Earlier this week I was invited to attend a Mock Admissions Committee Meeting. In short, the attendees were deputized as Admissions Committee members and we were given real admissions packets to review and to vote on one applicant to be offered acceptance to a top 60 law school. The packets we were given to review were redacted versions of real application packets from the past 3-4 years. We were informed of the schools “LSAT/GPA range” and given 15 minutes to review 3 applicants. We then spent about 45 minutes discussing the applicants, after which we voted as a “committee” on who would be accepted. There were two actual deans of admissions there to guide the process. Here is what I learned about the process:
1) Members of Admissions Councils typically only spend about 5 minutes per packet. They review them in their “spare time” (at home, maybe watching TV, maybe over dinner, etc.) so it is VITAL that you grab their attention immediately or they will skim your packet and move on to the next one.
2) A good professional resume is a must! Not all law schools specifically require that you submit a professional resume but they will ALL accept them. You SHOULD include one with your packet. But be careful that your resume is tailored to law school. Ex. make sure your objective doesn’t say “To find a job in marketing.”
3) Your explanations of your answers to the Character & Fitness questions are REALLY important. Even charges for minor crimes (like shoplifting) can be overcome if the explanation does two things: takes responsibility rather than making excuses and shows you have grown from and since the occurrence. Just be sure that you list EVERYTHING and that you are honest about the outcomes.
4) Your letters of recommendation can make or break you! Make sure that the people you select for your LORs will actually give you a good recommendation. And that doesn’t just mean that they won’t say “No, this person wouldn’t make a good law student.” It also means that they won’t say “I can’t say whether they would be a good law student or not because I don’t know them that well.” In short, don’t ask someone to write a LOR that you haven’t bothered to get to know. And another good tip is that unless you have NO ONE else to ask, don’t just use professors. You want to show you have some depth, so ask an employer or a coworker to do one as well so that you can show you are professional as well as being a good student.
5) Be careful with your personal statement! While it is rare, there are cases where a really great PS can make a committee want to take a chance on you. But more importantly, a BAD PS can cost you big time! Things to keep in mind with your PS (and any other addenda you choose to include really):
- Abide by the word/page limits and don’t try to cheat. Adjusting margins, using small or hard to read fonts, etc. is extremely obvious and off-putting. Wall to wall words makes you not want to read it.
- Along the same lines, wordiness in general is overwhelming and almost assures that the reader will not finish your PS before moving on.
- Grab their attention in the FIRST PARAGRAPH or you will lose them completely!
- Don’t write about high school! Unless there was a defining moment in high school that made you want to be an attorney, pick something else or make it a SMALL part of your story. If you haven’t done anything worthy of writing about since then, you may need to take a year off and get some life experience. Writing about making new friends at youth camp makes you seem immature and like you have nothing better to talk about.
- Make them like you! Kanye West is very clear about telling the world he is the best that has ever lived… but many people dislike him for that reason. So don’t do this in your PS either. SHOW them why you are the best, don’t TELL them you are. You want them to come to that conclusion on their own without having to be told.
6) Don’t be discouraged! Always apply for a reach school or two. If you have a compelling story, it can sometimes make up for less than stellar numbers. Don’t get me wrong here, a great PS won’t get a 146 LSAT and a 2.2 GPA into Harvard, but in some cases you can overcome being a point or two under the US News reported range for a school IF you are able to convince them that you are worth the risk. One of the deans shared with us that the school had actually admitted one of the candidates that our “committee” passed on. We passed on him based on the fact that his numbers were a bit low, but they took him because his story made them believe he was worth the risk.
7) Numbers count! I know I just said not to let them discourage you, but at the same time they DO matter! If you want to get into a good school you need to look good all the way around. Good numbers can sometimes trump some of the other things above. Our “committee” voted to accept a 169/3.79 Yale undergrad that NONE of us liked personally, but we all believed he would be a good/successful law student who would pass the BAR. The same dean mentioned above revealed that the school had actually accepted him as well… to offset the guy with the lower numbers.
I hope this info helps someone. I found it to be extremely insightful, so I wanted to pass it along to others who might be where I am. My take away from the evening was that I intend to go ahead and submit my applications for Fall 2014. Even though I’m still disappointed with my numbers, there is a chance that my story (which I feel is unique and compelling) will get me in to the school of my choice (or at least buy me some scholarship $$ from some schools lower on my radar). But if this does not work out, then my plan is to retake the LSAT after taking more time to prepare and then reapplying for Fall 2015 entry.