Posted in applying to law school

Getting a Head Start: Law School Applications

BCburnslawnsunset
Boston College

I am no expert, but I received some insightful advice and learned some important lessons along the way. Here are a few tips for getting a head start on your law school applications:

Start to narrow down your list of schools you’re applying to. Arguably the most important thing when narrowing down your list of schools is balancing being open minded about where you might apply with also making sure not to waste your time and money applying anywhere you wouldn’t consider going. One of my mentors told me I didn’t have enough safety schools (the two I labelled my “safety” schools were definitely pushing it) but I made a calculated decision to do it that way. First, I thought about what I would do if my safety was the only school I got into. Would I really want to go there, or would I just decide to take another year, retake the LSAT, and re-apply? I also considered that I was applying earlier in the cycle, in October. I decided that if I had not been accepted to any schools by the time the February deadlines rolled around and I wanted to fire off a few more applications, I would at that time. That way I wasn’t wasting my time and money in October applying to schools that I wouldn’t need to have applied to and didn’t really want to attend anyway. On the other hand, I added a one particular school last minute kind of on a whim, and ended up highly considering it as an option once accepted. 

Get to know the schools you are interested in. Of course, it’s always important to do your research on each school. Read about their clinical programs, journal offerings, and talk to as many as people as you can. What is this school known for? Who are the most notable professors in the areas you are interested in? What are some of the weaknesses of the school? One way I recommend getting to know schools better is to follow them on social media and read some of the articles they post. Many schools will post articles in which any faculty is quoted as well as post about notable accomplishments. Having a better understanding of who the faculty are and what they are contributing to society helps when it comes time to answer the age-old “why this school?” question, and will help you get a better sense of if it is somewhere you see yourself. As an added bonus, reading articles meant for the non-legal mind that concern legal matters is informative and interesting!

Start brainstorming and writing your statements. I spent a lot of my free time over the summer trying to write my personal statement. I ended up not settling on a topic until September, at which point it was very much stressing me out. I think the best advice about a personal statement I received was that the most important thing is to make sure the reader learns something substantive about who you are as a person and what your journey to this point looked like. Also, decide if writing a diversity statement is right for you. Do your research and understand what are appropriate topics for a diversity statement. It is important to remember that the point of a diversity statement is not simply to talk about difference, but to connect that back to your potential as a student and lawyer. What about this part of you will enable you contribute in a unique way to the law school community?

Make a timeline for your application process. There are a lot of moving parts that can take varying amounts of time. LSAC states they can take up to a month to process your transcript. Whoever is writing your recommendations probably has their own standard amount of time they ask for to write a letter, whether that be two weeks or two months. Don’t be me, who took so long to ask my recommenders that one of them came to me and asked when I was planning on asking them! Decide when you want to have your applications in by and try to work backwards from there in your planning to make sure you are doing everything with enough time. Most people advise applying before Thanksgiving, and the sooner the better, but not at the expense of your application being the best it can be.

When applications go live, make some tables with the requirements for each school. Unfortunately, schools have different requirements and preferences for almost everything. One school will insist upon a one-page resume and another school will tell you to make it as long as you want. Some schools will say up to three pages and prefer it to be shorter, some schools will say up to four pages and expect you to write four pages. One school will ask for a 300 word diversity statement and another school will ask for a two-page diversity statement. These are not things you can mess up on your application. Read the directions very clearly and do outside research on the different schools. I sent my two-page personal statement to a school that stated up to four pages, only to later find out from others that they actually expect four pages. Don’t be me. Make sure you know exactly what kind, if any, supplements different schools require. If you were on the fence about applying somewhere and then realize you would have to write three supplemental essays to really have a chance at being accepted, it might not be worth it. There’s no hand-holding in this process, it’s all on you to be organized and on top of everything.

Consider connecting with resources from your undergraduate institution. Even if you have already graduated and entered the working world, your school’s career services will likely still be able to help you. This part I was quite bad at to be quite honest. I didn’t reach out to career services until after I’d already applied. It ended up working out fine for me, but if I had to do it again, I would’ve made more of an effort to connect with these resources earlier. I often felt like I was going it alone while trying to put together my applications, and it doesn’t have to feel that way. Chances are many people are applying to law school, and they may have helpful advice about your particular circumstance and/or about specific schools you are interested in!

 

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Posted in applying to law school

What Surprised Me About the Law School Process

rotunda
The University of Virginia Rotunda

Before applying to law school, I was unaware of the ways the college process differs from the law school process. I’ve put together a few of the biggest surprises I encountered applying and committing to a law school:

The status-checker rabbit hole is real. Schools provide applicants with an online status checker to allow them to stay updated on the progress of their application. This tells them when the application is received, when it is deemed complete, and in most cases, when it goes under review by staff. When an application is looked at by a second or even sometimes third person, the date on the status checker changes to reflect the most recent date that the application was reviewed. Different schools have different patterns from which when your date does and does not change that can drop hints about what your outcome might be and/or when you may hear the final decision (such as schools being known for accepting people whose review changes on certain days of the week, or replying to people within a certain number of days after a status checker change). Most of the school-specific information is available on websites such as Top Law Schools. I found myself refreshing status checkers multiple times per day at some points, willing to see a date change that might just mean I would get in. I almost wish I never got invested in this, because though it did give me mostly accurate heads-up about when and/or in what direction my application status was going, it made it impossible for me to stop thinking about my applications.

There are many different types of interviews used by various schools, and the people conducting them are generally very nice. Many law schools do not conduct any interviews, some attempt to interview all applicants, and others interview selectively. Throughout my law school process, I interviewed for four of the seventeen schools I applied to. I had a group interview, a phone interview, an alumni interview, and an in-person interview with a Dean of Admissions. All of the people who interviewed me were down to Earth, friendly, and approachable. None of them wanted to point out the weaknesses of my application or grill me on my life choices. There were no trick questions that I felt unprepared for, and I left remembering that personnel conducting interviews have an interest in giving you a positive impression of their school. They don’t find joy through torturing people in interviews.

Yes, admission is rolling; no, this is not a guarantee you’ll hear back in a timely manner. I submitted my applications in late October, and figured the only people hearing back from schools in late March/April would be people who submitted right before the deadline. In short, I was wrong. One school I applied to did not send out a single waitlist offer until late April regardless of when the person submitted their application. Other schools seem to wait until after the application deadline when they have a more complete picture of the applicant pool to respond to certain borderline applicants. The rolling admissions process gives the possibility for, but doesn’t guarantee, a swift, timely response. Another important point is that hearing back late doesn’t always mean waitlist or rejection. I was accepted to the school I will be attending in late March, once I had already convinced myself that I had no chance of being accepted. This process differs by school, but it is helpful to remember that silence itself isn’t a no.

It’s commonplace to negotiate for scholarship money. For many people, myself included, the idea of trying to negotiate for scholarship money is nerve-wracking and generally unpleasant. However, many people do it, and there’s no shame in it. I inquired about merit aid from the three schools that did not initially offer me any, and two of them granted my request. The worst thing that can happen is they can say no, and though it is a bit awkward if they do, it is worth trying. Law schools, though they definitely don’t love this practice, accept that it is common and will not hate you or rescind your application if you inquire about aid.

Many law students are enthusiastic about helping prospective students. I was consistently surprised and impressed by how friendly and genuinely helpful the students I spoke to at various law schools were. One student, who I will call Carla, mentioned to me that she places great importance on recruiting the classmates she wants. For her, this meant helping to recruit more LGBTQ students by going above and beyond to make sure admitted students were welcomed with open arms. Every student I interacted with at every school I went to wanted to talk to me about my law school choices, tell me why they like their school best, and help me work through the separating factors between schools I was looking at. I met one other noteworthy student, who I will call Yasmin, who after just half an hour of having coffee with me told me that if I chose to attend that school, she would sit down with me in the beginning of the year and teach me how to outline effectively. I was so touched that this person who barely knew me would offer to do that. It really goes to show that law students aren’t just conversing with prospective students out of a feeling of obligation, but because they are invested in bringing more people similar to themselves into their school community. 

Anything in particular about the law school application process you’d like to hear more about? Please let me know!