In the competitive world of law school admissions, your goal is to build the best possible application package. This means covering all your bases. Have your written a personal statement that is full of details and free of errors? Did you make the most of opportunities to showcase your unique accomplishments? Did you properly address perceived weaknesses? In this show, we provide tips to help you create the killer law school application, one that will leave a lasting impression. You will hear directly from law school admissions deans about what they look for in a candidate and you’ll get several tips from an author whose book is about writing the best personal statement for law school and from a consultant who guides applicants through the law school application process.
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Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Diana Jordan. To get into law school these days, against increased competition, you need a “killer” application. This show is entitled Creating the Killer Law School application: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Best Application. In this segment, we will examine how students can make their applications stand out, what admissions committees are looking for in the applications and how students can showcase their unique accomplishments and shine despite perceived weaknesses. You will hear directly from two law school admissions deans on what they look for in a candidate and you will get several tips from an author whose book is about writing the best law school application possible. You will also hear from a senior consultant who was a former law school admissions dean and from a current law school student. Even among the different guests we’ve interviewed for this show, there are consistent themes that emerge and we will have some similar words of wisdom for you from each. You consider your own unique experience while listening to their advice.
We will hear encouraging words about the admissions process from Andy Cornblatt, Dean of Admissions at Georgetown University Law Center. “The process is more complicated and more interesting, and more importantly, more fair than simply, ‘tell me your GPA and your LSAT and I’ll hand you your decision letter.’” And, we’ll hear what Assistant Dean for Admissions at The University of Chicago Law School, Ann Perry wants to see in an application. “It’s just taking the time to do it to the best of their ability.” Paul Bodine is Senior Editor at Accepted.com and author of Great Personal Statements for Law School. Bodine says consultants can provide a discerning eye. “A good consultant can help you kind of step back from your life experiences and know what’s distinctive relative to other applicants.”
We’ll hear how important it is to inject your personalities and your passions into the application from former Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and now Senior Law School Consultant for AdmissionsConsultants, Derek Meeker. “It’s just about focusing on what you have done and how that’s affected you and impacted you and shaped or defined your goals and perspectives.” And, we’ll hear from a student who has been through the application process, Mark Aziz at Georgetown University Law Center. “Make sure that you are applying to law schools that you would be happy to go to and so that you will devote the attention to each application that it deserves and that it needs.”
Each of these five was asked for the top five tips for making an application stand out from the rest of the pack. Here are the top five:
- First, start early and apply as soon as possible, following directions with no typos.
- Second, your personal statement should be well-written showing who your truly are, expressing your passions in life.
- Third, prepare addenda for any special circumstances leaving no questions unanswered.
- Fourth, tailor your LSAT, GPA, and personal statements to each school, and
- Fifth, select recommenders who know you and who can speak wisely and well on your behalf.
Dean of Admissions at Georgetown Law School, Andy Cornblatt, you say that applicants should understand that those who make these decisions actually do pay attention to the applications, the essays and anything else that the student sends. “The first tip I would give is to really take ownership and understand how you apply makes a big difference in whether or not you’re going to get in. As far as your personal statement, work hard on this thing. There seems to be a general perception among applicants that this whole law school admissions process is GPA and LSAT-only driven and that is simply not the case. I read every file and I know of what I speak and there are other things involved in this. So work hard on that essay, that’s number one. Number two, and I think probably the most underrated piece of this, is when to apply. Most law schools have rolling admissions and that means the sooner you apply, the better your chances are of being admitted. So while the application deadline is February 1st, I strongly suggest that applicants get their application in before Thanksgiving and that means usually that most of our successful applicants take the LSAT in June or October of the application cycle that they are in. December is just fine, but if you want early consideration, which really helps your chances, you want to have already have taken the LSAT, which means that I would recommend that most students, if they can, take it in June or October of the application cycle that they are in.”
Assistant Dean for Admissions at The University of Chicago Law School, Ann Perry, what are your top tips to making an application stand out from the rest of the pack? “First off, make it your best piece of materials that you’re submitting. Nothing is more grating to an admissions committee member than typos on admissions material. My second tip is that you follow all of the directions to the best of the applicant’s ability. I also think that making your points that you want the committee to know about you via either your personal statement or your letters of recommendations or your resume as clear as possible for the committee members. You don’t want to have any questions left unanswered that you’re going to have the admissions committee answer without all of the information. And finally, I think the applicant needs to just realize that they need patience in the admissions cycle, meaning that just when they turn in their application, they are not going to get an answer within a week. They need to give the schools time to review all of their applications as they are making their decision.”
Paul Bodine is Senior Editor at Accepted.com and he is the author of Great Personal Statements for Law School. Paul, what are your top tips? “Job one is to get the highest LSAT score that you can. Second, you need to make sure that your GPA and your LSAT are appropriate for the schools that you are applying to; standing out from the pack is pointless if you’re applying to a program you aren’t competitive for. Third, you need to get a good objective sense of what your profile strengths and weaknesses are. If you know what aspects of your profile are most likely to interest the admissions committees, then you need to make sure that your application highlights those strengths. And by strengths, I mean skills such as research, writing or analytical skills but also uniqueness factors such as an unusual international experience or distinctive cultural or social background, unusual hobbies, life experiences, that kind of thing. Regarding weaknesses, knowing what your weaknesses are will enable you to spend some time repairing them before you actually apply but also allow you to strategically compensate for or do damage control on them in the application itself. Fourth, you can write a distinctive, compelling and self-revealing personal statement and supplemental essays. And finally, you can find recommenders you are sure will speak knowledgably and enthusiastically about you. If you do all of those five things, I think you’ll be ahead of the pack in terms of preparing for law school admission.”
Former Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Derek Meeker, is now a Senior Law School Consultant for AdmissionsConsultants, Inc. Derek, what advice do you have? “It’s for applicants to just be who they are. That is, to be genuine and truthful and to present a very realistic picture of what they have to offer. And the reason that I say that one first is because I think that, what a lot of applicants try to do is, they try to figure out what it is that the admissions committee wants to hear and they are too focused on what they should be writing from the committee’s perspective as opposed to just really looking inside themselves. It’s not necessarily about how can I be unique or how can I stand out so much as just what am I going to bring to the table?”
What about passion? “Passion; at the end of the day, law schools want people who are passionate. And law schools don’t necessarily want to hear about experiences that are legal or law related or even political or things like that. It’s not about that. It’s just they have passion about something. Doesn’t matter what the topic is, or what their experience has been but whatever it is that gets them really excited and that they love doing that is going to come through on the application. The last one is just the writing. Writing is by far the most important skill that one uses and needs in law school and as an attorney so just having very crisp, clear and obviously grammatically correct writing in the application.”
And we have third year law student at Georgetown University Law Center, Mark Aziz. Mark, what would you recommend to students who want to make their applications stand out from the rest of the pack? “One of the most important things is to tailor your application to the different schools. A lot of schools require you to submit statements explicitly explaining why you’re applying to their school and why would you want to go to their school above all others and I think actually spending some time and think why you would be interested in going to the particular law school is a really good way to differentiate yourself from other applicants who really haven’t put in the time to understand how the schools are different and how the programs are different.”
The application process provides several opportunities for the applicant to stand out by presenting both an authentic and personal story of who they are and how they “fit” at a particular school. Dean Cornblatt, what goals should an applicant keep in mind to communicate to the admissions committee? “Someone who is on top of their game and who is applying early and who is in the mix sooner rather than later. That communicates to us someone who is organized and someone who is really interested. To the extent that the applicant can tailor their application to the particular law school that they are applying to, that can be, not all the time, but can be very effective. So if someone is applying to Georgetown Law School, their personal statement or addenda can reflect that by just some sense as to why the applicant thinks it would be a particularly good fit, our program with their interests. To the extent that applicants take the time to connect those thoughts, I think admissions committees tend to look more favorably on those sorts of applications than others that are sort of generic, ‘hey you are going to get the same thing that every other school got.’”
The goal is to use your application to connect personally with the admissions committee. Derek, what goals should an applicant keep in mind to communicate that along with presenting that unique voice the student will contribute? “I think it’s important that an applicant be able to articulate why it is that they are doing it and where that motivation is coming from. Beyond that, communicating why that particular law school may be the best fit or best place for the applicant to get his or her education.”
Paul, you suggest that applicants communicate their depth and their brilliance to the admissions committee. What goals should they keep in mind in the application? “They need to make sure that their application is communicating that they have the skills and potential for law school and those skills are things like writing skills, analytical ability, research skills and you can demonstrate that not only through academic successes but through professional and community involvement. Second, they need to communicate that they’ve thought about their decision to go to law school, either by stating concrete, savvy goals, after law school career goals, or by showing that they have researched what the law actually is. And by that, I mean speaking to lawyers or taking classes on the law. Third, they need to communicate that they can contribute to the class in specific ways. The admissions committee is trying to build a diverse class so they need to consciously think about what they can contribute to that class and it could be, you know, a unique set of life experiences, a distinctive perspective on the world or demonstrated history of contributing to organizations or society. Fourth, they need to communicate that they have the temperament and soft skills, in addition to hard skills, to succeed in law school and by that I mean by showing that they are a team player, that they are mature, that they have leadership experiences and that, of course, they have integrity or the ethical values that law schools are looking for these days.”
Each piece of the application presents a candidate with an opportunity to speak to the people in the admissions office. Mark, you say students should keep in mind these goals as they communicate with the admissions committee. “I think that it is really important to, first and foremost, convey a sense of who you are. So your personality, your character, and all of that. I think that the more of a connection a person reading your application gets from your package of materials the more likely they are to like you, they will want to admit you and see you in their incoming class. I think also, at the same time, it’s really important to demonstrate through as much of your materials as possible a commitment to academic excellence. So the fact that you think you will succeed in their law school, you’ll do well. I think that admissions offices are constantly looking at people who will do well in their law school and who will thrive and survive and do well and teach other people at the same time that they are learning. And so that commitment to excellence, that dedication is something, a goal, I would make sure that you get that through in your admissions package.”
Assistant Dean for Admissions, Ann Perry, says to keep in mind that the admissions committees now have as large a job going through the applications as the students did in filling them out. What goals should an applicant keep in mind to communicate with the admissions committee in the application? “Communicating their strongest possible application, meaning their strongest grades, their strongest personal statement. And the personal statement at all schools is probably different depending on the questions that a school asks. At Chicago, we have a very broad question; we just want to know what type of contribution that you are going to make to the class. So you really need to think through what type of statement that you want the committee to read. Some students fall into the trap of just re-writing their resume. That’s not as helpful as seeing what one maybe experience on the resume has gotten them to this point that they have learned that law school is the next step that they want to take in their career.”
Dean Cornblatt, do you have any examples of applicants who have missed the boat? “If you have done this long enough, you can always tell an applicant who is sort of rushing through what they are doing. The essay is slapped together a little bit, it’s not particularly well thought out. The recommendations are coming in and no one is giving any real thought to who they want to recommend for them. So, I think those are easy to stand out. As far as standing out in a more positive way, the ones who stand out the most in the most positive way are, the first paragraph of your first personal statement. That’s the one that sort of catches our eye or doesn’t. And that really is in the applicant’s hands. And so, I would say, well, working on the personal statement is very, very important in this process, sort of in the beginning , in kind of catching us, catching our attention. That’s the most important piece. Like any good writing, any good TV show, anything that is meant to communicate to an audience. If you can catch us and grab us early on, that’s the most effective way to maximize your chances.”
Writing a killer personal statement can be the key to success. This is where your personality and passion come through, where you can demonstrate fit and it is often the first and best opportunity for an admissions officer to hear your individual voice in the application. Dean Cornblatt, what is the most effective way an applicant can use the personal statement? “The most effective ones are to the point, start off strong and they let us get to know the applicant. The test that I always tell applicants to do is, when you’re done writing the personal statement, hand it to somebody that you know and ask them to read it and then ask them the following question. If you had never met me before, do you know me better now than before you read the personal statement? If the answer to that question is yes, you’re right on. If the answer to that question is no, go back and write it again.”
Assistant Dean Perry, how do you distinguish your personal statement from the rest? “There’s not a perfect personal statement, there is not a model to find. But it needs to be the applicant’s best writing – meaning they’re getting their point across as clearly and as well as possible. It needs to let the committee know about that person. I can only highlight ones that stick out that aren’t great, meaning they’ve re-written their resume or, they had terrible typos in them. An applicant needs to be careful not to be too cutesy, for lack of a better word, in their personal statement, meaning I have some people who have written a poem. I don’t think that is a good use of the space of a personal statement.” Do any stick in your mind as particularly good? “One type of personal statement, and I am not going to give an exact sample of it, but it is when an applicant has been able to take an experience, be it an internship, be it one day at an internship, of what they accomplished or did that day, that they learned from and they grew from and it got them to this point that they’ve realized law school is their next step.”
Paul, you’ve written a book called Great Personal Statements for Law School; you say the best essays focus on the applicant’s own life and experiences. A winning personal statement reflects candor, introspection and self-awareness. What is your advice for distinguishing your personal statement from the rest? “The key is primarily by being yourself. Everyone is unique and so, if you stick to your life story rather than some idea that you have of what law schools want to hear or what they expect to see in an essay, you will be on really solid ground. You need to be savvy and selective about the stories you focus on. For example, someone who spent five years living in Tibet would be making a mistake if they focus their personal essay on their experience as a paralegal, maybe on the assumption that the law schools really want to hear about law school experience. That would be a mistake; they probably want to focus on what is most unique in their background. Of course, they want to tie it into what they have learned about themselves or about their career interest in the process. You can also distinguish your personal statement by simply avoiding mistakes other applicant’s make. For example, talking about how they always have wanted to be a lawyer, that’s a typical one. Trying to show how much they know about the law when they actually don’t have much experience with it. Writing essays about how much justice means to them and how much they want to use their law degree to defend the defenseless. The last one is a noble sentiment but it is one the admissions committee hears a lot about and they get a lot of save the world type of essays, so they approach them a little bit skeptically.”
What goes into your personal statement Derek? “The rule of thumb with a personal statement in the law school admissions process is to ‘show rather than tell.’ So when you’re talking about perhaps a particular job that you’ve held you want to really hone in on a specific case that you worked on, a specific project and really take the reader into the experience so that you’re really living out the experience almost so that as the readers going through it they are feeling what the applicants feeling and learning those lessons.”
Dean Cornblatt, you say students should articulately describe their background, a slice of their life that illuminates who they really are, it could be something they overcame or public service work. Can you give an example? “Like all good writing it got me because you’re reading this, you just say to yourself, this is somebody I want to know more. This is somebody who would fit in well in this community and who the faculty would love to have sitting in their class. If that is strong enough, and if that comes across vividly enough, then even if the GPA and the LSAT may not necessarily admit, because they are not above the median, or whatever it might be, those students get in. There are 30 or 40 of our first year students here who are here because how they presented themselves was so compelling that we said, ‘yes’.”
Outstanding letters of recommendations are another key component to the application process that can make all of the difference. Paul, what are the three basic elements sought by the admissions committees? “Above all they are looking for actual first-hand knowledge of the applicant over an extended period of time. Letters from, for example, famous professors or lawyers are basically useless if the recommender has not gotten to know the applicant well. Second, they are looking for concrete examples that show that the applicant has the skills and the personality traits that law schools value. I see a lot of recommendation letters that are full of praise, but they never back that praise up with specific stories and anecdotes and those are really essential. Finally, I think that those recommendation letters need to show enthusiasm. A lukewarm or pro-forma letter that sounds like the recommender’s heart is not really in the process, it can be a kiss of death. I think you need a warmly, personal letter that shows that the recommender really does think highly of the applicant and then backs that enthusiasm up with concrete stories that can really help you stand out.”
Dean Perry, what are admissions committees looking for in the recommendations? “We want to know the academic capabilities of the applicant. We want to know how they handle classroom work, how their research skills are, what their performance was in the class and so I always encourage students to make sure they form relationships with their professors, especially if they are not going to apply for a few years after undergrad and keep in touch with that faculty member so that, when they are ready to apply, they can get a very good letter of recommendation. I like to see what this person who is evaluating the applicant sees in the potential of this applicant — how this person has performed in the classroom or in a work environment, if it’s someone that they have worked with, how they have handled problems, how they have taken initiative in leadership roles in the class or in the work setting. It’s not that I just want to see that they came to class on time every day. How they may be improved over a class or, if they have taken multiple classes from the same professor, how they have improved over those few classes.”
Dean Cornblatt, what do you want to see in the letters of recommendation? “It’s not so much that you can all of the sudden just order up the stellar recommendation. It is that you need to think through who it is that knows you best and that is really ready to write strongly on your behalf. After that, it’s up to the recommender. You can’t tell the recommender what to write so you don’t have any control over that. The thing over which you have control is who is writing them. So don’t think we are starry eyed about famous people or important people at your college, congressmen or anything like that. I left starry eyed behind years ago. This is about who knows the applicant best, and my experience is that, the more the recommender knows the applicant, the better the recommendation is going to be.”
So Paul, how do students get stellar letters? “They have to be a little bit shrewd about who they ask to begin with. They need to actually give the recommender the opportunity to back out. If they suspect that the recommender is not going to give them that enthusiastic detailed letter, they have to give the recommender the chance to communicate that and that’s the key part. Most college professors will be veteran writers of recommendation letters but you may find some that may need to be a bit educated on the process about what the schools are looking for. The way to do that is the student can give the recommender, sort of, a guide sheet that will summarize what the student has achieved under the recommender as well as the strengths that the student is going to be highlighting in his or her application. Those are the key points I’d mention.”
Dean Perry, what is your advice for students to get stellar letters of recommendations? “It’s forming a relationship with those professors – taking multiple classes from the professor, so the professor can really know their work and can speak to their capability.”
Derek, what else should an applicant know about getting good letters? “The most important thing that the admissions committee is looking for is evidence that the applicant is going to succeed in law school. Okay, so what does it take to succeed in law school? Again, excellent writing, that’s the most important thing. So, a letter from someone who can comment on the applicant’s writing and again, give really specific examples of projects or papers, theses and those types of things. Strong analytical and reasoning skills, problem solving skills, research skills, I mean, these are all essential to doing well in law school. So, someone who can, again, give specific examples of work, whether it be academic or professional work experience, where the applicant was using those skills. Now, law school, of course, also requires many skills that are not necessarily academic-based, but things like focus, discipline, commitment, initiative, attention to detail, ability to juggle multiple responsibilities and work under pressure and meet deadlines. To some extent, law school is the test of one’s endurance; how much work they can handle in a short amount of time. So having letters of recommendation that address any of those types of characteristics is really beneficial. The other thing is, legal education, I mean the way that it is taught, much of the classroom discussion is driven by the students, especially in the first year, most of the classes are taught on the Socratic Method so the professor is often questioning and drawing the answers out through the discussion among the students. So class participation is what it is all about basically in law school. So I always looked for that in letters of recommendation when I was the dean of admissions.”
As a student who had to get those letters of recommendation, Mark, what’s the best approach? “Just sitting down and talking to the recommender before you have them write you a letter can be very useful. You know, show them a copy of your personal statement, show them your resume, discuss why you are going to law school, what your long-term goals are and, in addition, being candid with your recommender, saying I would love to get a recommendation from you. But if you are too busy, or if you think I should ask someone else, subtly is also a good way of gauging whether or not the recommender that you are thinking of asking might be able to write you a glowing letter of recommendation or whether you’d be better off looking somewhere else.”
When applicants have a unique background or special experience, how can they showcase that in their application, Paul? “If they really do have that unique background they might consider focusing almost the entire essay on kind of exploring the significance of that experience in their life. They can also make sure that they are writing about their unique background or experiences vividly, candidly, and thoughtfully as possible. And by that, I mean they use lively, detailed language by being honest and self-revealing about the experience or background, what it meant to them, how it changed them and by showing that they can step back and think deeply about their own lives, in other words, they can draw appropriate lessons from that experience. Other ways of doing this “highlighting unique backgrounds outside of the essays” is by asking your recommenders to comment on it and, in the data section of the application or in the resume you submit, you can also highlight activities that reflect that unique background. That’s another way of doing it.”
Our experts who are, or have been, on the front line of evaluating law school applications agree, there are certain ways that applicants can articulate, feature and highlight unique aspects of experience. Dean Perry? “Some people do that in their personal statement but some people do add an addendum, which I think is a way to do it, by adding an addendum to their application. But I think the applicant needs to show good judgment in the choices that they make in adding extra materials because the last thing an admissions committee will want is 15 addendum to an application that don’t really say anything different. One or two addendum are fine; once it gets into the three, four, five range, I think it is excessive.”
Dean Cornblatt from Georgetown? “If it fits nicely into a narrative that you can use for the personal statement, terrific. Do that. If you have another narrative you want to tell but there is another aspect about you that you think the admissions committee would want to know, then use additional statements.”
And Derek, what are your suggestions for showcasing special backgrounds or experiences? “They are going to have to write a personal statement but that doesn’t mean that is the only essay that they can send. If there really is something else that they have to offer that is unique, whether it be based on personal background, culture or academic-related or a particular job or occupation, they could always write a one page supplemental essay that focused specifically on that unique background experience.”
A student’s academic record “is what it is” and the admissions committee will see it. Paul, what should a student do about perceived weaknesses in their application, for example, a low GPA or a low LSAT? “Generally, once you have started the application process there is not a lot you can do about the low GPA. It sort of depends on the nature of the GPA. In other words, let’s say you had bad grades your freshman year and the reasons were the standard reason, that you were unfocused or not quite ready for school, then you can use an optional essay or addendum to emphasize how your grades improved in the last three years at school. Another scenario is you basically have a strong GPA but you have some D’s or F’s that need explaining, so you could use the addendum to explain maybe external factors, whether it was a family crisis or a health issue that caused the low grades and then emphasize how high your GPA was when those grades are held out. That’s about as much damage control you can do on the GPA. And there’s actually less you can do on the low LSAT because the extenuating reasons for a low LSAT don’t really carry a lot of weight. Some people will just try to say they are just not good standardized test takers and I don’t know how far that will get them with a lot of schools unless they really have strong evidence that is the case. And even then, the LSAT is so important to law school admissions that you either have a good one or you don’t. So the addendum is there to do that kind of explaining for you but you want to be very upfront, mature about the explanations, very honest and brief and accentutate the positive, I’d say, is the advice I’d give.”
Our current and former law school admission directors have some specific suggestions on how to handle perceived weaknesses in the application. Dean Perry? “Everyone will always have a perceived weakness and I think they just need to make sure that everything else is strong. And if there is a reason for that weakness, they can write an addendum describing it. But I don’t think they need to be using the addendum just to make explanations that are somewhat obvious. But if there is a true reason why, maybe they had one bad quarter, or one bad semester, they might want to identify that so the committee knows and it will look like a blip on the transcript.”
Dean Cornblatt, you have advice about these perceived weaknesses. “Let’s take, for example, you took a very demanding curriculum and, let’s say that’s why your GPA was low or relatively low. Well, you can mention that but I would strongly urge that you ask one of your recommenders at the college or someone who knows you well, to talk about that and say that, listen, you know that Andy Cornblatt is a fine student. You see his GPA is a little bit on the low side but you should know that he took a very demanding curriculum here at whatever college they are at and that that impacted his GPA, but don’t misread that for being somebody who isn’t very smart, you know, that kind of stuff. For the LSAT, in general, you did what you did. But sometimes, we see a correlation between SAT scores and LSAT scores. So, if you’re somebody who has a strong GPA but has an okay, but not stellar, LSAT, but that was the exact profile that you had when you were in high school and the college you went to took a chance on you because your SATs were just okay and look how great you did. So those are the dots that you can connect for us, that your recommenders can connect for us, that will help mitigate this whole thing.”
Derek what should a student do about perceived weaknesses do in the application? “Your personal statement is your showcase piece; you really want it to showcase your strength, your accomplishments, the voice, the perspective, the contribution that you’ll bring. So if there is something that you need to address, such as low GPA, erratic grades or a low LSAT, just an addendum, usually no more than one page, they would just much rather hear an applicant just admit the mistake, own it and express what they learned from it rather than trying to make excuses or perhaps being a little defensive about it.”
Some students use law school application consultants to help guide them through what can be a daunting process. There is debate over whether that is a good idea. Dean Cornblatt, what do you think of students hiring consultants? “From my point of view, generally, we can detect synthetic applications that have clearly been packaged and done all that, in that way. As a person who reads these things, genuineness is the thing that matters most to me, sincerity and really getting to know the person and I think that is something every applicant can do themselves. They don’t need some consultant or somebody that they pay to help them be genuine. I think there is enough good advice around them, something like what we’re doing right now, and good advice at various visits that schools make to different campuses across the country. Go talk to professionals about this and, you know, we’re happy to give you our opinions and points of view for free.”
What do you think, Dean Perry, of the idea of students hiring consultants to perfect their law school applications, “If it’s comfortable for the applicants, if it gives them a comfort level that they can afford, then it’s fine. But I don’t think it’s at all necessary. I think these students are very bright, capable people and they can do an application on their own. The applicant just wants to come across as themselves as much as possible in the application and not to let a consultant muddy the waters too much. The other thing they need to do is reach out to their pre-law advisors from their undergrad even if they have been out of school for a while. More and more pre-law advisors are working with alumnus and that’s a much easier and more cost efficient way to get help with law school applications.”
Paul, you are a consultant, what should students be aware of if they hire a consultant? “They don’t want to cross the line and work with people who are offering to write the essays for them. I think the big advantage that consultants offer is, it can help you step back and look at your life objectively and say what is unique about my profile, what should I be highlighting, what are maybe some danger areas, some weaknesses that the law schools will be sensitive to, how do I approach those? So, a consultant who has worked with dozens of applicants over the years is going to have that perspective on what is really distinctive about someone and how they can highlight that through their personal statement.”
Derek you’ve been a dean of admissions and now you’re a consultant, how can consultants help applicants? “The whole process can be overwhelming and applicants really struggle sometimes in trying to determine what is the best way to present themselves in the application process. So a consultant, hopefully, these are consultants who have all actually made admissions decisions and worked on law school admissions committees so at least you know that you’re speaking with someone who has actually been on the inside and that is often the best source of information.”
Dean Perry, when all is said and done how can a student create a killer application? “It’s just taking the time to do it to the best of their ability. I can tell when an application has been rushed and I think it’s taking the time to think through who they want to write the recommendation. When they are putting together their resume, making sure it has a lot of the information that gets what they have done across, and I think it’s just getting things on time, following directions and letting the committee know that by doing a strong application we know they are taking it seriously.”
Mark, do you have any more advice for students applying to law school? “Make sure that you are applying to law schools that you would be happy to go to so that you will devote the attention to each application that it deserves and that it needs. And being able to explain why you want to go to this law school or that law school. And I think that it’s important to apply to a range of schools because, you know, it’s a competitive process. And you know, sometimes it can be very random, and making sure that you don’t apply to only the best schools or only the schools that you’re positive that you’ll get into, and that you are applying to a range of schools is really important and making sure that everything is well done and thought through and that you don’t throw everything together at the last minute. I think that’s very important.”
When evaluating applications, admissions officers look at all of the pieces: test scores, grades essays, letters of recommendations and extracurricular activities. Andy, you advise students to avoid the trap of thinking that this is simply about GPAs and LSATs and nothing else matters. “There’s all kinds of stuff that goes into this so, at least at Georgetown, we’re anxious to put together a diverse, terrific, variety of students that we’re lucky enough to have here and that’s part of the fun of the job is to put all of the pieces together so, that what they say in the cliché, we wind up having an orchestra and we don’t just admit violinists. We want people from all over helping us make the class that we have right now and even better in future years.”
Essays, letters of recommendations, examples of leadership, and your extracurricular activities, these are the ways that you articulate to the admissions committee who you are. The key to creating the “killer” application is to do these things well. Think about ways to make your personal statement error free and vibrant, rich with personal stories and specific illustrations about how you would contribute to life at a particular law school. While there is no single accomplishment or activity that will across-the-board make a candidate stand out, an application has to reflect an applicant’s life experience, what makes them unique and what new dimension they can add to a class or a school they are considering. And, if you decide that a consultant is right for you and for your application needs, choose carefully from among those qualified and be an educated consumer of the services offered.
I’m Diana Jordan with Law School Podcaster, thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more shows as we explore another topic of interest to help you succeed in the law school application process and beyond.”