April 6, 2010

Undue process

U of C students face unnecessary challenges in the law school application process

Pursuing a U of C education often means taking on a mind-boggling reading load, rising to lofty writing standards, and actively advocating complex ideas in class discussion. Although this academic rigor serves us well in many ways, it can be a liability when students apply to law school. But by introducing preparatory measures with precedents at the U of C and peer institutions, the College can substantially improve its students’ odds of getting accepted into top law schools.

First, the College could collaborate with the Law School to create a program analogous to the Business School’s Booth Scholars program, which enables fourth-years to apply for admission to the M.B.A. program. The core ideas of that initiative could also be applied to pre-law students. The University of Michigan and Georgetown already have scholar programs which allow their students to apply to their law schools on the basis of undergraduate performance alone, without taking the LSAT. Instituting a similar program at Chicago would improve the options available to undergraduates who have excelled here, but might not fare as well on standardized tests.

Second, a better pre-law program would surely include an LSAT prep course similar to the MCAT course currently offered by the Biological Sciences department. Even if the course were only offered on a pass/fail basis, it would save pre-law students time and money. Prep courses offered by companies can cost more than $1000 and require multiple trips downtown each week. The opportunity to take a University-run course would make getting ready for the highly-important LSAT much easier for Chicago students.

Lastly, because of the way students’ GPAs are recalculated when applying to law school, the College should modify its grading scale to include A-pluses. All law school applicants are required to submit their materials to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), an organization that compiles and submits their applications wherever they want to apply. Before sending out students’ applications, the LSAC recalculates their GPAs on a standardized scale which weights each A-plus as a 4.33. As a result, students from schools where A-pluses are available have an advantage when applying to top law schools, which place such an overwhelming emphasis on GPAs that few hundredths of a point can make the difference between an acceptance and the wait list. The University could adopt a policy similar to Princeton’s, which gives A-pluses but weights them the very same as A’s in university-calculated GPAs. This would be a minor change to Chicago’s grading policy, but it would allow students who performed exceptionally in a few courses to benefit when applying to law school.

Whatever the LSAT and GPA numbers that show up on their applications, graduates of the College are eminently prepared to succeed when they move on to law school. By creating a scholars program, providing an LSAT prep course, and allowing A-pluses, the College could more fully ensure that law school admissions committees don’t overlook that.

— The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors.