Will Law Schools See My Non-US Transcripts?

I had about two semesters worth of credit from US undergrad schools, then another two from St. Andrews in Scotland, before leaving school for awhile. I’m finishing up through the University of London International Programme this May. The LSAC put my US GPAs on the report and then just put “foreign” for the st. andrews and uol grades. How might law schools consider this? Do they look at the individual transcripts or just the lsac report? My US GPA was really great, but the uol classes have been so-so given that I also am working beyond-full-time while finishing.

It sounds as if you have a lot going on, my friend! Life is like that sometimes. Not everyone experiences one smooth, contiguous journey through college. In fact, the majority of college students don't. 

Let's unpack the two questions that are bundled together in this scenario.

Will law schools see your international transcripts?

For readers who aren't familiar with how LSAC handles international transcripts, you can find their rules here. Since you'll be receiving your college degree from a non-US/non-Canadian institution, there are also separate rules around that here. You might have the option, or even be required, to submit your University of London transcript to LSAC's "authentication and evaluation feature" for international transcripts (which is separate from, and sometimes additional to, the Academic Summary Report that regular US-based applicants have). Will law schools see the underlying transcripts in the application stage? Here's where it gets tricky, and I'm bolding the relevant bits:

The Credential Assembly Service's (CAS) authentication and evaluation feature is a convenient and efficient processing service for international documents used in the law school application process. All non-US/Canadian transcripts with combined work totaling more than one academic year should be listed during registration for CAS and sent to LSAC. They are forwarded to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), where they will be authenticated and evaluated. There is no charge for this evaluation other than the standard CAS registration fee. The data is assembled into a credential evaluation document that contains AACRAO's summary, copies of the transcripts (and translations, as necessary), and a TOEFL or IELTS score, if applicable. All of these documents will be incorporated into the law school report. Upon submission of a matriculation decision, the original non-US/Canadian transcript(s) received by LSAC will be forwarded to the law school. Law schools can choose their level of participation in this service. The following links list law schools that require use of LSAC's authentication and evaluation service for JD applicants or law schools for which LSAC authentication and evaluation is optional. [Source here. Note that both links above will land you on the same LSAC page, where they have combined the required/optional schools into one master list.]

So whether the individual law schools will see the international transcripts or not is up to them, and you'll have to dig through that LSAC list linked to above to get a definitive answer. If you're still not sure, or if the law school doesn't show up on that list, call or email LSAC directly for clarification.

How will schools evaluate your so-so grades at University of London?

Admissions officers are pretty powerful people, but — for better or worse — they can't read minds. So if all they have in front of them is a transcript, with no further explanation of what's behind certain grade trends, you leave that backstory to their imaginations. Not all backstories are worth sharing. Hypothetically, if your grades had been so-so because you were spending too much time drinking at the pub, you'd be better off not trying to justify or spin your grades. As I like to say about a lot of addendum ideas that applicants have, it's best to let that sleeping dog lie.

But if you were working beyond full-time, as you say, that's important backstory for them to have. There are sections in the application form that ask you to list your work history along with dates and time commitments. However, you'd also be relying on weary-eyed admissions officers to be able to connect the dots and piece all that together in a quick read-through, and that might be expecting too much. So in addition to listing that required information in the application form, you could write a short addendum explaining the commitments you had outside of school during that time period. Or, even better, you can add a bullet in your resume, in the University of London section, where you say that you were working full-time while taking classes. The latter is my preference, but either of those solutions would get the point across.

Good luck!

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college and graduate school applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and submit their best applications possible. Read more law school tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions.