Chances at Top Law School//Peculiar Case


I am a junior at Swarthmore College majoring in Art History. My cumulative GPA is a 3.96 and I plan to maintain a minimum 3.9 GPA. The first semester of my freshman year at my school is always C/NC. The second semester of my freshman year was also C/NC because of COVID. I took the second semester of sophomore year off for financial reasons because I didn’t want my family to spend money for an online education. I still plan to graduate on time in spring 2023 because I had some AP credits. I wanted to go straight into law school, but after some advice from my school’s pre-law counselor, I decided it would make more sense for me to apply after my graduation. Therefore, I will have a total of 5 semesters on my transcript. So here comes my first question: Will it look bad on my transcript if I study abroad for one of those semesters? I want to study abroad this upcoming spring (second semester of junior year) in Italy. The program is not particularly competitive and I am taking mostly art classes. Therefore, I predict that I will be able to get a 4.0 that semester. My concern is that law schools won’t think highly of the grades I earned during the study abroad. Instead they are stuck with 4 semesters of grades which is quite little to look at…
Another HUGE concern I have is due to my stupidity… oops! Back in July 2019 when I was an overambitious senior in high school, I decided to take the LSAT because they were going through a transitional period and would allow students to cancel the score after seeing it. I have test anxiety so I wanted to see how I did in such an environment. Obviously, I did horribly so I cancelled it. Little did I know that even a cancelled score would show up on my LSAT transcripts and that the LSAC would create the first-time test taker Score Preview policy. I took the LSAT again this past summer and got a 162. I plan to retake it and per my practice tests, I will get in the 168-172 range (if I perform well). I plan to submit an appendum explaining the cancelled July 2019 score. My second question: What will law schools think of this? Does it hurt my chances at all?
So considering this peculiar situation where I have only 5 semesters on my transcript and a strange LSAT history, are my chances at a top law school in danger? I still have a great GPA and with the right practice I hope to get a competitive LSAT score. I really want to go to a T20 law school…
I would appreciate some advice and thoughts! Thank you!

I do not think your law school chances will be harmed by any of the things you identify, including the five semesters, and the art-focused program in Italy. It will be very important to get a good LSAT score (and if you do, I don’t think I’d even mention the cancelled score) and to maintain your excellent GPA. Top law schools look first for students who can do the work, so the LSAT and GPA are important for gatekeeping purposes, but there are lots of candidates with excellent stats, so you need something more. I went to a T3 law school after a very up and down academic career and a couple of work breaks (I worked as a secretary at a newspaper and a music industry PR firm), and my law school classmates were the most interesting mix of people imaginable. The top law schools are looking for people with imagination and drive as well as smarts, so it may be that whatever is pushing you to do the art semester in Italy is something they will find very attractive.


You won’t only have 4 semesters on your transcript, you’ll have 7. You’ll have c/nc grades for some courses, but that’s what the school offered and many schools do that, especially for 1st year students. Study abroad is a good thing, and the courses will have grades.


Agreeing with the above responses, but checking one important detail: who does the teaching / evaluating / grading in your study abroad program? I have seen more than a few students discover too late that the evaluating and grading is done by the local university, that the systems are very, very different, and that their pretty GPAs have been torpedoed. Be clear about the policies that will affect you. Also, if the local university does the teaching & marking, don’t be over-confident about your ability to get perfect marks.

The advice from your advisor is spot on: the majority of students accepted to T20 law schools have had 1-3 years work experience- often, but not necessarily, in law firms. If you want to work in a law firm for that time, there are quite a few law firms that will pay you very handsomely, accommodate LSAT prep class & testing schedules and write you very nice LoRs- and expect you to leave within 2 years (ie, will nudge you out the door, to make room for the next crop of grads!). If that path is interesting to you, start researching them now- use your alum network / career center / etc.

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Agree that, for a student who is committed to law school, it is worthwhile to dig deeper to understand grading practices and history for study abroad classes. The LSAC recalculates a student’s gpa, including all courses taken at all institutions. In some European systems, the grading policies are quite strict so that even “good” grades in that system will bring down an otherwise excellent gpa, once recalculated by the LSAC. If it were my student considering study abroad, I would encourage them to find out from students who have done that program what the grading scale and practice is, and to understand how that scale is recalculated by the LSAC. It sounds a bit overly-intense to research that kind of thing, but law schools only consider the recalculated, LSAC gpa so it is worth going in with your eyes open.


I think that you are worrying too much about undergraduate courses and grading structures when the most important factor in law school admissions is an applicant’s LSAT score.

Your current score of 162 is just high enough to get you into trouble, in my opinion.

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The 162 was from a test taken as a HS student. The OP plans to retake.

As I read the original post in this thread, OP earned the LSAT score of 162 in the summer between his or her sophomore & junior year at college (Swarthmore).

OP shared: “I took the LSAT again this past summer and got a 162.”

The cancelled score earned during OP’s high school days has not been revealed in this thread.


My mistake

The cancelled score from high school should be a non-issue, some schools require applicants to explain the circumstances of any cancelled test (at least, cancelled pre-covid), a short sentence stating it was taken during high school should suffice.

More importantly, a student getting a 162 now should prep seriously to make sure they get over a 170. The number of students getting 170+ scores rose precipitously during the pandemic, due to changes in the test format and setting, so the LSAT median at T20 schools has risen as well. Law school admission is almost entirely data-driven – what matters most is LSAT and LSAC gpa, then, at the edges, work experience and so-called “softs.” There are plenty of sites which will show historical admission results, including merit awards, for students with X LSAC gpa and Y LSAT, though the last two years have been an absolute wild ride, so results from several years ago may not have a lot of significance now.

It is pretty common among upper-middle class and wealthy applicants to take 6+ months to prep more or less full time for the LSAT – it is an economic issue because plenty of people cannot afford to move in with their family and be unemployed for 6 months, plus pay for test prep services. I know Khan testing has partnered with LSAC to offer free test prep in an effort to remove one economic barrier from test prep, though there are still a surprising number of applicants who can afford to take 6-12 months off to prep more or less full time – maybe they have a volunteer gig so there is not a gap in their resume, but they are basically doing test prep. (I am a law professor who writes a lot of LORs for law students applying for jobs/clerkships etc. and see their resumes – almost every time I’ve asked about a gap in their work history, or something where it was clear they moved home, they explained it was to do test prep.


Admission is even more competitive now. My co-worker (we’re doing an Americorps teaching year) has a really high LSAT score, a master’s degree, and excellent grades. He applied ED to Cal and really thought he’d be admitted and get a big scholarship because his stats were higher than others admitted/scholarships granted in past years. Deferred. They told him they something like 25% more ED applicants than last year, all very qualified.

He’s now applying to many more schools, some top ranked, others with the program he’s interested in.

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It might be worth applying to your home state’s public flagship law school as well.