaching now, so I don't include my previous work as a graphic designer on my CV, and I do include stuff like conference presentations, or departmental work. The omissions are not to hide anything in my past but just because it's irrelevant to the skill that is currently of interest. I do some part time work as a set builder sometimes that I wouldn't include when seeking work as a teacher, for instance. But I guess it's different because it's not a period of time unaccounted for; it's just stuff on the side that doesn't seem worth mentioning.

Anyway, your POV is probably more relevant than mine, but I just thought it would be worth asking the dept, since the credits are not toward anything (i.e., maybe to them it's the equivalent of taking some non credit continuing ed classes or something). Like I said above.
posted by mdn at 2:10 PM on June 16, 2005


Firstly, I think that the leaving irrelevant work experience off of a resume is not the same as the asker's issue.

When I do up a resume, I don't include the babysitting jobs I took growing up or the bottle depot I worked at for a month during university. I'm trying to make this resume as relevant as possible. I'm not going to include every little thing. As I get older, I expect I will continue to omit or simply summarize past work experience.

I'm currently working in the film industry. If business is good and I end up working steady for three years, that could be as many as five different jobs. When not applying for a film related job I would probably just put a summary instead of listing everything.

caddis: I think you mean more in the context of what the original post was though. Omitting because of possible undesirable consequences.
posted by ODiV at 2:44 PM on June 16, 2005


Seriously, everyone, thanks a million. I was feeling really shitty last night about the whole situation and ya'll gave me some hope. Being suspended from school is probably one of the worst things that's ever happened to me; but it was a huge wake-up call as well.

I wish there was more I could do to show you my gratitude. But a sincere thanks is all I can offer.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:47 PM on June 16, 2005


Good luck to you!
posted by caddis at 7:14 AM on June 17, 2005


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