Spivey Consulting Q&A with Adcoms from Yale, Harvard, Penn, Chicago etc.

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MikeSpivey
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Spivey Consulting Q&A with Adcoms from Yale, Harvard, Penn, Chicago etc.

Postby MikeSpivey » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:09 pm

EDIT UPDATE: Here is 103 pages of this thread, minus all noise and superfluous chat, in a pdf organized by category. This is from start of thread until Nov. 22, 2013. Enjoy!

http://spiveyconsulting.com/blog/103-pa ... ns-advice/

In a recent thread on LSAT advice I was asked to do one of these and now seems like a good time, i.e. after the Oct. LSAT test scores but before most law school admissions offices start reading applications. I am a former senior administrator and assistant dean from three law schools and have been an interested and (mostly) silent observer of TLS from its inception.

Just a few notes. I do not speak for any individual school and this certainly includes the law schools I have worked or consulted for. I am here to offer macro level answers, even to micro level questions, but can not say whether school x or school y prefers this, that, or the other in their admission decisions.

Still, there is a good deal of mythology on some general admissions practices, decision-making hierarchies, thought processes, etc., ad infinitum and I hope to help with these, if I can. If I can not, I won't answer the question or pretend that I know the answer (I worry there is too much of that on many of these message boards and that some advice, especially because it is well-intended, becomes gospel even when it is patently wrong).

Finally, I am at this moment about to hit the road on a speaking junket of sorts. I will read as many questions as I can tonight (after my travel and all important fantasy football implications from the Falcons game) and will try to answer as many as I can between speaking engagements Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday Nov. 5-7. Because I am traveling, I will at times be on my iPhone, apologies in advance for any typos and short-hand. Don't take my lead and email from your iPhones in your correspondence with admissions offices and good luck to all!

-Mike
Last edited by MikeSpivey on Thu Oct 27, 2016 9:30 pm, edited 16 times in total.

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Br3v
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby Br3v » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:16 pm

MikeSpivey wrote:In a recent thread on LSAT advice I was asked to do one of these and now seems like a good time, i.e. after the Oct. LSAT test scores but before most law school admissions offices start reading applications. I am a former senior administrator and assistant dean from three law schools and have been an interested and (mostly) silent observer of TLS from its inception.

Just a few notes. I do not speak for any individual school and this certainly includes the law schools I have worked or consulted for. I am here to offer macro level answers, including to micro level questions, but can not say whether school x or school y prefers this, that, or the other in their admission decisions,

Still, there is a good deal of mythology on some general admissions practices, decision-making hierarchies, thought processes, etc., ad infinitum and I hope to help with these, if I can. If I can not I won't answer the question or pretend that I know the answer (I worry there is too much of that on many of these message boards and that some advice, especially because it is well-intended, becomes gospel even when it is patently wrong).

Finally, I am at this moment about to hit the road on a speaking junket of sorts. I will read as many questions as I can tonight (after my travel and all important fantasy football implications from the Falcons game) and will try to answer as many as I can between speaking engagements Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday Nov. 5-7. Because I am traveling I will at times be on my iPhone, apologies in advance for any typos and short-hand. Don't take my lead and email from your iPhones in your correspondence with admissions offices and good luck to all!

-Mike


Thank you for this.

How much do Personall Statements really "make or break" an application?

What are some mistakes you have seen in personal essays or additional essays (such as why school X)?

Did people in your offices reguarly read this forum?

Thanks again!

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bizzybone1313
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby bizzybone1313 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:18 pm

Great. Two questions. These guys on TLS always claim that the LSAT and GPA make or break admissions decisions 99% of the time. Is that really true? It just seems that schools would fall in love with certain applicants and admit them for any variety of reasons. How do you think socioeconomic status/background gets taken into account if at all in the admissions process?

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justonemoregame
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby justonemoregame » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:22 pm

piggy-backing on what Br3v asked - have you seen instances where an applicant literally wrote themselves out of an offer?

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby megagnarley » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:29 pm

justonemoregame wrote:piggy-backing on what Br3v asked - have you seen instances where an applicant literally wrote themselves out of an offer?


^^Or into an offer for that matter.


And separate question. How do you view this cycle in terms of the importance of applying early/late? Is there as big of an impact now as there has been in previous years?

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby abcde12345 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:52 pm

I have a question that has never been adequately answered on TLS:

I recently went to a law school admissions panel with the deans of admission from Stanford, NYU, Duke, and Cornell. One of the deans said (and I can't remember which) "Not all 3.5s are created equal." All the deans of admission nodded in great approval. They said they determine the value of a GPA through some function of the college's average LSAT (and also, but less so, the college's average GPA). Thus, it would seem that "UG does matter."

On TLS, however, most people will say UG doesn't matter. They have a good point: rankings don't care which school the GPA came from. Are the deans exaggerating or outright lying (in the same way they claim they "Look at all LSATs"? Are TLSers just perpetuating a myth? Who is right here?

Thank you

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NoodleyOne
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby NoodleyOne » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:05 pm

To what extent will a decent GPA addendum (but not one to the effect of medical reason) mitigate the damage of lower GPA?

What effects do Diversity statements from non-URMs have on admissions?

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MikeSpivey
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby MikeSpivey » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:58 am

Thank you for this.

How much do Personall Statements really "make or break" an application?

What are some mistakes you have seen in personal essays or additional essays (such as why school X)?

Did people in your offices reguarly read this forum?

Thanks again![/quote]

All the questions on the thread are great and I think the answers will be interesting. Sorry for the slow response but tomorrow I will be much more on the grid.

In reference to these three:

1. Personal Statements are important, and if you are right on the bubble and have a very compelling and differentiating PS, I'd say it could be an elevating factor that could put you over the top. This would likely come from a topic that the admissions person(s) reading your application has not seen before, that relates personally to your own life experience in a unique way, and that connects the dots on why you want to go to law school or why you particularly want to go to the law school your are writing the PS for.

That said, it is probably more likely that a PS will "break" you than "make" you. I think a rather common mistake that many applicants make is that they view themselves in a vacuum, i.e. I will be admitted to x law school based on all of the merits in my application. In reality, you are being judged on your merits vis-a-vis the merits of everyone in the applicant pool at x school that year (actually and in the previous year in respect to early on in the admissions cycle and your empirical qualification, i.e. LSAT/uGPA). So in this case, keep in mind that many schools are getting 3k-4k,5k and more application. Most of the Personal Statements of these thousands are well done--so much so it is hard to stand out exceptionally. But the really bad ones (sloppy, arrogant, unfocused, etc) very much stand out. So my advice is make sure you have a focused topic and that you go through every sentence multiple times with a fine comb. Mistakes can really hurt, especially if you are on the wailtlist or bubble.

2. I addressed some of this in the above. Sloppiness, entitlement (acting like the school is lucky to have you), Personal Statements that read like resumes and are unfocused, etc. get noticed in a deelevating way. I personally did not like the statements where nearly every sentence started with the letter "I". They quickly become repetitious and easy to drown out. It is hard, but you want to stand out and most people tasked with reading applications see the same subjects over and over. I would say the operative word in PERSONAL. Focus on that and try to write something that will draw the reader in. Finally, if they have a page or word limit DO NOT GO OVER IT. Would you do so for a judge you are clerking for? This are the kinds of judgements admissions committees are looking at.

3. I know a good deal of admissions officers, including many friends, who read TLS. Mostly (and personally) I think this is done for marketing purposes, i.e. knowing the lay of the land and what people are looking for in law schools/saying about their school, etc. I would add that in admissions you are traveling Sept. to Dec. and then reading thousands of files and entertaining hundreds of guests up until the first day of law school. So (a) you do not live on here and (b) admissions decisions are already made before you get on here so in no way do they have any impact on decisions. But as an admissions officer it was fun/interesting to see what applicants are saying about your school.

*edit* apparently I am incapable of doing quotes correctly.

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dingbat
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby dingbat » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:09 am

How much do numbers matter?
A) if someone has stellar numbers, will s/he basically be admitted if not an axe murderer?
B) if someone has horrible numbers, would s/he have a chance?

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby KingsCup » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:17 am

Most schools say that they view applications "holistically," how much does this take into account? Unfortunately I chose a tough major (mechanical engineering) at a top school and so my GPA suffered, so now I'm applying with a good LSAT, and a worse GPA than I could've had.

Did I basically screw myself out of a top school because of my major choice?

Thanks for any help you can give.

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby defdef » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:10 am

NoodleyOne wrote:To what extent will a decent GPA addendum (but not one to the effect of medical reason) mitigate the damage of lower GPA?

What effects do Diversity statements from non-URMs have on admissions?



essentially piggybacking off noodley's first question. for example, my reason is that i started screwing around with community colleges when i was a sophomore in high school, a full 14 years ago. several of those grades and withdrawals severely impacted my lsac gpa, though my eventual major gpa was significantly higher (+.7) and there is a strong upward trend. will this be readily evident from looking at my transcripts or is an addendum warranted?

appreciate any help!
Last edited by defdef on Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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BlueJeanBaby
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby BlueJeanBaby » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:20 am

*tag

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MikeSpivey
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby MikeSpivey » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:18 pm

bizzybone1313 wrote:Great. Two questions. These guys on TLS always claim that the LSAT and GPA make or break admissions decisions 99% of the time. Is that really true? It just seems that schools would fall in love with certain applicants and admit them for any variety of reasons. How do you think socioeconomic status/background gets taken into account if at all in the admissions process?


Bizzy, LSAT and uGPA (or perhaps more precisely LSAC calculated uGPA) are exceptionally important. I'm writing a book on law school admissions (which will be released in 2098 at this rate) and I flat out say in the book if you are above both of your dream school's LSAT/GPA don't buy the book. Basically you are "in" baring some pretty serious baggage and if you have that baggage nothing I can really do for you anyway.

Again, while I speak for no individual school, think of it this way. There are few areas where you can actually improve in US News Rankings. The "prestige" components make up an almost immutable block. So it is at the margins where things change, and the largest potion of that margin is LSAT + uGPA + Selectivity. Certainly law school deans vary in how much emphasis they but on rankings, but the vast majority see admissions as successful if these three metrics are raised. The mandate to the admissions office, then, if to try to raise the empirical metrics and bring is a target class size.

Things change over time though and, in particular, late in the admissions cycle LSAT and gpa become rather inelastic. So late game, certainly if the admissions folks have really come to know and think highly of an applicant, that applicant has a much greater chance to be admitted. More subjective factors or the ubiquitous "holistic" that admissions people are taught to say start coming into play here as well, and certainly the admissions people I respect try to bring in classes that have an array of diversity. This is where socioeconomic, personal statements, etc etc can have a very strong elevating influence.

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MikeSpivey
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby MikeSpivey » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:24 pm

justonemoregame wrote:piggy-backing on what Br3v asked - have you seen instances where an applicant literally wrote themselves out of an offer?


justonemoregame--I certainly have any have heard many stories of this from a variety of different law schools. I address this in the first questions i answered.

One more thing to keep in mind, if you have something along the lines of "this is why I want to go to Topeka Law School" in your PS, (and anywhere in the application), quintuple check that the school you are references aligns with the school you are sending the application to. Admissions officers view this kind of mistake to varying degrees, but some have a strong disdain for it and this can really hurt you.

Another important note--write about yourself. It is, after all, a personal statement. If your great-grandfather was the greatest person alive you certainly can say why, but quickly go back to how this has impacted you (and perhaps your strong passion for equity, justice, etc.)

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gguuueessttt
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby gguuueessttt » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:39 pm

Thanks for doing this!

One question I have is how do you feel about personal statements that are based on the applicant's goals or philosophies, rather than an event that has happened to him or her in the past?

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby gunner3 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:20 pm

How important is WE? I have the opportunity to go work an ibank and was wondering how much value-add that would be to my app?

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MikeSpivey
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby MikeSpivey » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:21 pm

gguuueessttt wrote:Thanks for doing this!

One question I have is how do you feel about personal statements that are based on the applicant's goals or philosophies, rather than an event that has happened to him or her in the past?


I'll break chronological order here (apologies to the others) because I have a few seconds before I have a conference call. I like it! It's a bit differentiated (a word you will hear me use a lot), and I think could poise as a compelling PS.

I would be cautious about a laundry list of goals and try to focus on one or two. This could cut either way, elevating or harmful, depending on how sophisticated and well-written it is. I';d say if you are on the bubble, slightly below that schools medians, etc this is a great idea! Conversely, If you are very confident you will get into the school you are applying to, you may want to be a bit more risk averse and just write a standard PS. I hope this helps!

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby skri65 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:51 pm

Three questions for you:

1. If an application is exactly at median from the most recently published statistics, do adcomms look to softs or are these applicants likely in?

2. If an applicant is slightly below median (ie. -1 lsat, -.1 GPA) at a given school, do these applicants need to have something special in the rest of their application to gain acceptance to that school? Or are applicants that are "around median" kind of pushed into the same group and softs decide this group?

3. What role do you think declining medians will have on this coming cycle?

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MikeSpivey
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby MikeSpivey » Mon Nov 05, 2012 2:55 pm

megagnarley wrote:
justonemoregame wrote:piggy-backing on what Br3v asked - have you seen instances where an applicant literally wrote themselves out of an offer?


^^Or into an offer for that matter.


And separate question. How do you view this cycle in terms of the importance of applying early/late? Is there as big of an impact now as there has been in previous years?


It is almost always better to get things in earlier rather than later (unless you are waiting for a new LSAT score or some other pivotal factor to change) so early= better.

This year, however, that advantage should be greatly diminished. School are going to move very slow based on the craziness and "summer melting" (what we use in admissions to refer to what happens when you lose seat deposited admits to another school and then take off your waitlist and the domino effect ensues). IF you are a strong applicant above both medians or with some other compelling factor that makes you attractive (e.g. URM with strong credentials) you will likely benefit even more by applying early--particulary in the scholarship pool where resources can become exhausted early) and applying early as possible is greatly to your advantage. If you are right at or right below a school's medians I would expect a long "hold" this year where you might not hear a thing as schools try to get a handle on the applicant pool.

One thing that amuses me that I have seen every single year on here is some derivation of the following:

"WTH, people who applied later than me are already hearing back from Trump Law School (I suspect we are on a crash course to getting a Trump Law school in this country) and I have not!!!!"

Keep in mind that "rolling admission" does not necessarily mean that files are read as they come in. More likely, and for most law schools, the strong files are read first, as they come in--you want to get the offers out quickly. I think most people, thanks to this website and others, get that now, but some still do not.

I hope this helps!

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby alwayssunnyinfl » Mon Nov 05, 2012 3:10 pm

.
Last edited by alwayssunnyinfl on Tue Nov 06, 2012 11:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

CanadianWolf
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby CanadianWolf » Mon Nov 05, 2012 3:30 pm

Thank you for contributing your knowledge & experience to this forum.

What are some of the myths that have been incorrectly accepted as gospel on Top-Law-Schools ?

Your comments about "rolling admissions" are interesting.

Your background information shares that you were an admissions officer at Colorado, Vanderbilt & WashUStL. I share this because your identity is clear from your user-name & it helps to understand your perspective.

Do you think that current law school admission guides, such as Anna Ivey's, Susan Estrich's & Joyce Putnam Curll's are outdated ?

Thanks in advance !

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby Swimp » Mon Nov 05, 2012 3:37 pm

Thanks for taking questions, Mike. Recent cycles seem to have been relatively kind to splitters (which I'm using to mean people below a target school's GPA median, but above its LSAT median). Do you foresee the current cycle to proceed even further in this direction? I'm relatively risk-averse, but I'm wondering if this could be a time to, for instance, ED CLS instead of NYU.

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MikeSpivey
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby MikeSpivey » Mon Nov 05, 2012 4:06 pm

abcde12345 wrote:I have a question that has never been adequately answered on TLS:

I recently went to a law school admissions panel with the deans of admission from Stanford, NYU, Duke, and Cornell. One of the deans said (and I can't remember which) "Not all 3.5s are created equal." All the deans of admission nodded in great approval. They said they determine the value of a GPA through some function of the college's average LSAT (and also, but less so, the college's average GPA). Thus, it would seem that "UG does matter."

On TLS, however, most people will say UG doesn't matter. They have a good point: rankings don't care which school the GPA came from. Are the deans exaggerating or outright lying (in the same way they claim they "Look at all LSATs"? Are TLSers just perpetuating a myth? Who is right here?

Thank you


abc...This is a question that is very much idiosyncratic for each individual law school and thus difficult for me to answer--and likely the cause for the mixed messages!

I will say that when in doubt, assume the the LSAC calculated gpa is what is important, not the flat gpa + subjective and soft factors in that gpa.

I certainly can not speak for any of the schools at your panel. What I can say is that on your LSAC report law school admissions offices are giving a "LCM" which shows what that school's median LSAT was for all of its test takers the previous year. (or something very close to that, perhaps it is a three year average or something very slightly different. I think I got it and will edit this post if the technical definition is slightly different). The LCM generally gives you valuable information on the overall student population at the school and is PARTICULARLY helpful when you as a admissions file reader do not know much about said school. A real life example for me would be Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. Transylvania almost had a high LCM, much higher than I suspected not knowing much about the school and this was valuable information in the decision-matrix, per se. So yes, on a general level knowing the school's LCM gives a bit more information and can enhance a 3.5 knowing the academic competition is steep at the school. One last note, a school may not have a LCM listed on the LSAC report if there are not enough test-takers at the school that given year, i.e. LSAC determines that the statistical power is not strong enough.

Similarly, you are provided with the undergraduate school's median gpa (again, I may be slightly off technically and will look into that). This gives very valuable information and grade inflation, whether the school fights grade-inflation, etc, Princeton University strongly fights grade inflation and a 3.5 from Princeton is not created equal. We see this on the LSAC report and, at least when I was in admissions, Princeton also sent us a letter to this effect.

Some majors are generally accepted to have lower gpas than others. This is another factor I imagine the deans at your panel may have been referencing.

So certainly, all gpas are not equal including equal LSAC reported gpas. But, keep in mind a that the admissions office is tasked with increasing their median GPA. When in doubt, I certainly think that having a higher gpa is what is most important, higher meaning above the law schools median.

Let me be entirely forthright and I hope everyone reads this the right way. Knowing what I know based on all my years of experience; If my SOLE reason for going to an undergraduate university was to get into the highest ranked law school(and I honestly can not imagine this should be anyone's sole reason) I would go to a school I know has high grade inflation and I would major in a major that tended to produce the highest gpas.

I do not espouse the above in the least, fyi. Indeed, perhaps there is some research that such universities/majors have a deleterious impact on LSAT scores (I'm not aware of this), in which case I would not do what I just said I would do :) But, in answering this specific question I thought that might help.

CanadianWolf
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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby CanadianWolf » Mon Nov 05, 2012 4:11 pm

My understanding of rolling admissions is that files get read as submitted, but that decisions are only quickly made on the strongest & weakest applications while the middle gets saved for a later day/cycle decision.

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Re: Q&A with former Admissions Officer

Postby sinfiery » Mon Nov 05, 2012 4:14 pm

MikeSpivey wrote:
gguuueessttt wrote:Thanks for doing this!

One question I have is how do you feel about personal statements that are based on the applicant's goals or philosophies, rather than an event that has happened to him or her in the past?


I'll break chronological order here (apologies to the others) because I have a few seconds before I have a conference call. I like it! It's a bit differentiated (a word you will hear me use a lot), and I think could poise as a compelling PS.

I would be cautious about a laundry list of goals and try to focus on one or two. This could cut either way, elevating or harmful, depending on how sophisticated and well-written it is. I';d say if you are on the bubble, slightly below that schools medians, etc this is a great idea! Conversely, If you are very confident you will get into the school you are applying to, you may want to be a bit more risk averse and just write a standard PS. I hope this helps!

I was planning on going this route blindly, but seeing this post has greatly calmed my nerves about this approach.


Awesome. Thank you.


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