Slightly OT: Oct LSAT and Dec GMAT, or vice versa?

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Slightly OT: Oct LSAT and Dec GMAT, or vice versa?

Postby FalParsi » Sat Aug 17, 2013 6:02 pm

Hello, all. First post after poking around the TLS forums for a couple of weeks. More of a sprawling disquisition than a post...hey, it's Saturday.

I could use some general advice, but this sub-forum seemed the most relevant. I'll set things out chronologically and summarize as quickly as I can, but in the interest of giving the full set-up to my situation, what follows is a condensed version of my life story as an adult. Here's the tl;dr version:

1) I have been out of school a long time, and
2) I'm looking to do either a JD, an MBA, or both together but my LSAT diagnostic scores are not where I expected them to be, so
3) I'm thinking of pushing the LSAT back to December and taking the GMAT in October, though my GMAT will suffer.

[Passes out mugs of cocoa.]

In my well-known liberal arts college I was extremely studious but spent the bulk of my time learning things other than what we were assigned. I didn't care about GPA, so that ended up slightly below 3 [sometimes less than three != <3]. The final semester came around, and in the middle of it I started a business, withdrew from a couple of classes at the last minute, and just let my degree float away. This didn't bother me much at first, as I didn't go to college to get a piece of paper but rather to learn, and I learned a hell of a lot. But then the business came to nothing and -- not to point fingers -- regrets were had.

For the next several years I worked a series of jobs I found interesting. Pretty varied stuff, but nothing that could lead to what most educated people would consider a real career. I decided I should do something bigger, so I tried to finish my degree (easier said than done at the time), got a job with more responsibility, took the LSAT, was waitlisted at a top-10 and offered a scholarship at a tier-2. The degree didn't happen so neither did law school.

But something good came out of shaking things up. Over many years leading up to this I had done a lot of studying, training and practicing as a musician, so the preparations were in place to turn myself into an actual working classical musician. I took a bunch of classes at a community college with a good music program, and pretty soon I was up on stage. Eventually I was being invited to perform in places I'd never been.

I have been a performer for the past decade, and it's deeply gratifying, but there is still no guarantee that I will make it into the group of 20, maybe 30, soloists within my niche who make a decent living performing "my" repertoire from year to year. Conservatories graduate hundreds of people every year who think (often with good reason) they can make it big in exactly this same miniscule category, which means that not only is competition fierce, but signal-to-noise is unfavorable as well. I'm married and want to start a family, and I can't do that until I'm at least headed for a less unpredictable career -- risk is fine, but not 100-to-1 risk.

Earlier this year I did a startup incubator program, because I had a pretty cool idea for a product and a compelling-to-me vision of more sophisticated products that should become technically feasible starting in 3-5 years. It went well, and I learned a lot, and I think I am well-suited to thrive in that "scene" but it's hard to get anyone to take me seriously when I have no degree. Not only no engineering degree, but no degree at all. So that's on hold, but I do plan to end up back in new technologies.

A few weeks ago I spoke to people at my undergrad once again, and discussed the academic efforts I've made and the artistic projects I've completed since leaving. We're still hashing out details, but it seems that, with some work and some hoop-jumping, I finally should have my BA this academic year. Also this month, I've reached out to the Native American tribe from which my family traces part of our descent, so I may be eligible for something in the way of scholarship funds. And now I will be able to check an additional box on my applications. The rest of my family is registered with the tribe so this should be a done deal.

Here's what I'm thinking about:

Yale, Penn, Columbia, Cornell

Yale, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, Penn, Berkeley, NYU

Stanford, Penn, Univ. of London, MIT, Berkeley, Cornell, UCLA, Cambridge, USC

The reason for stopping myself so high in the law school rankings is the spooky-scary news about legal careers I've read here and on Prof. Campos's blog. It's certainly not prestige-driven on my own part; I would be happy to go to BU or Rutgers or U of Oklahoma if this were just a matter of adsorbing doctrine and crossing the bar. But, sadly, this is where I stop being too proud to do anything the normal way, and pay reluctant obeisance to credentialism. (Sort of a moral inversion of the classic, "I like girls, but's about justice.") The word on the street about MBA programs is to stay within the top 25, top 10 if possible, much like the advice to stay within T-6 or at least T-14 JD programs, but the regional effect for MBAs seems to be stronger than that for JDs, so if a business school has name recognition in a given region, an MBA from there probably will serve its holder well within that region. This is what anonymous people on the internet tell me.

Now to the problem.

[Collects mugs.]

Excited about all the possibilities, I ran out to Amazon and bought The LSAT Trainer and a couple of "Actual, Official" books. This week I read the first few chapters and took a practice test to see where I stood. At 170, it was four points lower than my Dec 1998 score (yes, I sat for the "reptile house" test) but I told myself it's natural I would be a little rusty after fifteen years, and besides it was a weird old LSAT, PT7. Who would let race officials assign runners to charities?

So I waited a couple of days and took another, much more recent test this morning, PT52. I ended up with a 165 and was quite concerned. I made a couple of time-pressure errors in LR, which doesn't worry me; and after agonizing way too long over an RC question about cinema and Marxism, I flipped a coin (mentally) and it was the other choice, though this doesn't worry me either; but I bombed LG. Carpet-bombed, as in -12. The sorting problems are dead easy if you have enough time but they are so hard for me when I feel rushed. I used to do LG with no diagrams and I did fairly well. Now I do what everyone says is merely common sense, and sully the perfect surface of the test with my chicken scratch...but I feel dumb and slightly panicked.

Am I in as much trouble as I feel? Should I push my LSAT registration back to December? I had planned to take it in October and take the GMAT in December, because although I spent a good month on Khan Academy last year (for personal development), I know my Quantitative score will need help. Right now I could go on a light study plan for the LSAT plus a heavier one for GMAT Quant, do the GMAT in early- or mid-October, and then re-focus on the LSAT.

I've posted this here rather than on an GMAT/MBA site because the LSAT is the more important score. I'll get somewhere between a 660 and a 730 on the GMAT, which should be close enough for horseshoes; but I was assuming that with a little study I could get somewhere north of 174 on the LSAT, since the first time around I studied for it only briefly yet my practice tests (in 1998, haha) were coming in 171-177. As much of a stretch as my stretch schools are, I'm assuming all of them would be ruled out if I didn't get 174 or better.

Your thoughts? Thanks, everyone.

And hello, admissions people! You'll recognize my application when it comes a-trundling on by. Some of the stuff above is a little embarrassing, but after participating for years on an anonymous board for musicians -- they are not always a contented lot and conductors are not always accepting of criticism, constructive or otherwise -- I lack the patience to obscure my particulars any longer. Besides, I have no interesting secrets, and at this early stage hold no animosity towards any school or scholar. ^__^

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Re: Slightly OT: Oct LSAT and Dec GMAT, or vice versa?

Postby alexb240 » Sat Aug 17, 2013 7:10 pm

Well, first off, let me say. Quite a first post. You're a talented writer and I expect that for that reason, plus the fact that you've had quite the journey thus far, your personal statement will be an entertaining one. Now to the meat of this. I'll start by noting--but not dwelling on--the fact that it's not clear to me at all why you want to go to law school. I'm sure I'm not the first person to point this out, but you're kind of all over the place -- undergraduate fizzled out, classical music, business ventures, and now a joint JD/MBA? I wonder if your eyes aren't bigger than your mouth. That said, I'll assume that your dead-set on at least taking the LSAT and there's no point in mining your reasoning or attempting to dissuade you. So here's the answer to the question actually at hand: delay the LSAT until you are absolutely sure you've done everything you can to prepare yourself for it. From what you've written, I see no reason why you should be rushing out to sit this test.

The irony here is that I think your best shot is actually at Yale, where the admins pride themselves on looking for people with quirky backgrounds (see: Wurtzel) and the US News standing is so solidified that they don't need to worry about an incoming student matching their typical GPA/LSAT matrix. That said, obviously admissions at YLS are a black box, but I wouldn't be shocked. The thing is, you need to kill the LSAT. Not because it'll help satisfy their US News report, but because you need to demonstrate that you actually have an aptitude for legal reasoning. Nothing in your background thus far suggests that you do. And although many a law student have gone on to become stellar lawyers with plain ole excellent scores, your low GPA--and the incredibly extended time it took you to get that diploma--work against you here. So in my view you need to hit it completely out of the ballpark and that should be the only consideration for when you take it. The other schools you list will be no different. Your status as a URM obviously helps you here a great deal, but nevertheless I think you will be doing yourself a tremendous disservice if you don't spend an extended period of time studying.

As for a possible dip in your GMAT score -- meh. If you can't push that back, then I'd still rather study longer for the LSAT. But, of course, you may get a different answer if you put your tale up on a b-school board!

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Re: Slightly OT: Oct LSAT and Dec GMAT, or vice versa?

Postby tomwatts » Sat Aug 17, 2013 11:50 pm

On the "you don't sound like you have a good reason to do law" issue, I'm assuming that you'd be going more towards the "business advice" areas of law practice (these are subsets of corporate/transactional law) than the litigation side. You sound a lot like a budding emerging companies/venture capital lawyer. Basically, you'd hang out with entrepreneurs and help them get their ideas off the ground. Is that the idea?

Do you have a lot of time to study for the LSAT between now and the October test? If you don't have a ton of other commitments for the next seven weeks, you can probably learn Logic Games in that time. That was about how long I spent, and I started from about the same place in games (and much worse in the other subjects). You may have to devote 20+ hours per week to it, doing pretty much every game you can get your hands on and then repeating those games once or twice, but you can learn it. If, on the other hand, you don't think you can put in more than 5-10 hours per week, then you may need until December (but you may find that you just can't get the focus that you need with that little time per week).

This test — and the games section in particular — is very learnable. The fact that you're worse now than you were 15 years ago is pretty much irrelevant. It can be done. It's just a matter of putting in the time.

It would be nice not to do LSAT and GMAT at the same time, because they're similar enough with minor but important enough differences that it could be confusing. The GMAT is a nice sequel to the LSAT, because you'll find it pretty manageable after you've mastered the LSAT.

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Re: Slightly OT: Oct LSAT and Dec GMAT, or vice versa?

Postby FalParsi » Sun Aug 18, 2013 2:02 pm

Thanks very much, Ludwig and Tom, for taking the time to read my ramblings.

I like your speculation about YLS, Alex. I have thought for some time that it sounded like a good fit, not because "I'm #1! USA!" but because the culture seems idea-focused and pleasant, and my life is more enjoyable when I can afford to be those things. As I say, I would be happy to study at a number of places -- and Stanford or Berkeley might give me quicker entree into the business circles I'll travel -- but Yale may be the most congenial to my cast of mind. We shall see if that feeling is reciprocated!

About learning the test, Tom, it sounds like you made astounding progress in such a short time. Congratulations! I don't know that I can bet on being able to conquer LG in seven weeks, but I will give it another couple of weeks to improve, and decide by the September 3rd registration deadline. I feel confident I can get LR down to -1/-0 per section and RC down to -2/-1. So, let's see if I can back in gear with LG. I hope to have 20 hours a week for it, on average.

On my background, it's more than understandable that my zigzags in multiple dimensions could give the impression of confusion, certainly of indecision. And that's not an unfair assessment, at least to a point. I found a lot of things fascinating, so I was pulled in several directions. Mostly out of necessity but partly from curiosity, I took some jobs that had little to do with each other: equipment technician, waiter, radio announcer, hotel front office manager, financial proofreader, advertising and promotions guy, executive assistant at a private equity firm in New York. That's more or less the definition of "all over the place", keeping in mind that most of those were just convenient jobs to hold while I pursued a music career. [Can't stand to put punctuation inside of parentheses without a good reason, but I do bow to the conventions when publishing something or applying somewhere.]

Yet my interest in cultural, political, economic and scientific ideas and developments has stayed strong throughout, even if the proportions vary over time. I started as a philosophy student and studied Pre-Socratics through Marcus "Sunshine" Aurelius; recently did a MOOC from Stanford on systems of formal logic for AI (and passed); attended a "Singularity Summit" after reading endless reams of news and blogs on emerging technologies and their implications, and have stayed plugged in to that scene since; and I keep up on legal news regarding digital privacy and EFF-type topics.

Although my interest in law itself includes philosophical and political issues, my plans for making practical use of a JD fall clearly within the transactional/corporate sphere. I want to work in a specific area of emerging technologies that is now tiny but will grow rapidly over the next 10-15 years. I have no technical credentials, so I can't start from the engineering side, but I know something about securities and a bit about finance.

From working alongside every kind of people (they make what life's about...sometimes), I have developed healthy instincts about who in the room is competent, who is trustworthy, and what is not being said. As well as you might word an agreement, if you get to the point where you have to enforce the terms of a contract, your side already has failed more than once: in overestimating the other side's people and/or underestimating the challenge they took on, in not seeing the problem sooner, and in letting relations get to the point that they fracture. In this sort of guidance, going beyond the obvious requirement to craft agreements well, I think I would be particularly strong, whether I work on behalf of startups or VCs. And maybe that gives an idea of why I am equally drawn to do an MBA, and even more so to do an accelerated JD/MBA.

Anyway, thank you both for the insights, and I will get back to my test(s) prep. Other views are welcome, too. Don't be shy!

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Re: Slightly OT: Oct LSAT and Dec GMAT, or vice versa?

Postby FalParsi » Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:57 am

I decided the prudent thing was to switch from a 8-week study plan (using the LSAT Trainer) to a 16-week plan, and just do the December test. This will take a lot of the pressure off, and I'll have time to get my brain trained in more fruitful habits for logic games.

I'll do my GMAT Quant prep during this time as well. I don't think that will interfere with LSAT prep, assuming I can balance the time commitment. I'll take the GMAT in either early November or mid-December, just doing a quick review of the GMAT Verbal stuff in the couple of weeks before the test, to minimize the time away from LSAT modes of thinking.

When I first took the LSAT in 1998, I studied lazily for about 8 weeks (basically just doing PTs), took the December test and got 174 despite the snakes and lizards. Looking back, I felt December was a little late in the admissions cycle, and thought 8 weeks of study -- earnest study this time -- would get me ready for the October date. Maybe it would, but as Alex said, why take unnecessary chances with my score?

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