How Your Class Rank Affects Your LL.M. Admissions Chances

How Your Class Rank Affects Your LL.M. Admissions Chances

What is class rank and how does it impact your application? We ask admissions teams what they’re looking for – and what else you can do to stand out

Class rank is an important component of an LL.M. application at many law schools, especially in the US. Your class rank tells the school where you are applying how you were ranked relative to others in your previous class, using your GPA (or grade point average).

For example, each semester Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law calculates and publishes JD students’ GPAs alongside their class rank (in the latest rankings, for example, a student with a GPA of 3.843 was ranked 2/72).

While students’ names are not published with their rankings, it makes it easy to match up GPA with class rank.

At other schools, such as the University of Kentucky, class rank is shown as a percentage: eg. if you had a GPA of 3.673 or above, you were ranked within the top 10% of your class.

Admissions teams use their knowledge of different law schools combined with your class rank to get a picture of your academic performance.

All LL.M. admissions managers interviewed for this story say that class rank is just one of a number of deciding factors in the LL.M. selection process. 

Osgoode Hall Law School, York University“If we see someone who is very close to the top of their class, that’s going to be a very persuasive factor in the admissions process,” says Meghan Thomas, director of professional graduate and international programs at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Toronto.

“The place where the class rank or GPA would make the biggest difference [to whether they are admitted] would be when people are applying to us right out of their degree program,” says Thomas. “For those candidates, that is the most recent evidence of their academic ability.”

“The less professional experience someone has, the more important the grades are going to be.”

“If someone is applying to us right out of law school, or they have a fairly limited amount of work experience, then we’re going to be looking more closely at the grades and certainly how someone did as measured by their own school’s grading approach,” says Thomas. That’s where the class rank comes in handy.

What if you don’t have a class rank?

Thomas says that only some law schools offer a class rank – but when they do, it’s a useful way for LL.M. admissions teams to get a picture of where you sit among your former classmates.

“We’re looking more at grade point average (GPA), but we would also look at where that person is in terms of their school,” says Thomas. “We get applicants from many different jurisdictions, and in some of those there is a class rank on the transcript, while on others there is not.”

Elise Kraemer, Executive Director of Graduate Programs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School says that even without a declared class rank, it is still possible to glean information based on which law school you attended.

“At Penn Law, because we have been doing this for so long, and I’ve looked at thousands of applications, I can look at a certain school or region and get a sense, based on their grades, where they fall.”

Kraemer says if she needs more information, she might reach out to alumni to get some more context. “This helps me get a better idea of what a given transcript really means.”

At York University, Thomas says admissions teams will use their knowledge of different schools and jurisdictions to get a sense of where you sit.

“Certainly the class rank can be helpful for us in judging how the grade profile is done at a particular school or in a particular jurisdiction,” she says. “If someone has, for example, a B grade point average, that could be very close to the top of the class if it has a low grading profile, or it could be middle of the pack.”

Thomas says her team tries to “compare apples with apples”, as grading tends to be similar within a jurisdiction, but might not match up when you compare it with another one. “We get a lot of applicants coming to us from UK law schools, so we would try to compare those applicants against one another,” she says.

“In a situation where two students’ profiles are similar, the grades might be the thing that makes the difference.”

Other important aspects of an LL.M. application 

Fordham University School of LawToni Jaeger-Fine, Assistant Dean for International and Non-JD Programs at Fordham University School of Law says, “academic performance is important, but our team will always look holistically at an application.”

“If you didn’t do so well academically, you can make up for it with other things in your file,” says Jaeger-Fine. “For example, work experience, or really good TOEFL, really good letters of recommendation or a wonderful essay.”

At Penn Law, Elise Kraemer says there are aspects of an application beyond grades that can mark academic success.

“Those may be communicated through a letter of recommendation perhaps, where someone may have done a thesis that was particularly successful,” she says. “We see that sometimes with someone whose grades were just decent but they were awarded a special honor for their thesis, or another aspect of their academic achievement.”

Overcoming a poor class rank

Kraemer says it’s also worth taking time to explain any dips in academic performance.

“Perhaps there was something going on in the applicant’s personal life that may be worth commenting on in their personal statement or addendum,” she says. “Or they may want to note that they worked fulltime during their academic career which didn’t allow them to have quite the level of academic performance that they might have otherwise.”

Meghan Thomas at York University agrees. “If someone’s grades are not great, we’re still going to look at what else that applicant has to offer. So it’s important for people to include details about their work or other professional experience.”

York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School includes a supplementary form with its LL.M. application package, prompting applicants to provide more context to their application if they feel it is needed. 

“In particular,” says Thomas, “if they have low grades and they want to provide us with any information about that, or add some context, then they’re welcome to do that. We certainly take that into account when we’re looking at grades that are low.”

“And also, if someone went to law school five, 10, 15 years ago, then low grades are going to be looked at in the context of the person’s current ability and experience.”

“At our university, in graduate studies, students are expected to perform at at least the B level – or better – in their graduate courses,” says Thomas. “So what we’re looking for when we’re assessing academic ability is, ‘is this somebody who we think can perform at that level, and ideally better than that?’”


Images:

  • Study books by Pexels CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
  • Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, supplied
  • Fordham University School of Law New Building by Howchou CC BY 2.0

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