Now that we’re into October, I thought this would a good time to discuss law school admissions again. I’ve discussed the various aspects of law school admissions before, but I always think it’s a good idea to revisit topics, rather than just refer you back to my old tips. Given that I’m currently in my second year of law school, I also feel I have a different perspective on law school admissions. There are questions that I didn’t ask that I now wish I would have. There are factors I didn’t consider that I wish I did. You get the idea. So, today I wanted to share with you my thoughts on law school admissions now that I’m two cycles removed from the process.
When I was applying to law school, I was so sure that law school was the logical next step for me. I went through the process thinking I was on top of it, asking all the right questions and doing all the right things. However, hindsight is 20/20 and I know now there were things I would have done differently given what I know now.
In terms of what you should know about applications, I say this: I’m becoming more and more convinced admissions at any level is random. While schools say they have an objective method of choosing students, some admissions officers may see something in an application that others wouldn’t. I was watching some YouTube videos the other day when I was bored and had been in the black hole that is YouTube browsing far too long. The videos were current high school seniors or college freshman talking about their experiences with admissions. After the fourth video of someone being denied from top universities — Yale, Harvard, etc. and then getting into Stanford and Columbia, or being rejected from Harvard but admitted at Yale and waitlisted at Princeton– I decided admissions is random. There’s no “hard science” as to why students do or don’t get into a school. I also watched a video from a former Stanford admissions officer, and the process of how they look at applicants is intense. While this is all for undergrad, I will say I believe the methods carry over to graduate level admissions as well, but I do recognize that the applicants may be more diverse (people who took a gap year, people who have legal experience or have none, etc.). So, apply where you want to apply, but know that if you don’t get into a school, it is nothing personal. You will get into a great school and you will be happy.
To continue on to how to approach applications, I say this: you have been creating your application by making the choices you made in college and beyond. Your application consists of the following: general information, personal statement, LSAT score, letters of recommendation. The general information is easiest, obviously, because it’s simple data: name, address, sex, family information, etc.
The personal statement is trickier. I read book after book of “successful” personal statements. I wanted to get an idea of what makes an application stand out in this realm. However, the most important thing is that the statement is well-written. The admissions committee wants to know you can write concisely, coherently, and effectively. You should pick a topic that explains who you are as a person and why choosing law is logical and a clear choice for you. You don’t necessarily have to explain why the law is the right fit, but I do recommend folding it in somehow – even if it’s subtle. I also recommend bringing out character traits you possess that will 1) contribute something unique to the class and 2) make you a successful lawyer. Law schools want people who will make strong alumni, so they want to be confident you will succeed in law school.
In terms of LSAT scores, they’re important. Depending on where you’re applying, they may be more or less important. I say choose your reach school and aim for their median score. It’s always better to aim higher than lower. However, know that you can get into a school with a lower-than-their-average score. You can also not get into a school that you have a higher-than-their-average score. So, just know that you want to get a competitive score, but know that the score will not make or break your score. I recommend taking a prep course that is in-person. I also recommend studying more than you think you need to. Take as many practice exams as possible, and take them in exam-like conditions (timed, quiet room, etc.).
Finally, the letters of recommendation are important. Honestly, what people who have had the chance to teach your or work with you have to say is informative and important for admissions officers. I had three letters of recommendation for each application and I know that the people I chose wrote strong letters. It’s important to think about who you want to write your letters and what they will say. I, like most, recommend asking professors, supervisors, etc. At the end of the day, letters of recommendation may sway admissions officers one way or the other. Sure, you have great numbers and credentials, but maybe the letter is generic and could easily be about any student. However, there is a student with similar numbers and credentials as you, but who has personalized, amazing recommendations form important figures on her campus. That student, if I had to guess, is more likely to stand out in a pile of applications.
So, once your applications are in and you get your decisions back, it’s time to consider where you want to attend. I decided fairly early where I wanted to go. There was one school that may have changed my mind, but as luck would have it, I was waitlisted there. When deciding where to attend, I recommend choosing a school that has great, welcoming faculty. This, on the surface, may seem to be offered everywhere. However, attend admitted students days, go to presentations, do research to see how many lawyers teach courses in the areas of law in which you’re interested. You should also consider the courses available – is there a lot in your area? Another important note: look at clinics available and see if there is one that you want to do. I didn’t look very in-depth at clinics, and now I kind of wish I would have. You should also consider how many externship opportunities are available. Externships are a great way to get experience on your resume during the school year while earning class credit.
Another important consideration is the student body. You’re going to be spending three hyper-intense, stressful years with people and you want to be sure that you’ll enjoy the company of your peers. Talk to current students, talk to students who plan to attend with you, and talk to alumni from your undergrad who now attend the school. If you’re out of state, ask people who moved from your state to that school how they like it and if they’d recommend it.
I think there are four questions I would have asked that I didn’t in terms of career services.
- How many people did you place in x state at a firm job?
- How many people spent their summers in x state at a firm?
- Of the student who summered at firms their second summer, how many were outside the top 20%?
- What resources do you have on-campus for people conducting an out-of-state job search?
There is a surprising amount of confusion when it comes to searching for jobs. While jobs may seem super far away during the application stage, it’s something important to consider because the point of going to law school is to get the job you want when you’re done… and a large percentage of people get their post-grad offers at the end of their second summer. So, jobs are important and you want to make sure that you’re applying and getting into schools that have the resources to make getting your dream job early easier!
While there is a lot more I could say, I recommend doing thorough research and figuring out where to attend based on your gut. I know it sounds cheesy, but sometimes the right decision comes down to a feeling. You feel it’s right and you go with it. I should say: if you get to school and feel you made a mistake, transfer after your first year. You should weight whether transferring is right or not… but if you decide to transfer, do so after your first year. If you transfer any later your degree is from your original school and you get a certificate from the second institution! A few transferred from my law school, and I think sometimes there is a stigma that transferring is bad. However, I think it’s worse to stay somewhere that isn’t the right fit.
What is the worst part of applying to law school?