Applying to Law Schools

This information is adapted, with permission, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Pre-Law Advising Office.

When you apply to law school, you will discover that most applications ask you about your undergraduate disciplinary record and your criminal record. The questions are sometimes very open-ended: those about your disciplinary record might ask for information about any time you have been disciplined either for academic or non-academic reasons. Those questions about your criminal record may specifically ask you to describe any incident, even if you were not convicted, were a juvenile, or the record was expunged or sealed.

For example, Emory University School of Law asks the following question on its application:

Have you ever been subject to any disciplinary action, placed on academic probation, or dismissed from any school, college, university, or graduate/professional school, or is any such action pending or expected to be brought against you?

In addition, some schools, including some of the most popular schools for Emory University applicants, require an independent report on your college disciplinary record, called a "Dean's Letter" or "Dean's Certification," which will be compared against your answers.

The first thing you need to know in answering these questions is that minor violations or convictions will not keep you out of law school. On the other hand, misrepresenting your disciplinary record or arrest record will be taken very seriously both by law schools and by the bar admission authority of the state in which you eventually seek to get licensed. Therefore, the guiding principle you should keep in mind as you respond to these questions is that you be completely forthcoming and honest. Any misrepresentation will hurt you far more than the underlying offense.

Non-Academic Discipline

Law school applications ask about both academic and non-academic sanctions. These questions are generally open-ended enough to include everything from a suspension for failure to maintain a minimum grade point average to an RA's warning for violation of the bathroom policy. All end up on your disciplinary record.

You should answer these questions truthfully and completely. If you have any doubts about what is on your disciplinary record, request a copy from the Office of Student Conduct so that you can review it before completing your law school applications. Schools will receive this information independently, and will notice any discrepancy between your answers and those reported by our office.

All disciplinary violations require some kind of explanation on your applications. The explanation should be brief and to the point, and should also take into consideration the seriousness of the offense. You do not need to go into great detail about a noise policy violation for which you received a warning. The law school admission committees do not really care about these sorts of minor violations. Accordingly, "I was written up by my RA for playing my stereo too loud," is sufficient. Your record will reflect that there were no repeat offenses (if that is the case), so you do not need to point that out. Generally, the types of offenses that are considered minor and of negligible importance to law school admissions committees include the following:

Quiet or courtesy hours violations
Unauthorized guest in room
Minor housing violations (e.g., moving furniture)

Alcohol-related disciplinary violations may be more concerning, but isolated incidents are unlikely to affect your admission. Underage drinking, violation of the open container rules, or having alcohol in your residence hall room room are not taken too seriously to the extent that those violations were single incidents and did not result in criminal charges of any kind. A certain amount of youthful indulgence is tolerated.

Academic Discipline

Academic discipline is normally reflected on your transcript, and so the law schools will see it from an independent source. Answering the question on the application is your opportunity to give some context to the discipline. For example, if you dropped all of your classes more than halfway through the semester one year because of some family problems, and were placed on academic probation as a result, this is your chance to tell the admission committee about those extenuating circumstances. If you were struggling for a while for less compelling reasons, feel free to own up to that. Forthrightly acknowledging your mistakes will demonstrate that you have the maturity to move beyond them.

The most serious academic violation is of the academic integrity policy. A finding that you have cheated or plagiarized raises serious questions about your ability to conduct yourself in an ethical manner as an attorney. If you have such a violation on your disciplinary record, you should speak with an advisor in the Career Center to discuss your options.

Our experience is that when you acknowledge a disciplinary record on a law school application that school will contact you and request that you obtain an official statement from Emory University on what you disclosed. The Office of Student Conduct provides letters of disciplinary standing to students and alumni at their request. To make a request please contact the Office of Student Conduct by phone (404.727.3154) or email (conduct@emory.edu). Before making your request please check the information on our website about requesting the release of disciplinary information.

For More Information

Emory University's Career Center assists students with pre-law advising. For more information you can visit the Center's website for pre-law students.