Law School Discussion

34 y.o. returning student, question about poor past performance

So I started my educational college education in 1996, did ok but then left after a year on academic probation.  I returned to do an ABA approved paralegal program in 2003 and did well enough to get on the Deans List.  2008 I decide to go back to school but after a so-so semester (3.3 gpa for the term) I pick up a couple of F's and W's.  I had some complications at the time with my wife and health issues that kept me from focusing completely on my education at the time.

Now I'm back in school and just wrapped up the Spring semester with a term GPA of 4.0.  Best semester ever for me with a pretty tough course load.

So my question is...

I can get a 4.0 for the next 4 semesters and still barely get my cum. to 3.5 even with "Academic Renewal" for previous low grades... if that..  Will my past academic performance, being so long ago, have much weight for the schools I apply for or do they take a more pragmatic approach and look at the more recent work combined with LSAT score and "personal history?"

Additional info:

I'm a disabled veteran (Non-war related)
My interest is in Civil Rights law

I'm majoring in psychology with a minor in Women's Studies at California State University of Sacramento

Re: 34 y.o. returning student, question about poor past performance
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2012, 09:52:13 PM »
Your past performance will matter more or matter less depending on where you apply. Your LSAT score is key, and high score will give you much needed leverage.

When you apply you will have to write an addendum explaining why you were on academic probation, even if it was in 1996/2003. This isn't optional, as both LSAC and the individual law schools require it. Be honest and explain, but try not to make excuses. Your most recent grades and LSAT will be the main factors. Try to boost your GPA as much as possible and seriously, seriously study for the LSAT. A high LSAT score can do wonders for a lower GPA.

The law school admissions process is incredibly numbers driven. Issues like grade trend are not really primary factors if your GPA/LSAT profile is above a given school's average. Those schools will admit you on the strength of your cumulative numbers. Why? Because it raises their median numbers and makes them look better. If, however, you apply to schools where your profile is average or below average, it might become an issue. I would advise applying to schools where they want people with your LSAT score (whatever it ends up being) to make their numbers look better, you'll probably get in regardless. At more competitive schools, not so much. Those places have so many highly qualified applicants to choose from that you have less leverage.

I was in position somewhat similar to yours: I started law school in my early thirties and my GPA from 10 years past was mediocre. I focused on the LSAT, spent a couple of months preparing, took tons of practice exams, and got a great score. In my experience a high LSAT overcame an average GPA, and I received a 75% scholarship to my school of choice. 

Start preparing for the LSAT now. Buy some prep materials and familiarize yourself with the test. Identify your strengths and weaknesses early, and tackle them. The other factors you mentioned (veteran, WS major) are soft factors. Your numbers will determine your choices. I don't know if you want to remainin Sacto, but a mid 160's LSAT and a mid 3's GPA would probably get you a scholarship to McGeorge.

Good Luck!

Re: 34 y.o. returning student, question about poor past performance
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2012, 09:27:04 AM »
Thanks Roald!

Test prep sounds like the way to go.  I'm taking a Symbolic Logic class in the Spring of next year just prior to when I plan on taking the LSAT. 

Who knows, maybe I'll score high enough to diminish any negative effect my prior academic history would have on the decision process.  :)