Last week, Hank attended a handful of events at the 2014 Pacific Coast Association of Pre-Law Advisors (PCAPLA) Conference and blogged about them. This is part 1 of 3.
There was one resounding theme at the PCAPLA Conference Mock Law School Admissions Committee Meeting last Thursday on the campus of Southwestern Law School:
It ain’t just about the numbers.
In a room of dozens of pre-law advisors from all over the country, Southwestern Law Assistant Dean of Admissions Lisa Gear and a panel of admission committee members from the University of San Diego School of Law, Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law, San Francisco School of Law and Santa Clara Law School discussed the applications of three students vying for admission.
The goal of the discussion was to pinpoint each application’s strengths and weaknesses, and to decide which ones had the best chance of admission. It was an engaging look at what the people deciding your law school fate are thinking about when deciding whether or not you’re the right fit for their school.
Granted, the first step in reviewing the applications was to read the back of each applicant’s “baseball card”: weighing their LSAT scores, GPAs, undergrad majors, class difficulty, etc. However, both the pre-law advisors and the law school committee members were overwhelmingly more interested in the applicants’ goals and motivations — especially for the applicants lacking in numbers.
Letters of recommendation were a particular focus. Advisors and committee members placed great value in the endorsements of undergrad professors. The more prestigious the recommender, the better. The strongest LORs echoed the applicants’ motivations and skills as a student. The weaker LORs were either off topic or way too brief. The best advice given: make sure your LOR scribes understand why you want to go to law school. Although it’s not always best to request to read an LOR before it’s submitted, it’s wise to communicate beforehand with whoever’s writing them. If your professor has a clearer idea of your goals, they’ll better connect how their past experiences with you will help you achieve them.
There was also much discussion about red flags on law school applications, but everyone agreed that there are numerous ways for applicants to show that they’ve moved on. Law school committee members understand that people make mistakes (especially college students). The key is to show law schools who you are now, not then. Law schools want to feel that you’ll be a productive, successful law student; by showing you’ve overcome your mistakes in the past, you can show law schools that you can handle adversity and the difficult load of law school. Law school admission committees are very forgiving of past mistakes as long as you’ve shown you’ve moved on from them and are a better person — and student — because of them.
According to the mock meeting attendees, a key to showing your drive is the law school personal statement. As long as applicants follow the personal statement prompt, a strong essay can go a long way. That’s why it’s always worth applying to your dream schools; you never know who’s reading your application. Those in attendance agreed that a good personal statement doesn’t just recap your past, but explains why your past has prepared you for law school, and why you’d make the school proud to have you as a student and graduate. Also, if you know what kind of law you want to practice after you graduate, great, but it’s not critical. Students often change focus in law school, and admission committees know that. If you’re not sure what kind of lawyer you want to be, that’s perfectly normal. Remember: you’re showing why you want to be admitted, not what you want to do with your degree.
Thursday’s event was a good reminder that no matter what is in your law school application, your fate is entirely dependent on who is reviewing it. While one piece can be a deal-breaker for some law school admission committee members, it can be strength for others. Many applicants assume law schools only care about the back of that baseball card, but it’s quite the opposite. Yes, the best way to book your ticket to law school is with an impressive LSAT score, GPA and major, but in today’s admissions landscape, it’s about much more than that.
In other words, it ain’t just about the numbers.
Stay tuned tomorrow and Wednesday for parts two and three, which include an overview of law school personal statements and letters of recommendation, as well as a discussion with a panel of law school admissions deans.