Academic Concerns for Prelaw Students

Grades: Like it or not, grades — together with the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) — play a critical part in the admissions process.

How should this affect your choice of courses? Ideally, not at all, but realistically it is better to take 16 credits and get A's and B's than to get C's with 20 credits. Law schools will receive a copy of your transcript, and admissions officers know from experience which disciplines are rigorous, which departments have strong academic reputations, and which courses have high and low curves. They also recognize when a student is systematically padding the transcript to achieve a higher grade point average.

If you are avoiding a course because it is difficult, or you are not certain whether a particular subject will interest you, take the risk. In the first place, one poor grade has never kept anyone out of even the most competitive law school, and secondly, you should be willing to explore. You may find that once you are exposed to unfamiliar territory, it may become an exciting academic interest.

Finally, our advice to major in a field which holds your interest has particular relevance with respect to grades. If you are enjoying what you are doing, the result will be better marks.

The Pass/Fail Option: Most admissions committees have mixed emotions about the pass/fail option. Although committees sympathize with the notion that pass/fail grading may give a student the opportunity to take a course that he or she otherwise would not, committees also feel that the more pass/fail marks on a transcript, the less information they have on which to base their judgment of your qualifications as an applicant.

One of the consequences of a permanent record ladened with pass/fail credits is that increasingly greater weight is placed on your LSAT score. As a general rule, you should not take more than one academic course on a pass/fail basis.

Withdrawals: Similarly, you should avoid withdrawing from courses whenever possible. This does not mean that you should never withdraw from a course, but a series of withdrawals over several semesters carries strong negative implications, from an attempt to manipulate the grade point average, to an inability to finish what you have started. Since most law schools have a prescribed first year curriculum, admissions committees look warily upon undergraduate students who fail to complete a term's expected course load.