September 25, 2007 6:17 PM   Subscribe

The LSDAS has my transcripts assembled and it's rather depressing. How much is this going to hurt me?

My GPA is a 3.37; however, without the 26 hours of Spanish that I was required to take my freshman and sophomore years my GPA would have been a 3.72.

There are a number of factors why I failed so miserably in Spanish. (1) I had a very poor Spanish teacher in high school (because it was an unruly class we never got much past learning basic vocabulary). (2) The teachers I encountered in college seemed to lack the proper training in teaching a foreign language. It was expected that the class have had foreign language in high school. (3) I took these Spanish classes in my Freshman and Sophomore years when I was less prepared to deal with such a challenge.

I was supposed to take only 16 hours of Spanish (two 5 hour classes, and two 3 hour classes); however it became 26 when I failed the first two introductory level classes (101 and 102). My grades in Spanish looked something like this:

Semester 1: Spanish 101 - F
Semester 2: Spanish 101 - B-
Semester 3: Spanish 102 - F
Semester 4: Spanish 102 - C+
Semester 5: Spanish 210 - A- (combined the final two courses).

LSDAS gives me a 1.80 GPA for these classes which really hurts my overall GPA as you can imagine. In fact, the 26 hours of Spanish accounts for a little less than 20% of my total hours and in many cases would be enough for a major in many disciplines. This is really a nightmare for me. My percentile rank is down at 36% (I had a 3.62 with the 10 hours erased due to retakes) which doesn't make me a very attractive candidate.

I'm really quite devastated by this because I had worked so hard to put this behind me. It wasn't that I was messing around in my Spanish classes, but that I had never been exposed to learning a foreign language before and had a very difficult time with the order of the language. The last teacher I had was actually studying linguistics and he was able to finally explain things to me. It was too late though.

I made the Dean's list the last five semester of my college years. I had almost all A's my last two years had it not been for a Shakespeare class. I got an A and an A+ in capstone courses for both my majors. Seeing this number is such a shock to me because I had what I thought was a 3.62 GPA, and now I'm afraid colleges that evaluate me aren't going to see past the cumulative GPA which is really misleading. I don't think that knowing Spanish correlates to being successful in law school, at least not in the United States.

Is there anything I can do other than write about this in my personal statement and hope for the best? How bad do you think this situation will hurt me? I just feel really really disheartened right now.

What's really funny is that my university allowed for students who had taken four years of foreign language in high school to be exempt from this requirement. So if I had four years of foreign language classes in high school, I wouldn't have had to take the 16 hours to begin with, let alone the 26. I went to a small rural school; however, and all they offered was the worthless two.
posted by j-urb to Education (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oddly, you are in almost the exact situation I was in when I applied to law school.

My undergraduate school calculated my GPA at 3.7.

LSDAS calculated my GPA at 3.38.

If you re-took a class at my undergraduate school, the grade from the second attempt completely wiped out the grade from the first attempt. I failed a philosophy class, a math class, and a sociology class, and re-took them all.

If it's any consolation, I went to a pretty well-ranked law school (solidly top 20) despite the crappy GPA.
posted by jayder at 6:24 PM on September 25, 2007

Response by poster: For jayder, what did you do to cope? Personal statement? LSAT? LOR?
posted by j-urb at 6:34 PM on September 25, 2007

Response by poster: More analysis . . .

Without Spanish:
81% of my hours were A's.
18% B's
0% C's
0% D's
0% F's

With Spanish:
71% A's
19% B's
4% C's
0% D's
7% F's
posted by j-urb at 6:34 PM on September 25, 2007

For jayder, what did you do to cope? Personal statement? LSAT? LOR?

I didn't even try to explain the GPA. My LSAT was 166 --- pretty good, but not Harvard or Yale-level. I was a section editor of my daily school newspaper, and it was incidentally my duties on the newspaper that interfered with my studies. I won the senior thesis prize in my department my final year. I had really good recommendations --- if anything helped me, I suspect it was the recommendations.
posted by jayder at 6:40 PM on September 25, 2007

I wouldn't put it in the personal statement either, but I'd consider including some kind of addendum, as most schools provide the opportunity to tell them "anything else that's relevant."
Also, get to know lawschoolnumbers.com if you haven't already. Finding your GPA on the charts can be very helpful in determining what you need to shoot for on the LSAT. Note that just about every chart has a downward-sloping line between green and red, which means that with a really great LSAT score, almost anything is possible.
posted by Partial Law at 6:45 PM on September 25, 2007

j-urb... You're obsessing over what is, in the end, nothing. Yes, your Spanish grades pull your overall GPA down. B. F. D. Any school worth applying to is going to look at your application somewhat holistically. As The World Famous wrote, your GPA is what it is; knock the ball out of the park, so to speak, with a stellar LSAT score and personal statement; you'll be fine.

For the record, I had the killer GPA, but my LSAT score left me wanting to jump off the nearest tall building; I focused on the personal statement. Applied to four schools, accepted at three, all top 10. (My safety school, solidly near the top of the, um, second tier, rejected me. Go figure.)

So there's every reason to remain positive and even hopeful. Good luck.
posted by t2urner at 6:54 PM on September 25, 2007

Just study for the LSAT and kick ass there. Your GPA won't matter one bit. Take a prep course if you have trouble with the puzzle section.
posted by mmf at 7:05 PM on September 25, 2007

Addendum. Trust me, write a short note explaining your case, without too many excuses. I graduated in the UK and the transcript validation bastards turned my 2-1 into a 2.8, which is ridiculous. The second time I applied I added an addendum just stapled to the back, I think it made a big difference and can't hurt.
posted by whoaali at 7:12 PM on September 25, 2007

Make sure your letter/personal statement explains exactly what you are talking about. To be real honest, as an attorney, I like to see analysis of yours. You have a theory and complex evidence, simply explained.

Make that personal statement a doozie! My grades weren't great, bad semesters in the beginning, really good ones at the end. Got in, got a job, got excellent experience right off the bat.

Find out who really makes the admissions decisions, and contact that person. If it is a committee, focus on one committee member instead of contacting them all.

Finally, remember this fact forever: law school is a business. They want you as a customer, and they want to see that if they accept you, you will stick in for three years pay with loans and then make some money and give some of that to them too. This means that you are simply selling yourself to them in a business transaction. Approach the game to win.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:26 PM on September 25, 2007

Find out who really makes the admissions decisions, and contact that person. If it is a committee, focus on one committee member instead of contacting them all.

I don't recommend contacting a committee member. Law school admissions is a very impersonal process (almost never are interviews conducted) and I suspect the law schools like it that way --- contacting a committee member could backfire.
posted by jayder at 7:28 PM on September 25, 2007

Just study for the LSAT and kick ass there. Your GPA won't matter one bit. Take a prep course if you have trouble with the puzzle section.

This is simply incorrect, and not very helpful, though it is certainly well intentioned. Killing on the LSAT will overcome deficiencies in the GPA to some degree, and get you into schools that you couldn't get into with a higher GPA and a less compelling LSAT. But it's not as though schools will ignore the GPA, and not everyone gets stratospheric LSATs.

You're obsessing over what is, in the end, nothing. Yes, your Spanish grades pull your overall GPA down. B. F. D. Any school worth applying to is going to look at your application somewhat holistically. As The World Famous wrote, your GPA is what it is; knock the ball out of the park, so to speak, with a stellar LSAT score and personal statement; you'll be fine.

The comment that your GPA "is what it is" is true in some sense -- you can't change it -- but there seems to me to be a genuine question about whether you can present it differently. It is also true that it may not matter much in the end if you succeed in law school, since many of the best jobs should be within reach.

Otherwise, I disagree with the comment. It's not realistic to just assume a stellar LSAT, though I surely hope the poster does succeed on that score. And the notion that "[a]ny school worth applying to is going to look at your application somewhat holistically" either puts overriding emphasis on "somewhat," thinks that only a couple of schools are worth attending, or ignores evidence that most schools (including many good ones) perform initial screening based on a combination of LSAT and GPA.

I think the question of whether to address the question in the essay is a genuine one. So too finding a post-college experience to distinguish the application. Doesn't solve the grid problem, but at least doesn't ignore it.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:14 PM on September 25, 2007

Writing an addendum to explain the situation may be a good idea, but I'd really strongly suggest you don't use your personal statement to address some bad grades you got your first two years of university. It wouldn't look good if that's the #1 thing about your life that you wanted to address. Accentuate the positive.

Also, a 3.37 LSDAS is good enough to get you into any law school, provided you did well on the LSAT, of course. You probalby already know, most schools give greater weight to your LSAT score. 170 plus and that 3.37 won't even keep you'll still have a great shot at top 10 schools.

Don't sweat it, it's part of your past.
posted by bluejayk at 8:15 PM on September 25, 2007

I am a 1L at a top 5 law school, and I spent much of the last year obsessing over just this sort of stuff.

The extent to which that GPA is going to hurt you depends a lot on what your goals are as far as schools and, obviously, how well you do on the LSAT.

LSAT is much more important than GPA, but even so, I'd guess that with a 3.37 LSDAS GPA you'd have nearly no chance at Yale, Harvard, Stanford even with a 180 unless you had really great soft factors. With regard to the rest of the top 10 or so schools, I'd guess that you need a 170, minimum, to have a chance.

If you go here you will see a list of all the people on lawschoolnumbers last year who had a 3.3-3.4 and an LSAT better than 170. Some of them in the lower 170s were getting into UMich, UVA, Georgetown, while at the higher end you may get into NYU or Columbia. Play around with the search function to get a better idea of other LSAT ranges.

Moreover, I think the fact that you had a couple of Fs, rather than just a number of Cs, may make schools less willing to discount the GPA. That is just speculation however.

Good luck.
posted by ecab at 8:34 PM on September 25, 2007

Another piece of advice would be to, after you know your LSAT score, pick a school right at the upper end of the schools you have a 50-70% of getting into and then apply early decision there. This can have a big influence on your admissions chances. Also, some schools, especially those in DC, have part time programs that are less competitive to get into but, I believe, allow you to transfer into the full time program without too much trouble.
posted by ecab at 8:42 PM on September 25, 2007

I just wanted to add that if you do decide to include an addendum or note of any sort about those grades, I would focus the analysis more on what you could have done differently and how you've worked on addressing anything that led you not to do well. In my experience, as a 2L at a T20 law school, excuses regarding other people's actions don't fly particularly well, even when they're true. To be quite honest, although I'm sure the reasons you gave are valid, to an outsider they come off as a little bit whiny and sound more like someone unwilling to accept any blame.

Law school admissions committees will be much more interested in how you fixed problems or came to realize them and began to address them than they will be ANY excuses. You might be even able to turn it around and make it a positive if you can write something brief that really exemplifies your ability to turn adversity into a learning experience.

I know I'm beating a dead horse, but I'm kind of freaked out by the people who tell you just to explain it as you have here, so remember NO EXCUSES.

Good luck!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:43 PM on September 25, 2007

I'm a graduate of a law school, and I agree with wuzandfuzz. No excuses.

You really did take those Spanish classes, and you really did fail them, and good schools are going to have plenty of applicants who didn't fail their Spanish classes. What you can do, though, is explain in a transcript addendum how much you've learned since your freshman year and how you won't make those same mistakes again.

I would write your personal statement about something else, something that highlights only positive traits.

It's hard to speak to your admissions prospects. If you're taking the October LSAT, what score are you anticipating, based on your practicing? Applying with a 3.37/170 would leave you with plenty of opportunities, but a 3.37/165 would close a lot of doors. If you're planning on taking the December LSAT, you might be hurt by applying late, but the extra practice could make up for it. It's hard to say.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:35 PM on September 25, 2007

I agree with wuzandfuzz and Clyde Mnestra entirely. (and on preview, Mr President etc.)

No matter how honest your explanation, you are the one responsible for those grades. The explanation you have above puts a lot of blame on your instructors. Whether or not it is true is irrelevant because it will come off as trying to deny responsibility for your own failures. I think you should not mention the grades in your personal statement or an addendum at all, but if you do, talk about what you did wrong and how you learned from that, as reflected in your later grades, not about how your profs sucked.

Better yet, I suggest having one of your recommenders address it for you. I did this and it seems to have worked. The effect is strong on a number of levels. First, by acknowledging a weakness in your overall credentials, the recommender gains credibility for being objective, so the positive things he or she says get more weight. Second, the prof can then actually talk about why the school should ignore the lower grades: "Having worked closely with j-urb in Seminar XYZ, I can say that his grades in Spanish from his freshman year truly do not reflect what a magnificent and brilliant candidate he is. The dilligence and sheer intellectual firepower he exhibited in my course set him apart from all the other students I have ever taught, and demonstrate without a doubt that he has matured significantly from the time he made those early missteps." ad nauseum.

I've read a lot of recommendations recently, and I think this can be very powerful.

Your LSAT will make up for your grades some places, but not everywhere. If you look around the top 25 law schools, you will see that some schools put much heavier weight on GPA than LSAT and vice versa. The very top schools emphasize both, and you may be stuck. I was. Candidates who are very strong in LSAT and low in GPA will fare much differently in admissions than those with very high GPAs and low LSATs, depending on the schools in question. Boalt, for example, is much more concerned with GPA than LSAT. Or it was when I applied, so I had virtually no chance.
posted by jewishbuddha at 11:53 PM on September 25, 2007

You can't change your history, so the one thing you should get across is your perfectly rational reason for continuing to take Spanish courses when the language was clearly not your forte. I think a one-sentence addendum explaining your degree requirements with no excuses offered is the way to go.
posted by backupjesus at 4:26 AM on September 26, 2007

It's been said already, but it's worth emphasizing: Attach a very quick addendum, if anything. Don't waste your personal statement on it, and don't blame your teachers.

Or--and this might work, or it might backfire--one thing that can work for situations like this is a recommendation from Prof. A-.

The LSAT will matter a lot more, although you probably will be in trouble at the very top even if your LSAT's good enough.

Don't contact the/any adcomm. I can't imagine it'd help and there's a good chance they'll laugh at you.

Good luck.

posted by deeaytch at 5:34 AM on September 26, 2007

Agree with those who said to accept responsibility for the grades--no one likes to hear excuses like you blaming the teacher. I had low grades my first three semesters of college b/c my high school just didn't prepare me for college-level work. I eventually figured stuff out, my grades got better, and I got honors for my senior thesis. But my GPA ended up being 3.3. I focused on killing on the LSAT and got a really good score. I did not address my grades in my personal statement. I don't think I did an addendum either, but it couldn't hurt. I also had 5 years work experience, which might have helped my application, to the extent it was reviewed "holistically." A lot of prognostication about law school admissions is probably based more on wishful thinking than anything, but I remember hearing that grades matter less to schools the longer you've been out of school. Which makes some sense--if you're 22, grades and LSAT are all they really have to judge you on. But if you've worked for several years, you've got other stuff on your application. I focused my application on my work experiences and how they had inspired me to go to law school. It's not clear from your post how long you've been out of school, but if you have non-school experiences, you could emphasize those.

I went to NYU, for what that's worth.
posted by Mavri at 7:30 AM on September 26, 2007

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