Addressing Weaknesses in Application

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Anonymous Ivy Grad

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Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby Anonymous Ivy Grad » Thu Sep 01, 2016 6:50 pm

I'm planning to apply to law school this year after working for a few years after graduation. Based on my numbers alone, I feel pretty good about my chances for getting into my target schools, but there are a few weaknesses in my transcript I'm not sure how to address. I attended an Ivy League school, my LSAT is in the mid 170's, and my GPA should be just below 3.7 (I don't know exactly what it will be because it depends on whether LSAC counts my study abroad grades). During my freshman and junior years, my grades were very good (A and A- with one B+ sprinkled in). But after that, there are a few things that may make admissions officers raise their eyebrows:

(1) I withdrew during my junior year and have all "W's" on my transcript for that semester. (I was passing my classes and believe that the LSAC will view the W's as non-punitive.) The withdrawal is noted as a voluntary on my transcript.

(2) During my senior year, I failed a class in my major. This is the only grade below a B+ on my transcript.

(3) I did independent research for credit and got a decent, but not great, grade.

There's a coherent explanation for all of these weaknesses, but it isn't one that makes me look great (I didn't have any medical issues, wasn't diagnosed with any psychological disorders, and nobody in my family died). I understand that insofar as they affect my GPA, the weaknesses in my transcript will make me less competitive. But I'm wondering whether any of them are "qualitative" problems that would make admissions officers pass over my application even if they might consider someone with a similar GPA but more consistent grades (or an "upward trajectory"). If so, I'm curious to hear what advice people have about how to address the weaknesses, either through an addendum, in my personal statement, or in my recommendations. Specifically, I think I can get a very positive recommendation from the professor who advised my independent research, but I'm worried that would raise questions about why I didn't get a better grade (the reason didn't have to do with the quality of my work).

I realize I'm being vague here, but don't want to provide more information because it would make it pretty easy for people who know me to identify me.

ponderingmeerkat

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby ponderingmeerkat » Thu Sep 01, 2016 7:30 pm

So, what's I'm about to say may be common sense. But, hope it helps. You have four options for your academic addendum in these types of scenarios.

Preferred option: you have something you can point to outside of your control that caused the poor grades. Examples include: you were undergoing chemo. Or: your father passed away suddenly during the middle of the semester.

Second option: you have a non-academic strength that you can point to as a proximate cause for your poor grades. Examples include: "I was super busy training for the Olympic swim team, and I subsequently received a bronze medal." Or: "I became overly committed to my non-profit proving blankets and teddy bears to homeless kids in the Central African Republic." This makes you look engaged, but just needing to brush up on the finer points of time management.

Third option (not optimal): you have no good excuse other than apathy (and a garbage bag full of drugs) but you've separated yourself from your youthful indiscretions and have an example of your recent drive. For instance: "My undergraduate performance was regrettable and I take full responsibility, but these grades no longer reflect my current work ethic. Just last year I received my MPP with a 3.95 GPA while also working full time at Smith, Smith and Smith as a junior associate in charge of widget lubrication."

Fourth option (least favorable): you have no good excuse other than apathy (and a garbage bag full of drugs) and you have no examples of improvement. Way to address--simply take responsibility and suggest that you understand the responsibilities that will be required of you should you be admitted to XXX law school. Then just "let the chips fall where they may".

Sounds like you're somewhere between the third in fourth option (although it's hard to tell based off your vaguebooking). Good luck. Don't overthink this. You know what you have to do.

Anonymous Ivy Grad

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby Anonymous Ivy Grad » Fri Sep 02, 2016 12:09 pm

Thanks Meerkat. Your reply makes me realize that I need to be more specific about what my explanation would be if I submitted an addendum. It doesn't involve anything as admirable as training for the Olympics or as bad as a bag of drugs.

Basically, I spent a lot of time on my independent research, to the point where I wasn't in a position to turn in anything like a final product by the deadline. I withdrew to give myself more time, but when I came back, I put myself in the same situation again and ended turning it in late, so even though I got a very good grade, it ended up being only a solid grade after the lateness penalty. The "F" was the result of miscommunication with another professor, who gave me an indefinite extension on a paper so I could focus on my independent research. While I was working on my independent research, the professor realized he had an internal deadline and told me I had to turn the paper in that day, which I wasn't in a position to do.

I'm concerned that putting this in an addendum will end up drawing more attention to the weaknesses in my transcript without actually helping very much. My question isn't so much what to say in an addendum, but how much, if anything, I actually need to say. My GPA will be fine, and I have several semesters worth of grades to show that I can succeed while juggling several rigorous courses. My feeling is that I should only provide an addendum if admissions officers would throw my application away if I don't.

Rather than explaining them in an addendum, I'm hoping there's a way to address the weaknesses in my transcript indirectly to avoid the most obvious negative inferences (e.g., that I'm lazy, cracked under pressure, unreliable, etc.). The only thing I could really use to show improvement is my work experience. But I have several potential recommenders from before and during the relevant period who I think will have very good things to say about me and be happy to frame their recommendations in a way that would help me, including from the professor who advised my independent research.

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landshoes

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby landshoes » Fri Sep 02, 2016 12:36 pm

Wait but why did you get the entire semester of Ws

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby landshoes » Fri Sep 02, 2016 12:46 pm

I mean, did you withdraw from an entire semester in order to complete an independent research project?

If so, you should have an explanation for why that makes practical sense and isn't totally crazy. Did you have funding that would have expired? A bench project that could not be delayed or extended? A data-collection-need that required substantial travel? A novel question that needed to be answered, so you didn't want to limit the scope of the project?

And hopefully, you were so far ahead in your course credits that you didn't need that semester to graduate on time (which draws their attention to your heavy course-load in which you got great grades.)

Then your Olympic Bronze Medal would be an excellent research product, one that justified your intense and singular dedication. Since your prof will discuss that in your letter, it should be okay.

I don't think this will be an issue for you at the schools that are numbers-focused (basically all of them) and I don't think independent research will just make the Yale people cry (but I don't know for sure). Really, I would not worry about this too much.

Anonymous Ivy Grad

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby Anonymous Ivy Grad » Fri Sep 02, 2016 1:37 pm

Yes, I did withdraw from an entire semester, and I didn't graduate on time. It may or may not have been crazy to withdraw, but I should specify that I had to turn something in for the independent research project, and that I was graded on it. (It was "independent" only in the sense that I chose the topic and worked individually with a professor.) So the best case scenario would have been that I turned in something sub par, got a decent grade on the project, did well in my other classes, and graduated on time. But when I withdrew, I wasn't confident that would happen. If I just didn't turn the independent research in, I would have gotten two F's. By withdrawing, I avoided that.

Landshoes, your reaction is the reason I'm tempted to not explain the withdrawal or provide only a vague explanation. Would that doom my applications? In that case, I could just get a good recommendation from the professor who advised my research that didn't mention that I turned it in late and let law schools wonder why I didn't get a better grade, or I could ask other professors for recommendations and let law schools assume that my research was just okay.

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landshoes

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby landshoes » Fri Sep 02, 2016 2:19 pm

Mentioning it but being vague is the worst of both worlds because it draws attention but doesn't resolve the problem. An entire semester of Ws is probably going to stand out, sorry to say, although since I'm not an adcomm I can't say whether or not you can safely go without mentioning it at all.

Look, try this: would you have done something different next time? If so, what would you have done? See if you can answer that in two sentences or less.

The problem here isn't what happened (which you can't change). The problem here---which is very fixable---is that you can't yet describe this situation briefly, succinctly, and clearly.

Anonymous Ivy Grad

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby Anonymous Ivy Grad » Fri Sep 02, 2016 7:43 pm

The clear, succinct explanation is that because I didn't manage my time effectively and had unrealistic standards for my independent work, I didn't finish it by the deadline, which resulted in a withdrawal and failing another class. It would be nice to think that if I just say that and promise to try harder next time, the law schools I'm hoping to get into (HYS or CCN) will welcome me with open arms, but I don't have any reason to think that's true.

I guess what I'm hoping for is either (a) insight into how admissions officer will think about the situation or (b) input from someone who was in a similar position and can tell me how it worked out. It may not be realistic to hope that someone who can provide either will stumble across this thread...

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landshoes

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby landshoes » Fri Sep 02, 2016 8:59 pm

I don't want to quote, but this should go in your addendum: The sentence that starts with "I didn't" and end with "another class." Stick that between a sentence that explains what you're talking about and a sentence or two that describe how you now are great at handling competing demands on your time.

You might also consider what Asha (from YLS) has to say about addendums:

https://www.law.yale.edu/admissions/jd- ... al-matters

8. You may include an addendum if you feel that there is something in your application that requires further explanation. Examples of issues that might require addenda are: an aberration in your grades in a course or semester; a significant score differential after taking the LSAT twice; or some period of time when you withdrew from school. There may be others, and you should make the call on whether you need to include an addendum. Remember that the purpose of an addendum is to clarify an issue that might otherwise be overlooked or misinterpreted, so you just need to flag it, give your clarification/explanation, and be done. Brief, to-the-point addenda are always more effective than lengthy narratives.


Also consider this, from Derek Meeker, a law school consultant who posts here to answer questions (might want to post in that thread):

viewtopic.php?f=43&t=197451&p=9527517&hilit=addendum#p9527517

DerekMeeker wrote:
Gitaroo_Dude wrote:Hi, I had two questions about possible addenda:

1. I got an F in a math class during my sophomore year, for missing too many labs. Should I address the F in an addendum and explain why I missed the labs? Wouldn't be much more than something along the lines of "I was an idiot, didn't bother to attend enough to save my grade."



1. Yes, do explain it and limit it to a few sentences. Take responsibility, express remorse/lesson learned.



If you want more specific advice, you might consider asking an admissions consultant.

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landshoes

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby landshoes » Fri Sep 02, 2016 9:11 pm

Also here's the thing: you can't go back in time and undo this, so if it's the thing that sinks your apps (which it probably won't be) that sucks, but you really can't do anything about it now.

I really doubt that this will sink your application to CCN (I had a similar issue, and I attend one of those schools with a substantial scholarship, although I have a higher LSAT.) I can't speak to HYS because I didn't apply to those.

College students do dumb shit sometimes. Adcomms know this. As far as dumb college kid shit goes, this is like the least dumb possible type of dumb thing that you could have done. Seriously.

However, my reaction to it should be illustrative of one thing: the way you explain this situation will make a difference about how people will perceive it. If you are vague enough, people start filling in the blanks (like I did), which you don't want. Be clear, be brief, be specific, show that you understand the mistake, and show that you would not make it again now that you've learned from it. That should take you a very long way towards making this a non-issue.

ponderingmeerkat

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Re: Addressing Weaknesses in Application

Postby ponderingmeerkat » Fri Sep 02, 2016 9:33 pm

Hey dude...sorry I'm just getting back to this.

So, if I was in your shoes (and I am...I botched a class back in the 90's and had to write an addendum for it) I'd keep it brief, on point, and then slide into your messaging. Think like a politician on this one. You're the guy giving the answers so it doesn't really matter what the question is. What's your brand? What do you want to sell about yourself? Speak to that and flex away from the "why were you a bad boy" line of questioning as fast as possible.

Sounds to me like you're a capable student who experienced some challenges branching out from the traditional classroom environment. You were excited about the research you were pursuing in your independent study but your time management skills weren't up to the task. You take full responsibility for this youthful mismanagement of your time, and you have learned from your mistakes. More recently, you've done XXXXXXXXX in XXXXXX challenging environment and lauded with XXXXX award, which highlights your capability to juggle complex tasks in a time constrained environment. You're confident in your ability not only to succeed at XXX lawl school but also add breath and depth to the Class of 2020. Thank you for your time and consideration of my package.

Respectfully,

Motherfucking Ivy League Bro 8)



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