App Happy: Graduate School Edition

September is upon us. Many schools have officially opened their applications for the 2018-2019 law school admission cycle, and the LSAT is just around the corner. In this next App Happy post, we’re going to take a deeper look into application consideration for students with graduate school backgrounds.

Note: This post is the result of a thoughtful question from reader KHAMILTON16. Thank you for reaching out! If anyone else has a pre-law question, please comment below or reach out to me directly.  Additionally, please note that I have not attended graduate school and thus am relying on other's advice. I would love to hear from those that pursued a graduate education and navigated the law school process.

GPA: While your graduate school degree can help your application, it will not take the place of your undergraduate GPA (UGPA). As Powerscore describes, a grad GPA will not replace, get combined with, or bolster the UGPA. A low graduate school GPA also won’t necessarily bring down a high UGPA. Similar to letters of recommendation (see below), timing matters. If you are a seasoned professional that recently performed well in a master’s degree program, yet have a lower UGPA, your master’s grades may show your strong potential as an applicant. As a note, be sure to provide all transcripts (undergraduate, master’s, and any other college-level coursework) to the LSAC, regardless of the GPA you’re working with.

The hard and fast rule: Your undergraduate GPA is often weighted more than your master’s GPA; however, a strong or weak master’s GPA may have an impact on how schools view your potential as an applicant.  

Letters of Recommendation: While there is a consensus in the pre-law community regarding the standard for all letters of recommendation, there is little information out there as to whether undergraduate or graduate professors are best. Letters of recommendation should provide a demonstrably positive, yet comprehensive representation of the applicant. The purpose of these letters is to affirm not only that the applicant would succeed in law school, but also that the applicant would be an asset to the law school community. 

Identify who you know in your academic and professional experience that can speak to the qualities that will best suit you for law school. As Ann Levine mentions, these letters are the one place, beyond an interview perhaps, in which someone else can speak on behalf of your application. It may make the most sense to consult an undergraduate professor (or graduate student instructor if you had limited personal contact with your professors) that challenged you your first undergraduate year and then saw your passion emerge in another class or research project as a senior.

This situation becomes a bit trickier when determining whether graduate professors or undergraduate professors would be best. In response to a question on one of her insightful series of blog posts, Yale Law School Dean Asha Rangappa asserts: 

"As far as advice, I think generally, two to three really strong letters are fine if they are all coming from undergrad. Perhaps if you are a graduate student you might opt to have two from undergrad and two from graduate school, but even then I think one from graduate school would be fine."

If you’re years (5+) removed from your bachelor’s studies, a graduate school professor can affirm an undergraduate professor's recognition of your potential and then speak to how you exhibited these qualities in the graduate school setting. This also applies to those who are removed from both undergraduate and graduate school. In this case, an employer or volunteer supervisor may provide an added reflection of how you are now can excel in a rigorous law school environment.

The hard and fast rule: If you are a serial student  (i.e., from undergrad to grad school and now law school) the required letters of recommendation should come from undergrad professors; however, an additional letter of recommendation from a carefully chosen grad school professor (or supervisor if graduate school feels light years away) can highlight your development.

Resume: You enrolled in your master’s program for a reason. Be sure to highlight your experience in the Education section of your Resume and include any and all relevant professional and extracurricular experience.

Written Work (Addenda, Personal Statement, Supplemental Questions): This is an opportunity for you to link your graduate experience with your transition into law school. A Political Science major that pursued a Master’s in Public Policy to Law while working as government policy analyst and now seeks a law school's public interest program follows an intuitive path. A Biology major that pursued a Master’s in Urban Design that now is seeking a JD, while not impossible to link (i.e., a future role in analyzing public health issues related to development) may require a bit more of an explanation.

Every component of your application is a chance to highlight your progress on your educational journey and how you’ve taken the impressive undergraduate and master’s work you’ve done and are parlaying into law school.

Feel like I’m missing something? Want to dive deeper into another pre-law application issue? Please don’t hesitate to reach out.


Tatum Wheeler is a fellow law aspirant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she’s not working as a Research Associate, she spends her free time exploring new trails with her dogs, reading narratives, and cheering on her favorite sports teams. Please feel free to contact her with any questions, comments, or further advice.

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