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Law School Applications - Ken's Successes and Regrets
Published February 2008, last updated June 2010
Several years prior to creating Top-Law-Schools.com as an informative resource to help law school applicants and law students, I too was an applicant in search of advice that would allow me to maximize my chances of admission into top-ranked law schools. While I was fortunate enough to gain admission into every law school to which I applied, the relative dearth of free information about the law school application process led to several mistakes that could have greatly hurt my chances at admission. I share the story of my law school application cycle with hopes that you can learn from both my successes and my mistakes.
Recipe for Success:
Law schools love an upward grade trend: In my first two undergraduate years, I had a relatively poor cumulative GPA of 3.30. Realizing that this GPA would hinder my chances of admission into the law schools that I wanted to attend, I transformed myself into a more a serious and dedicated student, and my GPA in my last two years of undergrad rose to 3.90. Although my overall cumulative GPA was 3.60, still a low GPA by the standards of most top schools, schools seemed to recognize that I had rededicated myself to my studies, and fortunately my acceptances reflected this. As my experience demonstrated, it is imperative that you finish strong in your undergraduate years, especially if your first years of college were marked by low grades. For an applicant with a low or mediocre GPA, an upward grade trend is of tremendous value.
An undergraduate logic course is like free LSAT prep: Like many applicants, I found the Logic Games section of the LSAT to be the most challenging as I prepared for the test. Fortunately, the section did not prove troublesome for me on test day, and I attribute my success in large part to a logic course in which I enrolled in college. This course, usually offered under the title of “Introductory Logic” or “Critical Thinking”, familiarized me with the kind of analytical reasoning required for success on the Games section, and also helped me with the two other Argument sections of the test. The fact that I was able to apply the course credits towards my undergraduate degree was icing on the cake. I advise applicants to take this opportunity to proverbially kill two birds with one stone.
Focus heavily upon your LSAT. With a good but by no means great GPA, I realized that I needed a strong LSAT score to gain admission in to the finest law schools in the nation. I took an entire summer off and focused solely on the LSAT, and by doing so, was able to record a score of 173 (99th percentile). Although many applicants may not be able to dedicate as much time to preparing for the LSAT, you should certainly spend as much time as possible in preparation for the test, as it is undoubtedly the single most important factor in law school admissions. Any time a 4 hour exam can have a greater effect on your chances of admission than 4 years in college, diligent focus is due.
Personally visit the law schools between which you’re deciding: Most applicants simply attend to the highest ranked law school into which they’re accepted. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for dissatisfaction, as factors other than a set of rankings will affect your quality of life and happiness while at law school. Rankings should certainly play a part in your decision, but the unique experience of each law school, which can best be experienced through a visit to the school, should play a much larger part. After my personal visits, I found that I felt that the experience offered by U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law would be better for me than Columbia or Penn and that I was turned off by the competitive atmosphere at the U. of Chicago. Of course, only you can determine which the best environment is for your law school years, and thus, visits are crucial. Applicants for whom visits are not practical would be wise to visit the ever-expanding profiles section of Top-Law-Schools.com to get a feel for each school.
Not applying to enough schools: I feel a bit of regret when I mention that my application cycle included no rejections. The reason for this regret is that, mainly out of modesty, I chose not to apply to Yale, Harvard, or Stanford, the three icons of the legal world. I later realized that the law school application process is like skiing (and like life), in that if you did not fall, you were likely not trying hard enough. In my case, it is probable that I would have been rejected at all three schools, and still, I regret not finding this out for certain. I advise you to apply to several schools that may seem slightly out of reach, as the application cycle is highly unpredictable, and as I can personally attest, to try and fail is better than not having tried at all!
Not applying early enough: At the time of my application cycle, I mistakenly believed that waiting until my fall semester grades were posted to send out my applications would improve my chances at acceptance. I have since learned, from talking to numerous admissions officers, that sending applications early in the cycle often provides a greater advantage than a semester’s worth of grades. In my case, my application was sent in late December, which seems to be the heaviest period of traffic at admissions offices. Of course, applicants taking the LSAT for the first time in December may have no choice but to send their applications later in the cycle. Thus, I advise you to both sit for the LSAT and send your applications as early as possible in order to increase your chances at admission.
Writing a personal statement that was not truly personal: One of the reasons for my writing such an extensive article on personal statements is that my own personal statement was seriously lacking. In writing my personal statement, I made the classic mistake of writing a narrative resume that simply recounted the academic highlights of the last few years, rather than a truly personal statement. I advise you to write a compelling thematic essay that focuses on the unique attributes and qualities that you may be able to offer to a law school.
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