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California State University, Long Beach
Department of Criminal Justice

Pre-Law FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What if I am in a particularly hard program or major, and my grades reflect that?

Some programs are more difficult on their face (e.g., molecular biology) and require no explanation for a lower GPA. But if your degree is from a program known to be difficult at your particular college, but perhaps not in the world at large, be sure to include a letter of recommendation from a faculty member who can explain why your undergraduate work should be given weight, even if your grades are not as high as those for applicants that particular law school normally admits.

What if I had one bad semester that really pulled down my GPA?

Most law schools will see the breakdown by semester when they review the LSDAS report. But if you have a particular reason for a bad semester (a personal problem, family illness, etc.) you should include a statement explaining what happened to your grades as an addendum to your application. Do not try to explain the problem in your personal statement, which should be reserved for positive information about you and what you can offer that law school. You should also ask those writing your letters of recommendation to discuss shortcomings in your application, offering reasons why these shortcomings are not demonstrative of your true abilities. In other words, let your professors explain your shortcomings in context, rather than trying to do it yourself, thereby avoiding the appearance of making excuses.

To how many law schools should I apply?

The general wisdom is to apply to at least:

  • 1-2 “safety schools”;

  • 3-8 schools in which you are interested and where your academic credentials place you in range for admission;

  • and 1-2 “dream schools” or “reach schools” that you would love to attend, but where you may be a stretch for admission. Note this does not mean applying to a school to which you stand virtually no chance of admission!

Should I apply based upon a law school's specialty programs?

If you are absolutely certain of the area of law in which you plan to practice, or have a particular background that you plan to combine with your law degree (e.g., you're an engineer who wants to go into patent law; a nurse or biologist who wants to go into health care law; etc.), then it makes sense for you to consider schools that are strong in your chosen area (or, at minimum, be sure they offer upper-level course-work in your area of interest). Keep in mind, however, that the J. D. is intended as a general degree. You are both required to and encouraged to take a broad range of courses in law school. Chances are, what you think you may want as your specialization now is highly likely to change once you are in law school.

Do I have a better chance of being admitted to a better law school if it is not in California?

Yes. Because schools like to have a diverse class, geographic diversity helps them meet that goal. Accordingly, you might make a better law school in the mid-west, south, southwest, or east coast than you could get into if you limited yourself to the usual west-coast corridor schools.

What effect will a disciplinary record have on my chances for admission to law school?

It depends. If you disciplinary record is for an academic integrity violation, the chances of you getting into law school are next to nil. If, however, you were on social probation for having some beer while underage, it will have little impact on your application so long as you disclose the incident, and explain what you learned from it. You must diffuse the disciplinary incident satisfactorily to have an admissions committee overlook it.