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. 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).