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Law School Admissions Secrets

10 Tips to Help You Apply & Get In

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You’ve anguished and fretted over the LSAT, you’ve spent countless hours revising your personal statement, you’ve checked and re-checked all your optional essays, your bio and everything else that goes into perfecting your law school application.  You’re ready to press “send,” but once you do, what happens?  What goes on at the other end?  What do the people in the admissions office think about it? What would they tell you now, as you prepare to apply, if they could?  Listen in as we probe these questions.

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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.

You’re anguishing and fretting over the LSAT.  You’re spending countless hours revising your personal statement.  You’re checking and rechecking all your optional essays, your bio, and everything else that goes into perfecting your law school application.  How do you know when it’s time to press ‘send’?  And what happens when you do?  What will make the people in the admissions office admit you instead of other candidates, even if your numbers may not be as good as theirs?  What is the secret?  Our admissions officers know their perfect candidates when they see them.  How can you know if you’ll be chosen?  Listen in as we go behind the scenes to get tips from those who make the decisions on your application.  In this show, you’ll get the insider view from the admissions office, and you will learn there is a lot more to being admitted to your choice law school than having the best scores.

Dean Ann Perry at The University of Chicago Law School puts it this way: “We’re looking for people to succeed, and we’re looking, you know, for the best and the brightest.”  We’ll also hear from Dean of Admissions at Georgetown Law School Andy Cornblatt: “The ones who kick butt often are kicking butt out in the world, not necessarily in the classroom.”

We’ll also hear from other law school insiders who will share their views: Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions at the University of Virginia School of Law, Anne Richard, and Nancy Rapoport, who is the Gordon Silver Professor of Law at the William S Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

We talk with some top admissions deans to learn their secrets, their preferences, and sometimes their predispositions, to gain insight into which candidates make the cut.  It turns out that you may have more control over your submission than you think.  You will lose points with some by being pushy, despite your spectacular numbers; and sometimes your numbers are so-so, but you set the admissions officers on fire with your well-crafted true story about your life.  There are 10 nuanced secrets our deans reveal for us.  Listen in, because they may not be what you think.

We begin with Inside Tip Number One: Research.  Admissions officers don’t like it when you apply to every single law school you’ve ever heard of.  In other words, be picky.  Be discerning.  Ann Perry, Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Chicago Law School says you must heavily research your law schools to define your preference.  “A student really needs to research the schools that they’re interested in.  And when I say that I mean I think they should be applying to schools that they really feel that they would want to go to.  They need to research the schools’ course offerings, the programs, that type of stuff, because sometimes I hear of students applying to over 20 schools, which just seems to be excessive and means they’re not doing research at the front end of this process.”Everything you would want to know about every law school is available online.

Our Second Inside Tip: Timing is everything.  You don’t have to rush off to law school right after you graduate.  Andy Cornblatt, Dean of Admissions at Georgetown Law School, says go to law school when it is right for you.  He doesn’t care.  “It’s a plus that you have work experience.  It’s a plus if you’re out there in the work world.  You shouldn’t do it just for that reason; if you’re ready to go after your senior year of college come see us right away – that’s fine.  But fewer and fewer students are doing that, with probably a 30 percent, 30 to 35 percent, somewhere in there, of students coming right out of college.  The other 65 percent of them have taken at least a year off.  What they’ve done in their year off is everything… is a million things.  That’s just fine with me.  Chase your dreams, do what you want to do.  I taught high school in-between college and law school.  I think that grounded me and helped prepare me for what was coming.  But you don’t have to do that; you can do whatever you want.  So, in terms of that, all things being equal and you’re not really sure, then I would, you know, take time off and go get a job or go work or do this internship or whatever it is you want to do – volunteer work – and then come see me.  It looks good on your resume, but most importantly, it’s good for you.  It’s good for you to do.  Once you start law school, you’ll probably just start working when you get out, so whatever dreams you have – I know you’ve got dreams about being a lawyer – but whatever other dreams you have, go for that as well.”

Nancy Rapoport, the Gordon Silver Professor of Law at the William S Boyd School of Law at UNLV, and former Dean of Admissions, says law school applicants are getting older all the time.  “One of the things I really want potential law students to think about is, does it have to be right now?  Maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe you want to go do something else for a while and then see if it really does call you later in life to be a law student.  I’ve had students in their 70s.  Now I haven’t had too many of them, but I think the average age for law school is coming up.  And I think that’s a wonderful thing.  If I had to do it over again, I would not have gone straight through from undergraduate to law school.  I would have taken some time and gotten some perspective.”

Another thing our deans reveal about timing: Apply by Thanksgiving.  Once you’ve decided to pull the trigger, Thanksgiving is your deadline, according to Dean Cornblatt at Georgetown Law School.  “Apply early, early meaning at the latest by Thanksgiving.  Get in the game sooner rather than later.  We have rolling admissions; seats get used up.  Apply early in the game.”

Dean of Admissions at UVA School of Law, Anne Richard says answer the questions on the application specifically, be mindful of the deadlines, and don’t be pushy.  “We always hear from people that want us to disregard their academic record, and their LSAT score, because it just doesn’t reflect their abilities.  You know, they can’t get past the fact that they don’t have the credentials to get into a certain school, but they want to go to that school.  And that’s just it and they’re going to push till they get into that school, which generally won’t happen.  The applicant has to be realistic when they determine the list of schools to which they’ll apply, in terms of the academic credentials that they present, the LSAT score that they present, you know, what they bring to the table and whether or not that’s a fit, whether that meets the standards typically admitted to a particular school.  So applicants have to be mindful to apply to a broad range of schools if they definitely want to go to law school in the next cycle.”

What’s the Third Inside Tip our deans disclose?  Prep hard for the LSAT.  As smart as you are, don’t think you can just waltz in and win super-high scores.  Start preparing your entire application a year before.  Don’t expect to see the LSAT for the first time and knock it out of the park, says Dean Perry at University of Chicago Law School.  “I really think they need to prepare for the LSAT.  It’s something that I don’t think they should walk in cold to, and take the test without any preparation.  I do think it’s a test that one can prepare for and learn how to do their best on the test.  It’s something you don’t… you should… you have the opportunity to take it more than once, but I think you don’t want to spend too many Saturdays taking the LSAT.”

Inside Tip Number Four from our deans is academics.  Sure, you’ve got a great GPA, but it won’t mean as much if you took Clapping for Credit or Baseball and American Society.  Applicants must have a strong undergraduate course load, according to Rapoport at the School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  “I want them to have taken something demanding in college.  I don’t care what it is; I don’t care if it’s nuclear physics; I don’t care if is arcane English history – but it has to have been hard and it has to have involved some serious analytical skills, because that’s what we do in law school.  And if they’ve taken something that is not particularly demanding, then I worry about their ability to keep up.  So a rigorous undergraduate program is important.”

And you don’t have to be a poli-sci major to better your chances of getting into law school, says Dean Cornblatt.  “When you decide what to study, there is no particular courses or major or any course of study that I recommend one thing over another.  Don’t worry about that; take whatever you want – you’ll do better that way.  And plus, college ought to be for taking whatever you want.  So this isn’t medical school, where you have to take organic chemistry and all these other sciences.  At Georgetown Law School we have applicants from all over the country, all over the world, taking a million different courses in a million different majors, and it’s all fine with me.  Political science major, yeah, I look at it the same way as I do a physics major, as I do a business major, as I do a psychology major, as I do a French major, et cetera, et cetera.  Do not, do not tailor what you’re studying because you think it will maximize your chances of getting in – it doesn’t work like that.”

A Fifth Tip from inside the admissions office: Write an original personal statement.  And make it impeccable – spelling counts.  You can lose a lot of points for letting typos slip in.  Also, don’t be a jerk.  Dean Richard of UVA Law School says your personality will likely come across in your personal statement.  “Once an academic record is set, once an LSAT score is set, I think applicants who present themselves in a way that appears arrogant, or lacking in good judgment… so writing a very arrogant-toned personal statement is a problem.  Writing a personal statement that shows poor judgment in terms of the topic selected, for example using a vulgarity, is not good.”

Follow directions, and don’t call the school with questions for answers you could find online, says Dean Perry.  She also says she sees way too many typos and issues with students’ writing, and that will take you out of the running.  “It’s just making sure that they have attention to detail when putting together their application materials.  One of my biggest pet peeves is if there’re too many typos in that material, because you know it’s, once again, lawyers that need to have good attention to detail.  And if an applicant is having issues with that, that’s not a good sign for a future lawyer.”

Don’t forget to be real, says, UNLV’s Rapoport.  “Well, most applicants trip up in one of two ways: they’re not careful about their applications, they don’t proofread; or they write something that’s not real.  They write to impress us, without having any idea who we are, or what we’re looking for, because they’ve heard somewhere that they have to talk about why they were a political science major from the time that they were first in college, because when they were six years old they knew they wanted to be a lawyer.  We don’t need to hear that.  I would rather have someone who is a chemical engineer, who said, ‘Hey, I did this and then I thought maybe law school would help me with that,’ than I would be with someone who thinks that she absolutely has to tell me that from the moment of first consciousness she wanted to be a lawyer.”

And she says to read your personal statement out loud, to be sure it sounds right.  “In the day of almost instant communications, the applications that are proofread and neat and clear – and by ‘neat’ I mean the writing is succinct, but communicates what the applicant wants it to say, and doesn’t look like it’s slapped together at the last minute – I think those set themselves apart.  I think people who write in active voice – and your listeners should look that up if they don’t know what that is – people who write in active voice will set themselves apart.  The best writers are the people that I think will do the best in law school.  So if you write well going in, you have a huge edge.  So the people whose personal statements are good are going to set themselves apart just by that very nature.”

Dean Cornblatt at Georgetown Law School says it is not always about the numbers.  “Many years ago, but one that I will always remember, is an applicant who applied whose numbers were below our median.  She was fine, but not what… all the numbers would have said ‘no’.  I happened to know her prelaw advisor there, wherever she was – well, she’ll stay anonymous – and he wrote what a fabulous student this was, that she was very involved and will become a star – ‘just take a chance; she will become a star’.  I happened to interview her.  She… he organized for me to meet her.  She was one of those people, for reasons that you can’t enumerate, who walk into a room and the room just gets a little bit brighter when she walks in.  So I… this was one of those cases where I thought, okay, you know what?  The numbers say ‘no’ – I’m doing this.  I don’t care what the numbers say – I’m doing this.  That’s what I’m… that’s my job, to find out when you should do this, and I’m doing this.  Well, she came here, and this was a case of both, shown both at law school and when she got out, it turns out she graduated number one in her class, and… number one, and clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  And then went on and is a law professor.  She was, on the basis of those numbers, somebody would have looked at the GPA and LSAT and would have said, ‘Eh, she’ll do fine – you know, she’s not getting into Georgetown; go to a lesser law school – she’ll do fine and not set the world on fire.’  Well, no one sets the world on fire, but she sure set this law school on fire when she got here.  And she did great.  Now, it’s nothing specific.  I can’t tell you that she said this and so if everybody just says this then you’re all set.  Or she did this, and if everybody does this you’re all set.  It’s not like that.  But the impression I got from her, she was open in her statement, the recommenders were strong and terrific, the recommendations were strong and terrific, and that made all the difference.  And she did us proud.”

Here’s the Sixth Tip we got from inside the admissions office: What you do on your own time matters.  Really.  Hanging out in Europe on daddy’s dime may not measure up as much as a part-time job at a burger joint.  Beef up your resume, but not too much, says UVA’s Dean Richard.  “It’s important for law school candidates to do what they can to be well-rounded, to participate in extracurricular activities in which they’re interested, in which they can take on meaningful roles, not just join every club on campus so that their resume is three pages long, but rather do two or three things in a meaningful way.”

And Dean Richard says it doesn’t count for much if, in your spare time, you just jet off with the family.  “It’s good for law candidates to have work experience, or internship experience, so that during the summers working, whether it’s bartending, working in a bank, just, you know, doing something.  Some students, I’m sure, have the ability, given family circumstances, to not do much but travel and have a good time.  But I think we like to see that people are industrious, and that they get some work experience before law school, even if just in the summers.  When we’re looking at people’s resumes and activities we like to see that there’s… there’s some commitment to service to others, so community service activities, volunteerism.  I mean, the legal profession is a service industry, so we’re looking for evidence that one is interested, you know, in being in the kind of career in which we serve others.”

Then there’s this, don’t tailor your extracurricular activities to what you think admissions officers will want.  Follow your passion, offers Dean Cornblatt.  “It is much better to be very involved in one or two things than to be sort of involved in five or six things.  ‘The most activities’ doesn’t win here, so it’s better to be focused and be involved in sports and theater and music and the newspaper, I don’t know, whatever, Model UN – a million different things you can do.  But get involved – this is good advice whether you’re applying to law school anyway – but get involved wherever you are in school.  Don’t just go to class and come home; it’s not… that’s not going to impress me.  Again, you ought to do it anyway just in terms of your growth.  But don’t… but sort of broaden yourself out in a sense – don’t just go to class – but focus on the things that matter.  It’s the passion I’m looking for.  If that’s one or two areas, that’s great.  It’s very hard to be passionate in six or seven areas.  So, whether you’re president of the chess club or not doesn’t matter to me.  So just, you know, be really involved in those things.”

It may be easier than you think to fill your time before law school.  Dean Perry at the University of Chicago Law School: “I don’t think there’s any magic employment that will make you a stronger applicant.  What we like to see is people doing something, for sure, because we feel that they’re spending their time wisely and gaining experiences.  But I’d hope students would do things that they enjoy, because they’re going to like it better and do better at it.  I do think if you have an opportunity to intern at a law firm that could be helpful, especially if you’re not sure you want to be a lawyer.  But it’s not going to give you the tools to do well in law school, so I don’t want them to think you have to have an internship with a law firm.  We have students that come after spending two years doing service, like with such projects as Teach for America or AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.  And I find these are valuable experiences for students, just personally, to gain some insight into who they are, help people, which is always very nice, and I think that is something that if students want to do that, that’s a wonderful experience.”

How will you fit into the class?  Perry says spill the beans about yourself.  You never know what they’re looking for because it changes with every class.  “We’re looking for people to succeed, and we’re looking for the best and the brightest.  And we define that very broadly.  Best and brightest is not just they have the highest LSAT and the highest grades, but they’ve also maybe been involved on campus, or had some work experience.  So the committee does a good job of trying to bring in a diverse class.  And diversity is broadly defined; it’s people who come from different geographical areas, from work experience, no work experience, socioeconomic backgrounds.  So, it’s all of that, and so I think the candidate needs to make sure that they’re putting forth everything they think the committee will want to know, and not to leave any questions open in their application.”

And don’t be afraid to choose the quirky jobs, says Rapoport.  “The quirkier the employment, the more likely it is that that law student will bring something new to the class.  So, people who – I’m just going to draw hypotheticals here – I’d rather hear about someone who worked in a roller derby.  I’d rather hear about someone who invented a new type of ponytail holder, because that’s different, it’s unusual, and that person is likely to have a different perspective.  I don’t need the nth person who worked in a local government office, because that person felt that he had to work in a government office to get into law school.”

Number Seven from inside the admissions office is personality – personality that can come through your recommenders, Dean Richard says.  Skip the movie stars, the famous DA’s and the headliners, and choose the recommenders who can speak to who you are in the classroom.  “In terms of recommendations, it’s important to get recommendations that will be meaningful, so to get them from faculty members or work supervisors, people who really know an applicant’s abilities, character, or work ethic.  Much more important to get those kinds of recommendations from faculty members and supervisors than it is to try to get a recommendation from the White House, from somebody who doesn’t know you but who has a bigger name.”

Dean Cornblatt at Georgetown Law School says it’s really difficult to pull off calling yourself ‘special’.  Let your recommenders highlight the best of your personality.  “Sometimes, more than you think, there are… there’s real insight and real thoroughness in what a recommender… as a recommender talks about a particular applicant.  And that kind of insight can make all the difference.  So…  And of course, the advantage of that is it’s not self-serving.  You’re not declaring yourself special – your professor’s calling you special.  Your employer’s calling your special.  Your coach is calling you special.  Your director is calling you special.  All of that, and telling me why you’re special, that resonates.  So, to the extent that an applicant can work with… now, a recommender is going to say whatever he or she wants, but to the extent that an applicant can emphasize to the recommender, ‘Look, this matters.  I would appreciate if you could talk about x, y, z,’ and then just let them talk, that sometimes can really help, and help one applicant, maybe, stand out more than another.  Not all the time, but more than you think, to where then I’ll say, ‘Wow.  Okay, if you… if you’re talking that way about her, that gives me a much better sense of who she is, in a positive way.’”

And the negative aspects of your personality can show up, too.  Don’t be that person who parks in the admissions office expecting an hour of one-on-one.  Dean Perry at the University of Chicago Law School says you can easily blow your chances.  “I think they also need to correspond with schools appropriately, meaning not calling every five minutes.  They need to be professional in their corresponding over email.  And I think that’s something, you know, that admissions committees will take note of if they find that the applicant is not acting appropriately with the rest of the admissions office and staff.”

As brilliant as you may be, Dean Richard says, you can’t talk your way into law school.  “Candidates have to present the strongest applications that they can, then be mindful of how to interact with law admissions staff, with faculty, with clerical staff, because we’re not looking for people who are going to come into our law school communities and not fit in our community.  And being pushy or bossy or arrogant, making demands on any… anyone, from the secretary all the way up to the dean of the law school, is something that people shouldn’t do.  And every now and then we’ll find a candidate who thinks, oh, just if I can just sit in your office and talk to you for an hour, you’re going to admit me.  And sitting in my office for an hour is not going to do you any good.  We certainly talk to candidates, but you can’t talk your way into law school.  It’s really based upon the credential package that you present.”

Rapoport has a recipe for a good class: “Every person I pick is going to change the mindset and environment of everybody else in that entering class, somehow, in a hallway conversation, in an in-class discussion, or something.  How can I, by picking these people, make their classmates’ experiences that much better, because they’re different?  And so, chemists call it ‘titration’ – we’re titrating our class at some point.  So it is important to have some different background.”

Coming in at Number Eight on our list is responsibility.  If you mess up, ‘fess up.  Here’s what Rapoport says on this: “People who, in their personal statements, don’t take responsibilityfor actions that they might not be particularly proud of will, likewise, not take responsibility for those actions when they mess up in law school.  And those are not the people I want to send clients to.”

The Ninth Tip from our deans is good teamwork.  Show how well you work with others.  Sure, you’re an exemplary student, but how is your emotional intelligence?  Rapoport, at the law school at UNLV, says applicants who can show they get along well with others have an edge.  “I like to see that they can handle working in teams, because in real life, unless you’re a solo practitioner, you will come across other people that you work with, and you have to be able to have enough emotional intelligence to work with a variety of different people.  So, it can be student organizations, it can be volunteering, it can be anything that shows that they’re not just solo players.  I think that’s important, as well.”

And our Tenth and Final Tip is to communicate well in English – y también en Español, Français, Deutsch, Nihongo.  “I think it’s wonderful when people speak more than one language.  Law is global, and the ability to speak more than one language is fabulous in terms of increasing the number of areas in which you can practice; people who have lived other places, for the same reason.  There is no single culture in the world.  There’s a microcosm of several cultures, and people who understand that different cultures behave differently, I think, have a huge edge in the application process.”

In summary, Dean of Admissions at UVA School of Law Anne Richard says set yourself apart.  “What law applicants have to do is just not be thinking about others in the applicant pool so much as thinking about themselves, and presenting who they are, and presenting themselves to us in the most favorable light possible, and in the strongest application that they can put together.  There’s no magic formula, ‘do this, this, and this, and you win’.  It really is just some self-reflection, figuring out where they’ve been and where they’re going, and why they’re going there, and then just presenting the package that they are.”

And Rapoport says, “Come across as sincere, and careful, and dedicated, and driven.”

When it comes down to it, just go for it, says Dean Cornblatt.  “Don’t let the numbers and medians and all that stuff dissuade you from reaching for your dream.  And then let us do our stuff, and who knows what we’re going to say.  Don’t think you know – I’m not sure myself.”

For more information, a transcript of this show, or to sign up to receive more law school podcasts, visit www.LawSchoolPodcaster.com, look for us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and insight into the world of law school.  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.

 

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