I worked with a non-traditional student I’ll call Sam. He had an eclectic academic background, a low GPA, and an LSAT score well below the median for his target schools. Without the right approach to his application, he would be at a disadvantage when he applied to law school.

He began his education thinking he wanted to pursue a medical career and attend medical school. But unfortunately his grades in the undergraduate pre-med and science courses were not competitive and his overall GPA was affected. He then decided to switch his major to something completely different.

Upon graduation, Sam decided to pursue a career in nursing. Instead of remaining at the college to complete the required nursing courses, Sam applied for a second bachelor’s degree in nursing at another college. Sam approached his second bachelor’s degree with more discipline and maturity. As a result he graduated with a GPA of just above 3.0 and went on to work as a nurse. While Sam turned his academic record around, law schools, however, tend to focus only on the GPA of an applicant’s first bachelor’s degree.

Law schools do look at an applicant’s entire transcript, but it really comes back to that first GPA and Sam’s first degree was not indicative of his ability as a law student. Because his second GPA was so much better, I tried to draw schools’ attention to this and show them why they should place more weight on his second GPA.

Sam also came to me with a first draft of his personal statement. But it was a collection of unfocused stories, not really connected to law school or nursing. I said, ‘There must be one story that connects the law with what you’ve been doing; what made you finally decide to go after it.’ And we found it. The essay was very personal, detailing a situation that forced him to confront an ethical medical dilemma with one of his patients. This is when he realized he could combine medicine and the law. Most importantly, he was able to connect with the committee. His story became a turn-around story and he could present himself as a professional with a clear purpose and reason to want to enter law school.

Early career counseling could have saved Sam the trouble of switching majors and earning multiple degrees, and also might have saved him the time of writing a misdirected first draft. But with some help finding his focus and writing a great personal statement, Sam was accepted into a top tier law school.

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