Do you have a low LSAT score? Low grades on your transcript? A leave of absence or withdrawal from classes?
Or, did you receive disciplinary action in college? Do you have a felony or misdemeanor?
These are all potential reasons to write a law school addendum.
What is a law school addendum?
A law school addendum offers law school applicants the opportunity to clarify anything in their academic or legal background that could be seen as a red flag by admissions.
This means that you have the space to tell your story, rather than leave it open to misinterpretation. Proactively addressing any potential issues may show that you can hold yourself accountable and learn from past mistakes or obstacles.
Should I write a law school addendum?
"While many situations do not require an addendum to your application, there are certain circumstances that warrant additional explanation that may not fit elsewhere in your application,” according to Hailey Russell, Director of Law Admissions at ONU. “For example, if you were required to work full or part-time during your academic career to support yourself or your family financially and your undergraduate GPA suffered, the admissions committee at ONU Law would love to know that. Otherwise, assumptions about a student's work ethic inside the classroom may be questioned."
Before you consider the specific reasons to write a law school addendum, here are two questions to ask yourself:
- Does the addendum tell the admissions committee something they wouldn’t already know from your application?
- Does the addendum act more as an excuse than an explanation?
If your answer to either of these questions is “no,” then you should reconsider whether or not writing an addendum is right for your application.
If you answered “yes,” you probably have a specific issue you’re thinking about that needs to be explained regarding your application. There are three reasons for writing a law school addendum:
- Low LSAT scores.
- Low GPA, low grades or other transcript issues.
- “Character and fitness” issues — namely, disciplinary action or a criminal record.
A low LSAT score is NOT, in and of itself, a good enough reason to write an addendum. While getting a good LSAT score is an important factor, law school admissions committees know to consider your entire application.
Some LSAT-related reasons that don’t merit writing an addendum include:
- Learning disabilities: The Law School Admissions Committee (LSAC) offers accommodations for those with learning disabilities. If you have a learning disability, please reach out to the LSAC before taking or re-taking the LSAT.
- A marginally lower score: If you have taken the LSAT multiple times and are scoring within 3-4 points, this isn’t a substantial enough difference to note anything on your application.
- A cancelled score: If you cancelled a score, you don’t have to explain that on your application.
However, there are certain extenuating circumstances that do make sense to explain in an addendum, including:
- Unforeseen circumstances: If your LSAT score was adversely affected by something beyond your control, like an illness, car accident or other sudden catastrophe, and was therefore lower than you expected. If this is the case, then you should retake the LSAT and explain the reasoning behind your (hopefully) higher score.
- History of not testing well: If you have testing difficulties that aren’t covered by the LSAC’s learning disability accommodations but are substantial and verifiable, and you can prove that you’re an outstanding student otherwise, you can explain that in your addendum if you have a low LSAT score. For example, you may have gotten good grades in high school but a poor SAT score, which would fall in line with your excellent undergraduate GPA and poor LSAT score.
- English isn’t your first language: If English is your second language and you struggled to complete the test on time, you should communicate that in your addendum.
- Large score discrepancy: If you had a big jump in your scores — six points or more — you should explain how that occurred. If you experienced a large drop in your LSAT score, you can provide context into what happened if the drop was due to the unforeseen circumstances described above. If you had a large increase in scores, you may not need to say anything unless the law school specifically requests it.
GPA and other transcript issues
While the LSAT is standard across all law school applicants, your GPA and transcript are subject to different college experiences. So, this area better lends itself to an addendum.
A challenging major or difficult course load are not good reasons to seek an addendum. Also, if your first year grades were poor but you improved after that, you don’t need to submit an addendum, as that is a normal college experience.
Instead, you should consider writing an addendum if you have grades at the D or F level, if you were on academic probation, or if you were subject to dismissal due to extenuating or unforeseen circumstances. Valid reasons include:
- Family emergency or unusual family responsibility: For example, if you took care of an ill or disabled sibling or parent, and that led to lower academic performance.
- Health issues: Undergoing an illness, physical trauma, substance abuse or mental health issues can be explained in an addendum.
- Illness or death of a loved one: If your grades suffered from the illness or death of a loved one, again, this is an issue you can explain in your addendum.
- Tough transition: If you had a difficult transition from high school or college, or maybe you started school too young, there is a potential for discussing that in your addendum, especially if your grades improved in your later college years — you can highlight your GPA from the second half of your undergraduate career.
- Job and financial reasons: If you worked through college, and this caused your grades to drop, be specific about your responsibilities and how your work influenced your academics.
- English as a second language: If you write an addendum about struggling with English as a second language, be sure to highlight how it has improved over the course of your undergraduate career, as reading and writing papers in English is a key part of law school.
- Personal difficulties: If you have suffered from personal challenges that directly impacted your academic performance, such as an abusive relationship or your parents’ divorce, then you can discuss that in an addendum.
Other transcript issues to possibly write an addendum about include withdrawals or leaves of absence from classes. You should always explain course withdrawals, whether it’s from one class, two classes, or all of your classes for the term. And, whatever the length, if you have a leave of absence on your college transcript, you should explain it in your addendum.
Character and fitness
There are a few reasons why you should add a character and fitness addendum to your law school application.
The first is infractions that happen in college, such as academic misconduct (e.g., plagiarism) or something else that leads to disciplinary action like a formal warning, community service, probation, suspension or expulsion. If you have anything like this on your record, providing an explanation in your addendum can show that you have learned from your mistakes (but, more on that later).
The second is if you have any kind of criminal record, including traffic violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. If this is the case, you need to read the directions of each law school application very carefully. The school will typically provide instructions for describing your record in the “misconduct” or “character & fitness” sections of the application. While some schools may want you to detail everything, including traffic violations, others may not require you to explain anything that’s been expunged from your record.
PreLaw Guru Peg Cheng provides examples for different types of law school addendums in her free guide, including those for people with criminal records. View the guide here.
How to write a law school addendum
We’ve covered the “when” to write a law school addendum — now, how should you write one?
What to include in a law school addendum
The easiest way to write a law school addendum is to break it down into this three-part structure:
- Part 1, The Introduction: Overview what happened. Why are you writing this addendum?
- Part 2, The Explanation: Discuss what caused it and provide context. Explain why the situation shouldn’t impact your chance of admission. How have you changed and/or learned because of it?
- Part 3, The Conclusion: End on a positive note and highlight any good stuff that’s come from your experience. How are you moving forward?
For the overall tone of your addendum, you should stick to the facts. Don’t be overly emotional, flowery, or extraneous in detail.
How long should a law school addendum be?
Your law school addendum, regardless of subject, should be concise. Three paragraphs, meaning one page or less, is the appropriate length.
Do’s and don’ts for writing a law school addendum
As you write your addendum, here are some best practices to keep in mind:
If you still are unsure whether or not you should submit a law school addendum, you can reach out to your college’s pre-law advisor or contact the admissions office at the law school.
How to submit your law school addendum
If you are going to submit an addendum, make sure you follow whatever format is required of the law school. ONU Law, for example, provides an opportunity in the free online application to include a detailed explanation of any character and fitness issues if applicable.
This made a difference for Savannah Murphy, L-3.
“I chose ONU Law because they were the only school that could look past my low LSAT score and see a hardworking, dedicated student,” Murphy said. “I applied to many schools that looked at my entire application and saw a promising future law student. However, because my LSAT score was below what one may deem acceptable, they gave me a ‘conditional acceptance.’ I am dyslexic. For years I have worked at not letting this learning disability hold me back. I worked long and hard for many years to get to a point where I did not need accommodations.
“My triumph helped me succeed in all scenarios except standardized testing… I needed somebody to listen to that side of my story. ONU Law did… I went to the school that looked past that number and saw a person who was capable and passionate.”
ONU Law evaluates law school candidates from a holistic perspective, making sure to discover students who will be able to reach their full potential in law school. Our Summer Starter Program, for example, is specifically designed for students who excelled as undergraduates but received a lower LSAT score. At ONU Law, you’ll never feel like just a number.