The Truest Advice You'll Ever Hear

(Applications Advice, Letters of Recommendation . . . )

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The Truest Advice You'll Ever Hear

Postby FriendlyAdvice » Wed Aug 04, 2010 12:54 am

This is the first time I have ever written a post on any site for any reason. I am doing so because I have just spent the last two years of my life (yes, two full application cycles) applying to law school. After being victimized by all sorts of misleading advice, I believe that it will be my "good deed of the day" to share what I have learned and hopefully save you, the future law school applicant, some time, money, and effort.

First off, unless your senior thesis was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, you were drafted into the NFL, or had your novel on the New York Times Bestseller List, nobody cares about extracurriculars. Nobody cares about your summer internship with Rep. Joe Schmo, nobody cares that you were vice-president of the knitting club, nobody cares that you spent four hours one thanksgiving volunteering in a soup kitchen.

Nobody cares about your recommendations. Again, unless you have Cornell West or Stephen Hawkings writing that you personally revolutionized their research, nobody cares. Nobody cares that you got a recommendation from a governor, or senator, or general. Those recommendations just prove that your dad has some important friends. Furthermore, the admissions committee at NYU isn't going to accept one student over another because one recommender described a student's work as "superior" while another recommender describes a student's work as "above average." Admissions committees have never heard of your freshman year sociology professor, they don't care what she has to say about you, and, at best, it will receive only a quick glance. as long as you submit then, then a check goes in a box and the committee moves on.

Nobody cares about your personal statement. When I was writing my statement I got a book (time and money) that was titled something to the affect of "50 Ivy League Law School Personal Statements." I sat down one Sunday before I wrote my essay and I was nearly bored to tears. After the fourth or fifth statement, they all started to sound identical. I mean, IDENTICAL. Everyone as overcome something, everyone has learned some cliche life lesson, everyone wants to be a lawyer to do good in the world. I highly recommend any of you doubting me to repeat the experiment. Read a handful of personal statements and tell me they don't start to blur together. I can't imagine working on the committee at a large program like Georgetown and being forced to read thousands of these things. It isn't the applicants fault that a decent personal statement is so difficult to write. In many ways, the cards are stacked against you. Generally speaking, what 22-25 year old kid has a genuine perspective on life and meaning? So, what then are you left with? A hackneyed tale about your grandmother's death, or volunteering in a bad neighborhood, or overcoming some relatively minor adversity. So, unless you single-handedly saved your tiny Ugandan village from a rebel massacre (and you have a commendation from the UN proving it), nobody really cares.

Nobody cares about your extracurriculars, nobody cares about your recommendations , and nobody cares about your statement. What does that leave us with? LSAT and GPA, and law schools care very, very much about about these. Thats the whole show. Besides being arguably good predictors of law school success, they are so coveted for another, more insidious reason. Law school deans are often hired and fired based on a school's position in the US NEWS rankings. Now we can have a big debate about whether the rankings are valid, or whether law school deans should pay attention to them, etc., etc. but in the end, it doesn't matter for your purposes. Law schools ARE extremely sensitive to the rankings and that affects you profoundly. Let me offer an example: Lets say Student A was raised by wolves, learned english in a truck stop when he or she was 17, worked three jobs through college, and generally overcame every possible obstacle in life. He or she scored a 159 on the LSAT. Student B is a rich, suburban brat who went to the best private schools, attended the best possible LSAT prep courses, and spent the remainder of his or her day on Facebook. He or she scored a 162. Student A could conceivably weaken a law school's ranking while Student B could strengthen it. Student B gets in, every time. This may strike some of you as cold and unfair, and it very well may be. However, it is also true. Plan your applications accordingly. Your LSAT score multiplied by your GPA equals your "index number." Learn this phrase and understand its logic. It is the only thing an admissions committee cares about.

"Not true!", you scream. "Why else would they have us submit all those recommendations and statements?", you ask. Well, in my eyes, for a few reasons. First law schools, and institutions of higher education in general, aren't very innovative or introspective in their methods. (There have been a lot of articles published recently to support that assertion.) Maybe forty years ago, before everybody and their uncle decided to apply to law school and rankings were something for football teams, admissions committees did place more value on the statements, recommendations, and extracurriculars. And because law schools are bound by tradition and are resistant to change, they are stuck with this antiquated system. Another reason could be that the very intelligent and educated people who make up law school admission committees don't like to think that their job could be done with a second rate IPhone application ( multiply the index numbers, offer acceptances to the highest numbers, decline or wait list the rest). But the real reason I think is a lot more obvious: You pay Harvard the same $70 application fee if they accept you or if they deny you. Application fees are a huge money maker for schools. It is not in Harvard's interest to tell some student from Big State U with a 166 LSAT and a 3.4 that he or she has absolutely no chance of acceptance. So elite private schools either actively or passively tell students that anything is possible and they should just go ahead and apply. So many 166/3.4's have been rejected from Harvard they should name an academic building 166/3.4- it was those application fees that built it.

There are a few exceptions to the index number tyranny. First, the index number, to a large degree doesn't mean all that much to the top five schools. I'm not by any means trying to imply that someone with a low index number has shot at them, they most certainly don't, I'm just saying that most of the people who apply to Harvard or Yale have a 3.9GPA and a LSAT north of 170. By necessity, they have to develop a different criteria. The other big exception is race. If you are a minority, especially if you are African-American, you get to add a special "bonus" multiplier to your index number. The particular bonus varies from school to school, but generally, as an African-American you can apply with a significantly lower number. Again, we can have a big debate about affirmative action, but it won't change the fundamental truth of what I'm saying. Good or bad, right or wrong, minorities get an admissions bonus. There is also an exception for people who have done truly amazing things (Written best sellers, cured cancer, whatever). By definition, these types of acts are "exceptional" and very few of you will possess these credentials. If you do, you know who you are and nothing more needs to be said about that. Being student body president while simultaneously being captain of the football team is rare, but certainly not exceptional. There are no points awarded in the US NEWS rankings for the amount of "rare" students you have admitted, hence nobody cares.

In conclusion, determine your index number and apply to schools accordingly. As a general rule of thumb, remember the 50% principle. For your application to be considered a good investment, make sure that your LSAT/GPA numbers are around the 50th percentile for the school which you are applying to. If your GPA is at the 25th percentile, your LSAT has to be at the 75th, and vice versa. If you are unhappy with where this leaves you, retake your LSAT and score higher (assuming that your GPA is already pretty much set in stone.) DO NOT send out 7 or 8 applications only to find out that you should have taken this advice. This is exactly what happened to me. I scored lower then I hoped on my LSAT, but I felt like I had a great story and background, so I decided to apply to my first choice schools anyway. That was an $800 mistake. I decided to retake the LSAT and I scored 8 points higher. I went from 5 rejection leaders to being accepted to my first choice, early acceptance. INDEX NUMBER! My life story didn't change, I didn't add too many extracurriculars, nor did I change my GPA. The only thing that changed was my LSAT score and index number and that caused me to go from a "deny" to an early acceptance "admit." Learn from my costly mistakes. You are not a special snowflake. No one cares about your stirring tale of redemption and overcoming. They only care about one thing- INDEX NUMBER! Anyone who says anything different is either misinformed, lying, or living in a world as they wish it to be, not as it is. Don't let that cost you time and money. Plan your applications accordingly....

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Re: The Truest Advice You'll Ever Hear

Postby Grizz » Wed Aug 04, 2010 12:55 am


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Re: The Truest Advice You'll Ever Hear

Postby vanwinkle » Wed Aug 04, 2010 12:59 am

Hahahaha, building a building with app fees. Harvard gets 9,000 applications a year, at $85 an app that's $765,000. That barely pays the salary of two of their top professors; or, to put it another way, it probably barely covers the costs of running the admissions department. Schools are not making immense profits off their app fees. Funny though. Slightly different take on the whole "there's one thing nobody knows about but I do" schtick.

Also, inflammatory post contains quite ridiculous AA stuff I don't want to see debated, so, thread lock.

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