Since I just spent a majority of the last academic year applying to law school, or preparing to apply, I wanted to share some insight on the application process. Though I am by NO means an expert on the process or have any idea what actually goes on inside the admissions offices on various campuses, I did a ton of research, and learned as I went in terms of applying. The first installment in my law school series will be focused on letters of recommendation. If you are currently a freshman or sophomore, start building or solidifying relationships with professors, staff, or mentors. Try to think of some people you would eventually want to write your letters of recommendation, and get to know them better. The being said, don’t vet recommenders, recommendations should be natural. You should be able to ask the person, and they should be able to comfortably write you a strong letter without a ton of information coming from you last minute.
If you are currently a junior or senior, think about who you work with currently, or worked with in the past, that knows you well and can advocate for your work ethic or other skills. You want to pick people who know you well and will write strong letters so that you stand out as an applicant. Most applicants have strong letters of recommendation. The people who don’t typically asked the wrong people. To give you an idea, I asked my thesis adviser who is the chair of my department, an attorney I interned for, and the administrator who oversees the Honor Council. I knew that the three people I asked would write me good letters, but I also knew that the three people represented three different angles of who I am as a student or worker. I wanted admissions offices to get a strong sense of who I am, and having a diverse group of recommenders seemed like a good idea to me.
Now, the important question that gets asked often too little is who to ask. Most people assume they have a great idea of who to ask, but you should also try to be strategic about who you ask. While I had a few professors that likely would have written great letters of recommendation, I knew my thesis adviser was the best choice because I worked really closely with her, and she knew my work ethic, especially pertaining to my major. While you may believe titles are important, you don’t want to ask the president of your college to write you a letter if it’s going to say something like, “great student, strong credentials, blah blah blah I don’t actually know this candidate well.” I went to a panel with the Deans of Admission for Stanford, Duke, and NYU, and they all said that titles are not important if the letter is super generic and doesn’t actually represent who the applicant is well.
When you ask people for recommendations, you should provide: (1) your resume, (2) any significant achievements you feel they should know about related directly to their field that isn’t present on your resume, and (3) statement of purpose/reason for applying. Some people will say they don’t need the aforementioned things because they know you well enough to write your letter without, but if they don’t say anything, it’s safer to give them too much information than not enough.
So, if you’re ahead of the game in terms of preparing to apply, think about recommenders early. If you’re about to start applying, do some thinking about who would be a good sampling of recommenders.
Please let me know if you have questions specific to you. Do you know who you would ask?