Should I Write an Addendum About My Undergraduate GPA?

I'm applying to X Law School and I have almost everything done. Just have to finish fine-tuning the conclusion of my personal statement.'s my concern.  So I got a 167 on the LSAT, and I know that with that score I'm in the 25-75 band for the school.  I also am finishing up my M.Ed. in dual language education (have a 3.925 GPA in that), and I served in Teach For America--even staying in my school for a third year.

Now for the undergrad GPA was a 3.369 (LSAC's counting it as a 3.37).

What that number doesn't account for is that I actually took 155 credit hours in the course of four years (and ended up getting both a BBA and a BA), worked 20+ hours every semester (except my 1st semester freshman year), and was a leader in campus organizations from sophomore year up (left out secretary of College Democrats and a gay/straight alliance from my resume due to controversial nature).

How would you recommend getting this across without sounding whiny in an addendum?  I know for a fact that X is the school I want to go to, and I don't just want to be rejected due to having been over-committed during college. Advic

Good luck with your applications. Get those submitted as soon as possible, because time is of the essence now (as lawyers like to say).

I have a couple of reactions to your message, and I'll try to frame them in ways that are applicable to other applicants and especially people who are still in college making all kinds of decisions about how to allocate their time.

1. LSAT: Saying you're in the "25-75 [percentile] band" with your LSAT isn't actually saying very much. If your score is around the top quartile, good for you, because that score would then be an attractive one for a given school. If it's around the bottom quartile, your score is not going to be considered competitive, unless you have other important factors tipping in your favor (underrepresented minority status, important and close alumni connections, something really eye-popping in your background, etc.) Applicants need to be thinking about their LSAT scores with some precision when they are assessing their competitiveness.

In your case, a quick look at that school's admissions profile in the LSAC database suggests that your 167 score is just below the midpoint of their published LSAT quartiles (LSAC does not publish medians). That's good, but not great, and you should have numbers that are great for a given school if you want to be competitive this late in the season and so close to deadlines. Of course I hope that School X falls in love with all sorts of other things in your application, but in the interests of managing your expectations, your score is not going to be a plus for you at that school (and I mention that only because you seem to be putting it in the list of pluses in your message).

2. GPA: For law school admissions purposes, most if not all of the emphasis is going to be on your undergraduate transcript and performance (vs. graduate school). Your dream school doesn't publish GPA quartiles on the LSAC site, but your GPA strikes me as low for that school.

If we plug in your LSAT score and your undergraduate GPA (we'll take the slightly higher LSAC GPA calculation) into LSAC's GPA/LSAT calculator, the odds coming back for School X based on last year's admissions data are less than 15%. Will an addendum about your GPA move that needle much? For most people with those odds, it wouldn't, but I understand the desire to do what you can to move it. You are right to be thinking about how best to present your undergraduate performance, which, combined with your LSAT score, is going to matter most in the admissions process.

As you already know, a transcript in and of itself conveys woefully little. It doesn't indicate whether the individual classes you took were fluffy or challenging (although sometimes course titles strongly point in one direction or another), whether your individual professors were tough or easy graders, what the average grades were for your individual classes or even your whole graduating class, etc.

Your transcript should, though, already be flagging some of the things you're worried about conveying to admissions officers. It should, for example, list the credits you were taking each semester, so if your class load was high, admissions officers will see that. Similarly, if you earned a dual degree, your transcript should indicate that, too. I would not recommend submitting an addendum in order to convey information that is readily available on your transcript (and/or on your Academic Summary Report). Addendum essays should be reserved for important information that admissions officers can't readily find elsewhere in your application.

3. Jobs/Activities: What a transcript and your ASR won't convey are your commitments outside the classroom, and admissions officers won't know about those unless you tell them somewhere in your application.

Check your application forms carefully. Many application forms expressly require you to list your activities and jobs while in college, and many also require you to list the time commitment involved (either on the form itself or on an attached resume). If they ask for that information, give them the pertinent information there and leave it at that.

In that instance, again I would advise you not to submit an addendum, because you'd be giving them redundant information.

The good news is that if they didn't care about that information, they wouldn't ask for it, so they do in fact want to know what your obligations were while you were in school. That information gives them a more nuanced way to interpret your academic performance, and to assess your engagement with the school, community, and world around you. The latter matters because in constructing a 1L class, admissions officers are putting together a community, and your prior activities give them some sense of how engaged you would be with your new community.

For those reasons, you should not be leaving out your role in the College Democrats or the gay/straight alliance, particularly since you had leadership roles.Those are perfectly legitimate student activities, and you're selling yourself short if you don't include them in your application.

4. Overcommitment in college: Were you overcommitted? It sounds as if you were, as you readily acknowledge. You seem to write that off, though, as if it were a defense rather than a liability.

Overcommitting yourself won't necessarily mitigate your GPA, unless there were circumstances you couldn't control. For example, some people find themselves with competing pressures on their time because one of their parents was dying of cancer, or because they had to work many hours to support themselves, or maybe they became a new parent. Throwing yourself into totally voluntary extracurriculars at the expense of your grades? That's not as easy a case to make for discounting the weight of your GPA.

When I was an admissions officer, parents loved to give me an earful about this very issue (they were, in hindsight, the earliest helicopter parents). "But she did so many wonderful activities! She's so well-rounded! DON'T YOU CARE ABOUT ACTIVITIES?"

Well yes, activities are great, but we live in a world of priorities and trade-offs. In general, for the purposes of law school admissions, voluntary (vs. life-threw-me-a-curve-ball) outside time commitments are not more important than academic performance, and that kind of overcommitment also suggests an inability to manage one's time or priorities. Or perhaps activities were the intended priority, which is always the student's call to make, but don't expect admissions officers to share your priorities. LSAT + GPA in combination are typically going to matter more than your activities, as wonderful and as enriching as they may be.

My advice to current college students: Activities are great as long as you can manage your academic obligations. If and when they come into conflict, protect your transcript. You are applying to graduate school -- an academic program -- and admissions officers are going to care a lot about how seriously you took your academics. They're likely to think to themselves: "Is he also planning to hit the legal job market with only so-so law school grades and a resume full of lovely activities? Good luck with that." In the salad days of old, when you could get a great job out of a top law school just for fogging up a mirror, you could get away with so-so law school grades. That's not a good impression to make, though, in this market.

The good news is that you do have that graduate degree, and you were able to demonstrate different priorities and/or manage your time better in your graduate program. Showing matters much, much more than telling, so let your graduate transcript do the showing.

I can appreciate the instinct that many applicants have to try to write their way around underperforming GPAs in an addendum, but it would indeed probably sound whiny to submit one in this instance. Show off your activities and employment in your resume, and let those time commitments and accomplishments and work experiences -- as well as your better and more recent academic performance -- speak for themselves.

Of course, if you are admitted to School X, please come tell me I was wrong, and I will gladly eat my hat and cheer. I would love for you to defy the odds. Either way, please let us know what happens.

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).