From Canada to Harvard Law School?

by Judge Josh on January 17, 2011

Rebecca’s a Canadian student who’s transferring in the States to marry her CanadiAmerican fiance. Many congrats in advance to the happy couple. But she has big dreams of Ivy League law school and wants to know if her current plans will translate into admission there.

Hey Judge Josh,

Thanks for all the great advice you give on here! To jump right in, I am currently a Canadian student in my second year of an undergrad degree, attending Laurentian University in Ontario. However, next year for my third year I will be going as an exchange student to Northern Arizona University.

ivy league canadian


Well, you’ll be glad to know that there won’t be too much climate shock. It can still get damned cold in Flagstaff, although the summers are lovely. :)

I will be marrying my American boyfriend in the spring (he has dual citizenship and we are moving to AZ together) and will then hopefully transfer to and finish my degree at NAU. Once finishing my BA in Psychology, I want to attend law school. Hopefully by that point I will be an American citizen.

Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos, Rebecca!

I currently have around a 3.9-4.0 GPA. My question is, if I want to attend an Ivy League school like Stanford or Harvard, is the fact that I have completed half my degree at a Canadian university and the other half at NAU going to be detrimental to my chances of admission?

Well, just so you know, it is a hellaciously difficult task to get into Stanford or Harvard law schools regardless of where you went to undergrad school. They are, according to my data, the 2nd and 3rd most competitive law schools by acceptance rate in the U.S. Stanford admitted 9% of applicants in 2009, and Harvard admitted 12% (If you’re keeping score at home, Yale was tops at 7.3%).

So, while not insurmountable and certainly not impossible, getting into Stanford or Harvard Law is, in all fairness, brutal and against-the-odds. Those who get in often go to very competitive undergrad schools, and unfortunately neither NAU nor Laurentian is in that highest tier of competitiveness. So I don’t think the Canadian-school thing matters a lick, actually — but the fact that both schools are lower on the competitive scale is definitely a strike against you in an already uphill battle.

What’s the antidote to all this? LSAT scores. If you’re going to get into a great law school, you’ll have to destroy the LSAT. So study up! Also, you’ve got to keep your GPA super-high. You pretty much can’t afford anything less than an A at this point. And again, this is IF we’re looking at Harvard and such.

You do need a safety school or two, given the long odds. ASU and U of A are both fine law schools that’ll be a hell of a lot easier to slide into than the others. Don’t forget to apply to them, or another safety school of your choosing.

Oh yeah, here’s the site I got all this acceptance data from:

http://www.ilrg.com/rankings/law/index.php/1/asc/Accept

I currently am shadowing a lawyer here in Canada, and am trying to take electives such as sociology and political science which is what law schools here tend to look for on a transcript. I have not yet taken the LSAT, but have started studying for it and will continue to do so for the next year or so. I feel quite confident in my chances of scoring high enough to satisfy admissions at these schools.

I’m definitely not saying you can’t do it, but I do want to manage your expectations. It won’t be easy — you’ll have to have a killer score on the LSAT and a killer GPA to make it. Study hard, good luck! Let us know how it goes!

If you could give me any advice on this, it will be greatly appreciated. Thanks again, Judge Josh!

Sincerely,
Rebecca

You bet. Good luck!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous January 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Hang on a minute! There are some seriously awesome universities in Canada, and for the record, many don’t say “ooh! ahh!” to several American standards. I am a Canadian who is studying this semester at University of Arizona, 1) for the diversity experience and (2) (selfishly) escaping the nasty Canadian winter. While I’m enjoying my courses and see tremendous value in the Southwest ‘immersion’, I already know that my home university will not award full transfer of credits. Rebecca, you should really make sure you don’t burn any bridges.

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Jimmy January 17, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I think the first question to ask is why are you considering Ivy League Law schools? What do you plan to do with the degree after you graduate? While there is a false sense of importance for Ivy schools, the reality is more and more employers are recognizing the uselessness of said degrees. Grade inflation at Harvard has made a degree from there equal to a diploma mill one.

When I was young, Harvard degrees meant something because it was a quality school. It still has a rep that way with the less knowledgeable, but it has become a joke among those who are familiar with its grade inflation and other bad academic practices.

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Jimmy January 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Another question is who’s paying for the degree? This follows on the first question because unless you get a free, or almost free, ride for going there, the cost is over $70K (based on estimates from HLS’s COA) for the last 9-month period and not set for 2011-2012.

I did some further research on HLS and its grading policy is even worse than I knew. It seems reducing stress over grades has resulted in what looks like a no-fail policy. The only question is which pass category you fall into. Many instructors ban laptops, and based on my personal experiences at many other schools, it is merited.

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Jimmy January 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Another question is where are you going to practice law? Currently, 1 in every 300 of the US population are lawyers, not including various support personnel.

I feel the Judge’s most important comment has been about the low probability of getting into an Ivy League Law School. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get into them, but you need Plans B, C, D, etc. in the likelihood you won’t make it.

The ROI of attending Ivy League schools makes it a poor financial choice if you wind up owing huge student loans when you are done.

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Jimmy January 17, 2011 at 6:26 pm

If you really want to get into HLS, you should give serious consideration to where you want to finish your undergrad degree.

Contrary to published information, who you know is very important to getting in. Proper connections can overcome where you get your Bachelor’s.

On the LSAT’s, the average of how many times you take the LSAT’s is another factor.

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Jimmy January 17, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I’m not trying to discourage your goal, but I think it is important to realize the likelihood of success. HLS has been relying too long on its name, but the ever increasing number of sub-standard grads from the school is beginning to tarnish that name.

Thrity years ago, I would have hired a Harvard grad with the lowest passing GPA without hesitation. Now, one with a 4.0 is not going to get a second look from me unless they can show me something outstanding. I have always applied this concept to lesser schools, but now I apply it to all schools.

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Jimmy January 17, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Where you attend school is a lot less important than what you can do for a future employer. Show us why we should hire you. An impressive school and/or GPA are meaningless if you can’t do the job. I would hire a non-degreed person (when possible) over a degreed person if they were more qualified, or better able, to do the job.

You can always get the degree later (for many jobs), but you can’t improve certain skills, natural talents, ability, etc.

Imagine you are applying for your dream job and it did not require a degree. What skills, talents, ability, etc. make you a desirable hire? In other words, why should an employer pick you over your competition?

You might be surprised at how little most employers care about where you get your degree and how much they care about what “real” value you add to the company. Two hundred HLS employees who lack the KSA’s your company needs are not going to help your company succeed, compared to 200 ASU/U of U grads who have the KSA’s.

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Bob January 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Anonymous makes an excellent point. Verify your courses will transfer to the new school, I transferred to a new school and they wouldn’t accept 25% of my classes because the registrar did not feel the courses were equivalent even though they were. It had nothing to do with the school I transferred from, and all to do with the wording and title of the courses themselves. Find out from the registrar’s office what will and won’t transfer. Don’t waste money on taking courses that won’t transfer unless you have no other choice. I had to pay $20,000 more in tuition to make up these courses, and I had to spend several more semesters to graduate.
Whatever you do, do not rely on your current school’s registrar to determine transferability of credits to your intended school. They do not control what will or won’t transfer to the new school. I have friends that relied on their current school’s registrars and found themselves in the same boat. NAU may say that 100% of your stuff will transfer to Harvard, but Harvard’s registrar may disagree, and s/he is the final word in that decision.
Best wishes on your choices.

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OL January 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Here in the U.S. most law schools are only looking at LSAT and Undergrad GPA. Harvard has said they enjoy having applicants from a huge variety of undergrad institutions, but remember the LSAT and GPA will be the overwhelming factors. Also law schools here would rather students not bother with taking law related classes. (I just went through the brutal application cycle).

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Anonymous January 17, 2011 at 9:31 pm

While people point out that all you need is a great LSAT score and undergrad GPA, I really do think your having attended Laurentian will hold you back a lot. Why does Harvard or Stanford Law interest you so much? There are still plenty of great law schools out there and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t settle for them.

Afterall, you settled for Laurentian instead of all the other top tier Canadian schools. And Laurentian has a very poor reputation.

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NA January 18, 2011 at 12:38 am

Stanford is not an Ivy League school. There are only six: Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. Some people make that assumption as it is a high performing school. Remember that just because a college or university has a big name and a reputation for high academic performance does not mean that it is an Ivy League school.

When looking at the acceptance rate of a college, you should not just consider its percentage. For example, if a college accepts only 500 new people in its freshman class each year, and 1,000 potential members of that class apply to the college, then the school would have a 50% acceptance rate. If 5,000 potential members applied, then the school would have a 10% acceptance rate. You should really look at how many students are let into each class and how many students apply to determine if the school would be a good choice. A college could just as easily manipulate their acceptance rate by letting more or less people into a particular class or starting an advertising campaign to get more students to apply to the university.

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Devon January 18, 2011 at 9:13 pm

There are eight: Cornell and Columbia, not that this particularly affects your point at all. Your point is valid, but it’s important for her to remember that top tier schools don’t really need to use those tactics to seem competitive. She should be wary of mid-tier schools, if anything.

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sesan January 18, 2011 at 10:51 am

just cool down ok

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Laura January 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

There are actually eight Ivies, NA. You are forgetting Cornell and Columbia.

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Amanda July 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I am a student at Northern Arizona University and they are great with their transfer credit policy. Whether you end up at Harvard or not, NAU will provide you with a great foundation for whatever route you choose to go. Best of luck!

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