This fall, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) announced that it will begin incorporating Winter Study grades into the cumulative GPAs of law school applicants from the College. This will significantly affect pre-law students at the College; the majority of students receive passes during Winter Study, and the probable incorporation of four Bs would significantly lower students’ GPAs and subsequent chances of getting into law school, especially given that law school admissions rely heavily on grades. Due to the unique nature of Winter Study and the negative effect this policy could have on students’ futures, the College has a duty to its students to contend with this policy by abolishing the high pass and strongly advocating for LSAC to reconsider its current incorporation of Winter Study grades.
LSAC’s policy weighs Winter Study grades, earned in less than four weeks, equally with those earned in the four months of a semester. According to LSAC, this is due to a communication in the 1970s in which the College informed LSAC that each Winter Study grade counts as four credits. This is a misrepresentation of the nature of Winter Study grades, which are considered a separate entity at the College rather than a full four credits to be counted towards GPAs. Workloads vary significantly between Winter Study classes, especially because many are taught by non-faculty members such as parents, alumni or outside experts in certain fields. Many instructors either do not give high passes or assign them arbitrarily. Furthermore, the fraction of high passes given does not equate statistically to the proportion of As given during the semester.
If the College remains silent on this issue, the nature of Winter Study could be jeopardized. During Winter Study, many students step outside of their comfort zones, signing up for classes they would not take during the semester for fear of doing poorly or being overwhelmed with unfamiliar material. If the College does not challenge LSAC’s misrepresentation of Winter Study grades in GPAs, students might feel the need to take easier or more familiar Winter Study courses to ensure that they receive high passes. This is antithetical to the explorative culture that defines Winter Study.
The College’s plan to include a letter from the Registrar in students’ law school applications is a good start to combating the LSAC policy. The letter should detail how the policy has altered a student’s GPA, how the alteration distorts the nature of Winter Study and a suggestion of how readers should instead evaluate the student’s academic performance.
Although the College was unaware of LSAC’s change of policy before its announcement, it ought to recognize its own failure to adequately investigate the issue. It is concerning that the College was unaware that it had previously informed LSAC that Winter Study courses are worth the same credit as semester courses until this fact was discovered by the Record. Beyond the letter from the Registrar, the College must take concrete steps to ameliorate the detrimental effect that LSAC’s policy could have on students’ future plans.
The College should begin by doing away with its three-pass grading scale for Winter Study by abolishing the high pass. When the Committee on Educational Affairs introduces the motion this spring, we implore the faculty to vote in favor of the change. This motion would eliminate the GPA recalculation problem for students in the Class of 2021 and beyond as well as mitigate it for current students, for whom no future Winter Study grades would be incorporated into LSAC’s GPA metric. This would not be unreasonable, as its peer institutions, such as Johns Hopkins and Oberlin, grade similar short terms without a high pass option, and the College itself did so until 1995.
Even if the College abolishes the high pass, all current students and alumni applying to law school would still be hurt by LSAC’s policy. The College must also actively engage with LSAC regarding the 1970s-era communication that misrepresents the nature of Winter Study. While LSAC has not been willing to retroactively change its policy, the College should advocate for a correction of this error. If Winter Study grades are properly weighed in LSAC’s metric, the conversion of current three-pass grades will have a less detrimental impact on students’ GPAs and subsequent chances of law school admission. Beyond that, the College must consider new, perhaps innovative methods that could preserve our students’ academic strength from the perspective of law school admissions committees.
The College owes its students the opportunity to remain equally competitive in law school admissions. Thus, the College must take responsibility for protecting its students’ best interests by making every effort to combat this LSAC policy.