The following article was submitted by Stratus Admissions Counseling to The National Jurist and was originally published on their PreLaw website.
PreLaw magazine recently sat down with Stratus Admissions Counseling to discuss some of the most important questions law school applicants have about the admissions process. Joy Blaser and Daniel Waldman are admissions counselors at Stratus.
Q1: What advice would you give to a prospective law school applicant who finds themselves in the following scenarios:
Splitter (High LSAT or GPA and low GPA or LSAT)
Joy Blaser (JB) — The splitter scenario is very common. Applicants with a low GPA and high LSAT should do whatever possible to raise their GPA if time permits including maybe taking a gap year so that senior grades can be maximized and considered in the applications. If that ship has sailed, hopefully the applicant can write a GPA addendum that highlights their high LSAT score as the better predictor of their potential. If you have the reverse situation (and have done everything you can to raise your LSAT score), write a well-reasoned addendum explaining why your GPA is the better indicator of your potential, e.g. you have a history of low standardized test scores but have always done extremely well in school.
Competitive LSAT and Competitive GPA
JB — This scenario is ideal. For these applicants, it is important to produce an application that matches and further augments the numbers. Applicants should submit sophisticated, clear and concise personal statements, supplemental essays and addenda that reinforce their likelihood of becoming successful law students and attorneys.
Q2: How important are the personal statement, letters of recommendation (LORs), resume and other materials in a prospective law applicant’s admissions package and does it really just come down to the hard numbers? Also, how do I know if I should write a diversity statement or not?
Daniel Waldman (DW) — Of course the numbers matter. If you got a 150 on the LSAT to go with your 2.5 GPA I think it’s safe to assume you’re not getting into Harvard. With that said, the personal statement, and to a lesser extent the other materials, are exactly what can and should set you apart from people with similar scores. Think of it as a possibility to add a couple of points to your LSAT by writing a stellar personal statement when compared to someone with a laconic application. As for the diversity statement, I advise approaching with a critical eye. Don’t bend over backwards to write a diversity statement that might make the reader roll their eyes; remember that your diversity statement is read alongside those of people coming from real hardship – poverty, refugees, discrimination, etc. – so a vanilla diversity statement could look disingenuous at best when juxtaposed with those.
JB — Agreed. I probably take a slightly broader approach to diversity statements (within reason) than Daniel. If an applicant has had a unique experience that has significantly impacted them, in the way they think and/or behave, I think it is worth exploring as a potential topic for a diversity statement. But yes, know your competition.
Q3: I was told the personal statement should focus on positive achievements, so should I avoid negative aspects of my background in writing my personal statement if they are really important in my life?
DW — I disagree with that advice. The experiences you explore on your personal statement serve mostly as a platform for you to showcase your personality today and/or inform the reader why you want to go to law school. A story of a “negative” experience can very easily be spun into a story of overcoming adversity and achieving personal growth. I’ve seen many applicants take this route successfully.
Q4: Should you always address “why law school” in your personal statement even if the prompt is open-ended?
DW — Your essay certainly doesn’t need to revolve around the question, but ideally it would at least allude to it. Admissions committees want to know not only who you are, but also what’s your motivation in applying – this helps them to better evaluate the fire that drives you and how engaged you will be as a student as an attorney. Remember that the main goal here is to sell yourself TO LAW SCHOOL, and not discussing your reasons for wanting to be an attorney risks the essay coming off as too generic.
JB — I agree with Daniel but take an even stronger stance on “why law.” The most compelling PSs do answer this question.
Q5: What are the most important factors when selecting the schools to which you should apply? How many reach and safety schools should I have? Is it beneficial to go visit schools to which I intend to apply?
DW — I would say that geography matters more than ranking to some extent. Employers want to hire someone who will stick around, and having a nexus to the area goes a long way in showing that. If you look at employment statistics for most law schools you’ll find that alumni tend to find work in the same area in which the school is located. “Beneficial” is a subjective term – a mere visit will not improve your chances of being admitted, but it might give you food for thought when deciding between schools or something to discuss in your personal statement, both of which could lead to a better outcome when it’s all said and done. Finally, while there’s no magic number, I advise my clients to apply to 15 schools, with 2-3 each of reaches and safeties.
JB — I agree and would add that many schools now ask if you have visited. A positive response is an indicator of genuine interest.
Further reading: Check out our prior article on choosing the right law school for you.
Q6: How should I handle a disciplinary issue in my past? How much detail should I include in a Character and Fitness Addendum?
JB — Applicants must be meticulous about reading the Character and Fitness prompts and err on the side of disclosing if unsure. I recommend being accurate and thorough but brief. Especially in criminal matters: be sure to include dates/time periods, exact wording on citations and a clear discussion of the disposition of the case.
DW — 100% agreed, but it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and – if possible – briefly discuss the lessons learned from the experience and your personal growth.
Further reading: Check out our prior article on writing addenda to your law school application.
Q7: How do you know if it makes sense for an applicant to apply Early Decision (ED)? Is there really an advantage? If they choose to do so, when should they submit their application?
DW — This is a totally individual decision. If you are SURE that you want to go to a certain school, but your scores don’t instill confidence that you’ll get an offer, then ED makes perfect sense. If you want the freedom of choice, then ED is not for you: You’re foregoing things like scholarship negotiations, possible reach schools offers. While schools rarely release ED specific data, in my experience it does help to some extent (for example, a 164 LSAT applicant getting into NYU!). And, as always – the earlier you apply, the better!
Further reading: Check out our prior articles on how to navigate rolling admissions and what you need to know about law admission deadlines.
Q8: I’m an older applicant that has been out of school for a number of years. Is that going to be to my disadvantage when applying to law school? Is a gap year a good idea or is it advisable to go straight from undergrad to law school? How important is work experience?
JB — If you have been productive during those intervening years, not at all. In fact, law schools are increasingly looking for prior professional experience. At many of the top law schools, the percentage of applicants admitted to their programs with at least one year of work experience after college exceeds 50%. These days, I encourage applicants to think about taking a gap year to work, especially if they are light on prior employment.
Q9: Is taking the LSAT multiple times frowned upon by law school admissions committees? How do schools view LSAT cancellations and absences?
DW — Multiple LSATs by themselves won’t be frowned upon – in fact, you can spin it to be a good thing (i.e., “I wanted to go to school X so badly that I took the LSAT four times until I got a score that gave me a realistic chance”), just remember that every subsequent retake means less in that one good score out of five takes isn’t as good as one good score out of two. Multiple cancellation and absences are a bad idea unless there’s a legitimately great excuse; it shows lack of confidence and flakiness, not the traits you want in the school’s mind.
Further reading: Check out our prior article on how law admissions committees handle LSAT cancellations, withdrawals and absences.
Q10: How much weight is given to interviews? What is the best way to prepare for interviews?
DW — I’m going to draw an analogy from fantasy football guru Matthew Berry: “You can’t win your league in the first round, but you can certainly lose it”. So too is the case with interviews. The goals are to alleviate concerns about your application and to show your social, personable side, which can’t really be done on the actual application. So a good interview is unlikely to change a rejection to an offer, but bombing it can unfortunately be an application killer. The best preparation is mock interviews: Do some research about possible questions, grab a friend, have them interview you and give you feedback. Just make sure it’s someone you trust to not sugarcoat things, because you want to know what you did wrong!
Further reading: Check out our prior article with 6 ways to nail your law admissions interview.