An “F” on your transcript is not a law school death sentence. I am living proof of that. If you, like me, have failed a course here are some things to consider:
Was it early in your college career?
If you received an “F” during your junior or senior year, it will be more difficult to explain away. If it was during your freshmen year, and your grades improved afterward, you can use it to show growth and improvement. Law schools appreciate a strong upward trend in grades.
Was it in a law school related course?
When law schools evaluate your grades, they try to answer the question “will this person succeed in law school?” They will focus on courses heavy in reading, researching, and writing because these are skills critical for law students. I failed Calculus. Although an “F” in any course is undesirable, law schools understand that most law students aren’t strong in math courses. You might be in trouble if you consistently struggle in research, reading, and writing intensive courses, especially during your junior or senior year.
If you received low grades in several research/writing intensive classes, but later did well in upper level research classes, or did undergraduate research, highlight this in your personal statement or supplemental essays.
Was it due to a hardship?
Law schools understand that life happens. Death, illness, and hard times are all apart of life, sometimes we can’t avoid them.
I received my “F” at a time when I was taking Calculus, Chemistry, and a Nursing Assistant Training Course. One particular week, I worked 40 hours at a nursing home and 10 hours at my part-time, weekend job, all while moving. I still remember coming home close to midnight and collapsing onto my mattress (my bed frame wasn’t set up yet) surrounded by boxes. I still had Calculus homework to do, but there was no way I had energy to complete my homework.
I was able to explain this in my personal statement, but I didn’t dwell on it, I mentioned it, explained it, and moved on.
Should you mention it in your personal statement?
Your personal statement should tell a story and build a picture of who you are. If talking about your “F” doesn’t fit into that story, then don’t talk about it. Most schools will allow you to attach a supplemental essay, so talk about it in there.
If a short discussion about your “F” fits into your story, then mention it. For instance, I focused my personal statement on how I went from pre-med to wanting to attend law school, a brief discussion about failing Calculus fit into this narrative.
If you decide to attach a supplemental essay about your failing grade or even a trend of bad grades, make sure you have a compelling argument for why you will succeed in law school despite your grades. Remember, the best way to do this is to show an upward trend of grades. An upward trend in grades will speak much loader than words.
For anyone planning on applying to law school, I recommend reading The Law School Admission Game by Ann Levine. She gives instructions on how to write a personal statement and how to address your weaknesses, including bad grades.
Being transparent, understanding your failings, and overcoming them will go a long way in your personal statement. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my undergraduate career and how I changed, how my interests developed, and where my passions came from. Your failings can be just as important as your accomplishments if you understand how they shaped you into the person you are today.
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Read about my journey to law school.