What kind of postsecondary education do I need to qualify for admission?
Generally, you need at least two years of postsecondary education at the university level in order to qualify for admission. This means you can be admitted to law school without having obtained a bachelor's degree, but it is exceedingly rare to do so. The vast majority of law students have an undergraduate degree (and most have a four-year degree over a three-year degree). Alternatively, some colleges offer "bachelor of applied arts" degrees, which may or may not be accepted by law schools; you should contact the schools to confirm whether your program makes you eligible for admission.
What is the best major to get if I want to go to law school?
There is none. Generally, all law schools look at all majors the same, and it is highly unlikely that there is a major you could take at a Canadian university that would make your application less appealing to law schools. You should select a major that aligns with your interests, and one in which you can succeed academically. You should also select one that will serve as an alternative career path, should you not get admitted to law school (remember, the vast majority of people who apply to law schools do not get in).
I have some college credits. How does that affect my application?
College credits are typically recorded as transfer credits on your transcript, and therefore contribute no grade-points to your OLSAS GPA. OLSAS only considers university grades in its calculation; however, schools do receive your college transcript, which admissions committee members can look at and potentially consider on their own terms (alternatively, some schools might have certain evaluation criteria regarding college grades). The practical implication of this is that you lose two years worth of grades when your OLSAS GPA is calculated, so it is much more important to do well at the university level, as poor grades will have a greater effect on your average than if you had four years of university credits.
Who should I ask for letters for reference?
Generally, the best letters of reference are from those individuals who can attest to your academic skills (for academic references) or personal attributes (for general references). It's usually better to select people who know you well and can speak extensively about you, but if you cannot find anyone whom you know very well, then it's fine to simply select a professor in whose class you did well. Generic letters of reference will neither help nor hinder your application, but good ones may make an impact. It's best to cultivate relationships with professors early (e.g., by attending office hours or participating in class) so they have ample amounts to say when you ask them for a reference.
While it should probably go without saying, don't ask someone for a reference unless you're sure they will give you a positive one. Negative references can cause your application to be declined.
How should I go about asking someone for a letter of reference?
Professors are generally used to being asked for reference letters. Many graduate school programs require them, so asking a professor to write you a reference to law school is not unusual or onerous. Be sure to give them plenty of time to write the letter (e.g., ask them well before the November 1 application deadline). Feel free to remind them that the due date for the letter is coming up if you noticed they haven't submitted it yet; it's not rude to do so.
It's best to approach professors who know you, as you're more likely to get an affirmative response. If a professor turns you down, note that there are a variety of legitimate reasons to do so, and you shouldn't take it personally. Simply ask someone else.
If you're looking to ask someone to be a personal or professional reference, your current relationship with them will largely dictate whether it's appropriate to ask them for a letter. As was said before, make sure it's reasonable to expect that the person writing you the reference will give at least a generic affirmative recommendation for your admission to law school; negative references can cause your application to be declined.
I want to go to a top law school in Canada. Which one do I pick?
Unlike the United States, the quality of legal education you will receive at any Canadian law school is at a reasonable standard. There is really very little distinction between the schools in the way there is in the US. Despite this, there have been formal and informal rankings over the years, with the MacLean's rankings being the most popular. They are, however, largely pointless metrics in reality.
The best advice for deciding which law school attend would be to select one in the region you want to practice. For example, if you want to practice in Ontario, you should pick an Ontario school. While mobility between provinces is not substantially difficult once you are licensed, there can be significant differences in the law between the various provinces depending on your practice area. As a result, you will likely find yourself having to spend time catching up on what you don't know. Furthermore, the networks you build throughout your years in law school are valuable and difficult to replace, which is also why it's best to choose a school not only in your target province, but your in target region as well. For example, if you want to end up practicing in the GTA, it's generally best to shoot for a GTA school. This last recommendation is pretty flexible, though — plenty of graduates from non-GTA schools end up practicing in the region. But, generally speaking, you will face more difficulty building a network with practitioners and firms if you live away from your target market.
Try not to get stuck on the "prestige" of a particular school when deciding on where to accept an offer. You should give far greater regard to things like overall costs (e.g., tuition fees, rent, costs of living, scholarship and bursary opportunities) and social benefits (e.g., being near family or friends or support networks) of selecting a particular school. Concepts like "prestige" are largely only held in high regard by applicants and law students; practitioners don't really make a distinction between graduates of one school or another. If you are a strong candidate for a position, it generally doesn't matter where you got your law degree.
I heard a certain school is better for a certain type of law. Should I go there over somewhere else?
Some schools are "known for" certain areas of law, mainly because certain faculty members are particularly prolific at publishing papers or books related to that practice area, or because notable graduates of that school practice in that area of law. If you want to study with a certain professor (likely more important if you are considering doing graduate work), or you feel a particular network of alumni can help you achieve your career goals, then those are reasonable factors to consider when selecting a school to attend.
That said, all schools will generally teach most areas of law reasonably well (in particular, the common practice areas, like family, criminal, corporate, administrative, and so on), so there is no reason to select school "A" over school "B" because you heard school "A" is better at business law (whatever a statement like that means). Conversely, in niche areas of practice, if you're certain that's where your interest lies, some schools might be better choices over others.
GPA / Grades
What is the OLSAS scale and how do I calculate it?
The OLSAS scale is a standardized 4.0 scale that allows law schools to evaluate your university education. Every school in Canada is translated onto the scale, which allows admissions officers to rely on the number generated by the scale in order to assess your academic performance fairly and consistently. You can calculate your own GPA using the OLSAS conversion chart, or you can use our calculation tool for a simpler experience. The OLSAS scale is not a typical 4.0 scale, so you will likely see a difference between your OLSAS GPA and your university-generated GPA.
In order to convert your grades onto the OLSAS scale, first you must locate the column on the conversion chart that pertains to your school. Then, for each course you took, find the corresponding grade points for the letter or percent grade you received in the course. Multiply the grade points by the number of credits of that course to find the total grade points earned for that course. Again, do this for each course you took, separately. Then, sum all of these up and divide that total by the number of credits you earned throughout your degree. The resulting number is your OLSAS GPA.
My GPA went down when I calculated it on the OLSAS scale. Why?
The OLSAS scale is not a typical 4.0 scale. You will find that if you convert your grades to a traditional 4.0 scale, your GPA will tend to be higher than it is on the OLSAS scale. This is by design.
The OLSAS scale is designed to reward consistency. That is, you are much more likely to keep a higher GPA as long as you maintain consistently high grades. When your grade crosses between letters (A to B, B to C, etc.), you will lose many more grade points than if your grades stay within a letter (A to A-, B+ to B, etc.). As a result, if you consistently have grades that lie between, for example, A- and B+, you will find that your GPA will be closer to B+ than it would be to A-.
How much do schools care about my cumulative GPA versus my L2/B3?
Most Ontario schools care about cumulative GPA (cGPA) versus your "last two" (L2) or "best three" (B3) years of university. There are some exceptions: Queen's and Western are generally known to place more emphasis on your last two years than your cumulative GPA. University of Toronto looks at your best three years of study. The balance of the Ontario schools (as well as most other schools in Canada) will likely look at your cumulative average.
Be careful when estimating your L2 or B3 scores. Because of the way certain schools place different weights on summer sessions, your L2 or B3 might exclude some courses, or include others, despite them technically being a part of (or not a part of) your L2/B3 years. Because of these intricacies, it's not possible to accurately determine your L2 or B3 scores — we can only guess. And guesses can be wrong.
I didn't do well in my first one/two years. How does this affect my application?
It depends. At L2 or B3 schools, it might not matter as much or at all. At schools that care about cumulative GPA, it may hurt you some. That said, there are many successful admits to cGPA-caring law school that do not have a perfect four-year track record. The reality is that many students don't do well in their first (or sometimes second) year of undergrad for a variety of very legitimate reasons, and the schools know this. As a result, showing consistent success in upper years (particularly if you only have one poor-performing year) is a very strong indicator of your ability to withstand the rigours of law school.
It also depends on what counts as "not doing well". Failing all or nearly all of your courses in first year, or getting straight Ds, is in substantial contrast to someone who received mostly Cs. If you are in the former category, you will likely find that it will be much more difficult for a law school to look past your first couple of years of school than it would be for them to do so for someone in the latter category.
What are competitive grades for admission?
It depends on the school. Generally speaking, a cumulative average of around 3.7 (A-) on the OLSAS scale is considered competitive for admission. Higher averages are much stronger prospects, but schools have also admitted candidates with B+ (around 3.3 on the OLSAS scale) averages, depending on their LSAT score and other application components.
I dropped some courses. Is this going to affect me?
If you dropped one or two courses over the entirety of your undergrad, it is unlikely to matter very much (or at all). It should be noted that this is about dropping a course and taking a "W" or similar notation indicating the withdrawal (also known as "dropping without academic penalty"). If you drop before the add/drop deadline, typically the course disappears from your transcript. The latter case is never a problem (since it's as if you never took the course). The former case is where schools might start getting concerned, but only if your transcript is filled with withdrawals or you otherwise have poor marks.
I failed some courses. How is this going to affect me?
If your transcript is otherwise strong, a single failure in a course is not likely to be a disqualifying factor. If you have multiple failures or have otherwise low grades, it has a good chance of being seen as a negative. If you are in the former category, retaking the course (and doing well) might be a good indicator that you are able to overcome whatever caused you to fail in the first place. It is not likely to be necessary to retake the course (unless it's a graduation requirement that you do so) in every circumstance, so you should consider your options and decide carefully.
I have one or more semesters without a full course load. Will that hurt my application?
Law schools like to see your performance under a full course load, because it is (with rare exceptions) mandatory that you be enroled with a full set of courses at law school. Thus, evaluating your academic performance while completing your undergrad full-time is certainly a consideration. That said, it is not uncommon to take some terms throughout your undergrad where you weren't enroled with a full course load. As a result, generally speaking, it is not considered a substantial negative factor if you have, say, one or two semesters like that. More than that might be viewed more critically, including if you fell below full-time status, barring any exceptional circumstances on your end (e.g., having to work full-time to support yourself or family).
I have a low undergrad average. If I get a master's, will that help?
Ontario law schools do not generally consider grades earned in graduate programs. Generally, the reason is that graduate courses tend to be curved around an "A", as the major evaluative component of completing a master's is the final research project or thesis. As a result, it is not possible to fairly consider graduate school marks in the context of others who also completed graduate programs. That said, a master's can be helpful and may be a deciding factor in whether to admit you to a law school. However, it's considered a "soft" factor, and so it is not generally recommended that you pursue a master's for the sake of getting admitted to law school.
If you have the grades to get admitted to a master's program and the academic pursuit involved in completing the degree interests you, you may want to consider applying as an alternative to law school. Master's degrees do open up other opportunities not related to law that may benefit you in the future (though you should consider what these are prior to applying), so it may be worth it to pursue the degree for that reason alone.
I have a low undergrad average. If I get another undergraduate degree, will that help?
It is usually a huge commitment to complete another degree program. While most Ontario schools generally only care about your first undergraduate degree, completing an entirely new degree may help. Osgoode, for example, looks at all of your grades from each degree in aggregate. You should contact the individual schools to clarify whether or not they will consider an additional degree. You may also find similar success if you worked for several years after graduating and applied as a mature student (see law schools' requirements for this category, as they differ from school to school). This latter option also has the benefit of being much less expensive (since you would get paid instead of having to pay tuition fees).
Law School Admission Test
What is a strong LSAT score? What is the minimum LSAT needed to get admitted?
The 50th percentile on the LSAT is around a 152. That means that most people score around that mark. Ontario law schools tend to require scores in the low to mid 160s, which is around the 85th percentile and higher. Every school has different requirements and it changes year over year, depending on the applicant pool. A "strong" LSAT score would be one that is competitive for admission, thus something in the mid 160s would be to your advantage. There is no "minimum", per se, as the LSAT is not looked at in isolation to any other application component; however, it is generally rare for law schools to admit applicants below the 60th percentile (around 155) without extenuating circumstances.
I have a low LSAT but high GPA / I have a high LSAT but low GPA. What does that mean for me?
Having a low LSAT and high GPA, or vice-versa, is known as being a "splitter". An example would be someone with a 3.0 cGPA and a 170 LSAT. Ontario schools generally care about cGPA more than the LSAT, so having a low LSAT but offsetting it with an exceptional cGPA could get you admitted despite the poor LSAT score. The reverse is not so common (but much more common in the US). Being a splitter does not necessarily mean you will be successful, but it certainly gives you advantages over someone who has generally poor grades and a low LSAT.
How long should I spend studying for the LSAT?
Everyone learns differently. Generally, you should have a sense of how you learn best by virtue of having completed a university education (or nearly so). Best bet is to take a "cold diagnostic", which is where you complete a sample test under strict timing conditions, and see what you got. From there, you can tell what sections you need to work on (logical reasoning, logic games, or reading comprehension). Kaplan recommends between 150–300 hours of preparation, on average. You would do well to pace yourself and give yourself enough time to do adequate preparation while still making sure you take the test in time for admissions.
Should I take any prep course for the LSAT?
Some people benefit from independent study and others do better with formal instruction. An LSAT prep course can certainly help those who fall into the latter category. Bear in mind that the more face-to-face instruction a course has, the more it tends to cost. If you have the resources and the time (and of course, the willingness) to sign up for a prep course, then it might end up being a good decision. The LSAT is a major factor in the consideration of your application, so if you feel like you can improve your score by taking a course, perhaps you should. Bear in mind that not all courses are built the same, so make sure you select a reputable organization and understand the costs and time commitment before you subscribe.
What can I do to improve my LSAT score?
Besides taking time the time to learn the test and write practice exams (which are available for purchase from LSAC), understanding which sections require your attention is important. There are many free (as well as paid) resources available to help you with each particular section (logical reasoning, logic games, and reading comprehension). They will likely introduce you to tricks that can speed up your response time or can help you better understand the question being asked.
Are there any schools that don't care about the LSAT?
Not really. Each Ontario school cares about the LSAT to some extent. Schools like Ottawa may place less focus on the exam than other schools, but generally speaking it's an important factor in your application and a substantially low score on it will likely preclude you from admission. Throughout Canada, the only common law school that does not require the LSAT is McGill, but you will need to have strong French language skills to be eligible to study law there, and admission is very competitive.
What makes a strong personal statement?
Personal statements are very subjective and therefore there are few blanket rules that are appropriate to list. Most law schools will prompt you with what they would like to see you talk about, so be sure to stick as closely as possible to those instructions. Outside of that, personal statements, generally, should tell your story to the admissions committee, over and above what is available to them through your academic transcript, LSAT score, and sketch. Be sure to include facts that would highlight what you can bring to the admitted class and underline your ability to succeed in law school. You should avoid restating information that's available on your sketch unless you feel it should be particularly highlighted; if so, do make sure you elaborate on it beyond just bringing it up in a sentence (if all you intend to write is a sentence on it, perhaps it's better suited for your sketch alone). You shouldn't generally talk about the law school itself, e.g., how great it is or how you look forward to going there, as it doesn't bring anything of substance to your statement and takes up valuable character count. However, if a professor or clinic is particularly important to you, feel free to mention it and elaborate a bit on why. It's also best to ensure that your statement is well written, clear, concise, and contains no mistakes (particularly, glaring ones like talking about the wrong school). Finally, you should have someone proof read it before you submit it.
What can I say on my personal statement to offset bad grades or LSAT?
Generally, there is very little that can be said in a personal statement that will offset bad grades or test scores. Unless you had a significant life event (illness, death, or other exceptional circumstances) cause your poor performance, it is unlikely that the law schools would be able to use your personal statement as a way to compensate for low stats. If it is the case that a significant life event has hindered your grades or scores, you should think about applying under the access category (or equivalent at a particular school) so that your factors receive special consideration. If you do not fit into the latter situation, it is best not to highlight poor performance, particularly if you have no reasonable explanation for it. However, sometimes, context does afford some benefit, so you should weigh carefully whether you want to bring up your grades or test scores, and what you will say when you do.
Some schools say that they have "holistic" admissions. What does that mean?
Holistic admissions means that a school does not solely look at your grades or LSAT to determine whether you are admitted. It does not mean that a school ignores or subsantially reduces the importance of grades or LSAT when deciding on applications. It does mean that having extraordinary experiences, background, education, or other "soft" factors may push a mediocre application into the pile of stronger applications. This, in itself, does not guarantee admission either, just a "better chance" of getting admitted. Holistic admissions does not mean that low stats can be offset by extra-curriculars or a well-written personal statement.
What are considered "strong" extra-curriculars?
Law students are typically active, "type-A" individuals and, as a result, are involved in many extra-curriculars that afford them the opportunity to use and improve their skills. This means that most law school applicants have substantial extra-curricular repertoires, making the baseline for "strong" extra-curriculars much higher. Typical extra-curriculars of law students include: club executive; member of a student union/council board or committee; member of a university committee or the university senate; writer for a university newspaper; intramural or varsity sports; and volunteering with local, provincial, or national organizations. Anything beyond this may be considered a "strong" extra-curricular, but bear in mind that deciding whether an extra-curricular is strong is highly subjective and therefore would be difficult to measure with any certainty. The best bet is to focus on doing what you enjoy, rather than attempting to build a resume tailored to "impress" an admissions committee member.
What kind of extra-curriculars would offset low grades or LSAT?
Generally speaking, nearly no extra-curricular activity can offset any grade or LSAT score that would normally preclude you from getting admitted to law school. The largest factor in receiving admission to law school is strong academic ability, as demonstrated by a high GPA, and a competitive score on the LSAT. There are few, if any, substitutes for this, barring exceptional circumstances, such as illness or other significant life event.
What kinds of clubs or activities should I be involved in during undergrad to be looked at favourably?
Generally, demonstrating that you are a "real person", by engaging in activities that are important to you or that you are passionate about, is preferable to being involved in clubs or organizations that you think will give you a leg up over other law school applicants by virtue of the name or position of the organization alone. In other words, don't become president of the pre-law club because you believe law schools will be impressed by the fact that you are the president of the pre-law club. Instead, only become president if you passionate about the club and want to help others on their law school application journey. Usually, the former is very transparent to members of admissions committees. Generally, no particular kind of activity, club, or other extra-curricular is seen as particularly favourable to your application.
Would schools care if I did pre-law courses, was in a pre-law club, or did undergrad moots?
Not usually. You should only take pre-law courses if you are generally interested in the subject matter, as it is unlikely to help convince an admissions committee if your application is otherwise unimpressive. And, if pre-law courses are not your forte, the poor grades you get in them may end up hurting your application. The same goes for being involved in pre-law clubs or undergrad moots.
I worked at a law office and thus have some legal experience. Will this help me?
Probably not. Law schools are generally not interested if you would be a good lawyer; rather, they are interested in your ability to engage in legal academics. While there is a practical skills component of most law schools' JD programs, it is incidental to the main priority, by virtue of the fact that law schools are first and foremost university faculties: critical thinking skills, research and writing ability, and ability to engage with the material. These aspects are best demonstrated by strong undergraduate grades, or in some cases, a graduate degree.
Going to US, UK, or Australian Schools
Should I go to a law school abroad?
It's not usually advisable that you go abroad to get a law degree if you want to work as a lawyer in Canada. Foreign graduates face significant barriers to entry to the profession, and going to a foreign school is likely going to be much more expensive than staying in Canada. If you can avoid going to a foreign school, you absolutely should do so. That includes trying to apply, multiple times, to Canadian schools, and looking to out-of-province schools as well. Improving your stats, such as retaking the LSAT, or taking "upgrading" courses, are likely better options than going to a non-Canadian school.
Foreign graduates, in addition to typically having to pay substantially more to go to a foreign school (and incur costs such as a loss when converting Canadian currency to the foreign equivalent), must take the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) exams when they return. They must also find an articling position or enrol in the Law Practice Program (in Ontario) to get licensed. All of these steps take time (the NCA exams themselves can take up to a year to complete) and cost money. Additionally, foreign-trained lawyers face a significant stigma that usually results in difficulty finding an articling position or getting hired as an associate.
Can I go abroad if I didn't get into a Canadian school? It's always been my dream to be a lawyer
You can, but you likely shouldn't. If the considerations above don't convince you, then a gander around the US and other Foreign Schools forum of lawstudents.ca might be successful in showing you otherwise. Many foreign schools capitalize on Canadians that did not get admitted to a Canadian law school and offer enticing programs to lure them overseas. What those schools don't tell you is the problems their graduates generally face when they return to Canada and seek to get licensed. They also don't discuss the substantial cost of going to a foreign school over a Canadian school. Lastly, you should strongly consider whether law is right for you at this time if you are having trouble getting admitted to Canadian law schools over multiple cycles.
What do I need to do to get licensed, if I go to a law school outside of Canada?
You will need a degree from a common law country (such as the US, the UK, or Australia). You will need to pass the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) exams. You will need to secure an articling position or enrol in the Law Practice Program. You can find out more on the NCA homepage at the Federation of Law Societies of Canada website.
Will I face difficulty finding jobs or an articling position as a foreign graduate?
Statistically, yes. Most significantly, foreign-trained lawyers face the stigma of not having graduated from a Canadian unversity. Earned or not, this reputation comes from the fact that most foreign schools that attract Canadians to their law programs tend to have very low admission requirements and are therefore not seen as particularly strong institutions for legal training or critical thought. Aside from this, all Canadian law school graduates possess a reasonable understanding of Canadian legal principles, which you will likely not learn to the same degree at a foreign institution. Foreign graduates who attend the Law Practice Program instead of securing an articling position tend to continue facing the stigma that they are not as well trained as their Canadian-graduate counterparts, and will likewise continue to have difficulty securing an associate's position. Foreign graduates will likely also find it difficult to build a network from scratch (which many law students spent years building locally) that they can leverage to help them find employment or other assistance.
How expensive is it to go to a foreign school?
Usually, much more expensive than going to school domestically. Sometimes, tuition fees themselves add up to be "less" than the ones charged by many Canadian schools (most of the time due to the fact that you will be getting a two-year LLB instead of a three-year JD), but most applicants fail to realize associated expenses such as: loss when you convert currencies; health insurance; travel between Canada and the foreign country; room and board; increased cost of living in the foreign country; and lack of eligibility for many scholarships and bursaries due to international status. Often times, applicants also do not factor in the costs associated with returning to Canada and getting licensed, such as NCA exam fees and materials, and possibly being required to enrol in the Law Practice Program in lieu of articling because of difficulty finding an articling position. Usually, these aggregate costs add up to substantially more than if one went to a Canadian law school.
But in the end, if I can make lots of money as a lawyer, doesn't it make up for it being more expensive?
It can, but that makes a number of assumptions, including your success at finding a job that "[makes] lots of money", which the majority of foreign graduates do not succeed in obtaining. If you believe you will be the exception to this statistic, you're invited to peruse this explanation of optimism bias in the hopes that you might reconsider. Ultimately, though, it's up to you whether you want to take the substantial risk of getting a foreign law degree.