Thanks to a new policy, law school-bound students with hopes to stay in Ann Arbor after graduation don’t need to worry about taking the LSAT anymore — as long as they have top-flight grades.

For University undergraduates with a 3.8 GPA or higher, the Wolverine Scholars Program doesn’t require enrolled students to submit an LSAT score with their application to the University’s Law School.

Unveiled earlier this month, the program is intended for students who haven’t taken the LSAT but who might consider starting law school in Fall 2010. Students who are eligible for the program will also receive first priority in the admissions process, with their applications being considered months before the early-decision and regular admissions cycles begin.

Sarah Zearfoss, dean of admissions at the Law School, said the new program is intended to attract current juniors and seniors who might otherwise be hesitant about applying to their alma mater for law school.

“There’s this persistent rumor that everyone who’s interested in law school seems to have heard that if you want to go to law school at Michigan, you shouldn’t go to Michigan undergrad,” Zearfoss said. “In fact, it’s the exact opposite.”

She said past undergraduates are consistently the single largest pool of students accepted to the Law School. In a normal year, she said, between 50 and 60 former University undergrads are included in a typical class of about 360 students.

Zearfoss said she expects between five and 10 undergrads to be admitted from this year’s anticipated applicant pool of about 100 Wolverine Scholars. In a normal admissions cycle, about one in five applicants is admitted to the Law School.

The combination of a required 3.8 minimum GPA and limited interest among undergrads who meet the requirements, Zearfoss said, will likely limit the number of students who actually apply.

“I don’t think there’s any way in the universe that we’re going to be getting more than 150 applications,” she said.

To encourage participation among those who are qualified, the Law School will waive the normal $60 application fee.

Similar admissions programs are already in place at Georgetown University and George Washington University.

Zearfoss said the 3.8 GPA requirement was determined by previous admissions data from the Law School.

“We analyzed the data and we concluded that people who matriculate here whose GPAs are 3.8 and above always do well, not merely graduate, but they always turn in a solid performance regardless of what their LSAT was when they entered,” Zearfoss said. “So we concluded that for this group, what we really need to know is their GPA and what their curriculum is like.”

In place of an LSAT score, Zearfoss said the Law School is looking for more than just a competitive GPA. Ideal Wolverine Scholars, she continued, are students who have taken full course loads and had challenging curriculums during all their undergraduate years at the University.

Transfer students and students who have already taken the LSAT are not eligible for the program.

And for undergrads who don’t make the cut as Wolverine Scholars, the academic profile of this year’s entering class — with an average undergraduate GPA of 3.7 and an average LSAT score of 169, which translates to the 97th percentile among LSAT test takers across the country — provides a few indications of what it takes to get accepted to the University’s Law School.

Though most application deadlines normally arrive during second semester of a student’s senior year, this year’s Wolverine Scholars have an application deadline of May 15, 2009. These students will receive word of their admission decision by July 21, which Zearfoss said leaves plenty of time to consider other schools and options if they aren’t accepted to the Law School.

“We came up with this schedule particularly taking into account the needs of the applicants,” Zearfoss said. “And we will make the decision in time so that they can still register for the October LSAT.”

The July decision date puts Wolverine Scholars about seven months ahead of most regular law school application deadlines and almost four months ahead of most early-decision deadlines that begin around November.

Students who aren’t accepted as Wolverine Scholars may also reapply to the Law School during the regular admissions cycle.

LSA senior Charles Ogunro, co-president of the Michigan Pre-Law Society, said he thought the program would encourage younger students to take tougher classes and get better grades.

“(Students) will be studying a lot harder if they know they have a chance to get into the University of Michigan Law School with a very good GPA and not have to take the LSAT,” Ogunro said. “That’s definitely an incentive to study.”

Despite the potential payoff of taking difficult classes and maintaining a high GPA, Zearfoss said she doesn’t expect the program to change the way most students approach their academics.

“We didn’t make up the idea that the GPA is an important element in the application process,” Zearfoss said. “So I find it hard to believe that this will have any major effect on the way people run their lives.”

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