Interview with Alyson Suter Alber, Associate Dean for Enrollment Planning and Strategic Initiatives, Case Western Reserve University School of LawInterview with Alyson Suter Alber, Associate Dean for Enrollment Planning and Strategic Initiatives, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Top Law Schools would like to thank Alyson Suter Alber (ASA), Associate Dean for Enrollment Planning and Strategic Initiatives at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, for taking the time to answer our questions!
TLS: Could you please explain the weight or emphasis given to each part of a student's application, such as GPA, LSAT score, personal statement, and letters of recommendation?
ASA: We look at each application holistically. LSAT score is important because it is the only factor that we can compare across all candidates. And GPA is significant because it gives us an idea of how a candidate will handle the academic rigors of law school, especially when taken in context with the school, the major and the classes that comprise that GPA. The personal statement gives us an idea of why a candidate is applying to law school generally and sometimes our school specifically. It also gives us a sense of the applicant’s writing style. Finally, the letters of recommendation can tell us more about an applicant’s motivation, work ethic, and fitness for law school as well as his/her judgment in choosing who to ask to write the letters.
TLS: The personal statement seems to be the part of the application a prospective student can most independently influence. Can you offer applicants any advice regarding writing the personal statement?
ASA: The personal statement is the applicant’s opportunity to tell us why law school is the next step on his/her journey. It gives us a window into who the applicant is as a person and ties the application together. While a statement should always be the applicant’s work, we encourage applicants to have at least three people read the statement before submitting: one who knows them well and will see if it rings true, one who doesn’t know them well and will catch any gaps in the narrative, and finally, a writing technician who will critique the grammar and sentence structure.
TLS: How often do you find statements that really stick out from the crowd? What do these statements consist of?
ASA: Often the personal statements that really stick out are memorable for the wrong reasons. A successful personal statement should be well written and thoughtful. It should give the reader insight into the applicant’s journey to law school. It does not need to be overly catchy or include any gimmicks.
TLS: Are there any personal statement topics that applicants should probably steer clear of? Any clichés or pitfalls to avoid?
ASA: As long as the personal statement tells the applicant’s story it should be fine. Occasionally personal statements are too graphic or include details that aren’t needed to convey that story. On the flip side, personal statements can be too general and rely on clichés or obvious exaggerations which is also a mistake. But the biggest and most common error we see is failure to proofread.
TLS: Do you come across personal statements that actually hurt the applicant's chances?
ASA: Personal statements that include spelling and grammatical errors will hurt an applicant. In addition, if an applicant comes across as being poorly suited to the practice of law for any number of reasons it could hurt his/her chances.
TLS: Some schools allow students to submit a “diversity statement” separate from the personal statement. How does Case Western Reserve view such statements? If such statements are potentially helpful, can you discuss when a diversity statement is or is not appropriate?
ASA: We invite but do not require applicants to submit a diversity statement. We value diversity and believe there are myriad ways an applicant might contribute to the diversity at our law school. We find such a statement appropriate any time an applicant wants to tell us how he/she adds to the diversity at our school.
TLS: Could an applicant significantly improve his or her chances of admission by drafting a personal statement specifically discussing an interest in Case Western Reserve?
ASA: It is helpful to know if an applicant has a specific interest in Case Western. We have a relatively small first year class and we strive to include applicants who will thrive at our school. Knowing that an applicant is interested in a particular program or facet of our school makes that easier to identify.
LSAT and GPA
TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate’s GPA and LSAT?
ASA: The LSAT and GPA give us a first impression of an applicant’s abilities. We rely on the rest of the application to tell us who a candidate is, why law school is the next step for him/her, and if there are reasons why an applicant might be more or less suited to law school than the numbers suggest.
TLS: How does Case Western Reserve view applicants who apply with multiple LSAT scores? Do you only look at the highest score, or do you consider all scores in the aggregate?
ASA: We look at all the scores because the Law School Admissions Council tells us average score is the best predictor of success in the first year of law school. But we place most of our emphasis on the high score.
TLS: If an applicant cancelled an LSAT score, does the school like to see an addendum explaining why?
ASA: We generally don’t like anything that leaves us wondering “why” on the application. So it’s probably a good idea for a candidate to include a brief explanation for a cancelled score.
TLS: What is the latest LSAT administration an applicant can take and still qualify for admission during the admission cycle? If an applicant is placed on the waitlist, can a new summer LSAT score help his or her chances?
ASA: Our application deadline is April 1 so February would be the final LSAT administration that would give an applicant a score in time to apply by the deadline. However, if we have space in our class we will consider an applicant who takes the June LSAT. An improved summer score would potentially help a candidate on the waitlist as well.
TLS: Beyond undergraduate performance and LSAT score, what else does Case Western Reserve look at when reviewing applications?
ASA: We look at all the other pieces of the application, including the personal statement and optional essays, the resume, the letters of recommendation and any character and fitness disclosures. The personal statement and optional essays tell us why the applicant is applying to law school generally and ideally why Case Western specifically. The resume tells us what the applicant has chosen to do with his/her time during and sometimes after college. And, the letters of recommendation can tell us more about a candidate’s fitness for law school and also his/her judgment in choosing who to ask to write the letters.
TLS: How much do you value pre-law school work or life experience?
ASA: About half of our class goes straight through to law school and the other half takes some time off, from a year or two to a full blown second career before law school. We appreciate both types of applicants as they bring a different and valuable perspective to the law school classroom. We encourage graduates who want to try something like Teach for America or explore another passion to do so before law school as it can be challenging to take time for those things after law school.
TLS: What can “K through JD” applicants do to stand out in the application process?
ASA: An applicant who is coming straight from an undergraduate program will need to demonstrate that he or she is ready for the rigors of law school through solid academic work and at least one strong academic letter of recommendation.
TLS: Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
ASA: For an applicant coming straight from an undergraduate program at least one letter needs to come from a professor. A second academic recommendation is generally a good idea but a supervisor who knows the applicant well enough to talk about skills that will translate in the classroom could also be helpful. We discourage applicants from asking people who don’t know them well, even if they themselves are famous, like politicians. Family friends are also less helpful since we assume they will say nice things about the applicant no matter what.
TLS: Tell us how Case Western Reserve treats transfer applicants. How many transfer students do you take each year? Where do these students come from?
ASA: We don’t have a set number of spots for transfers. We generally have space for qualified applicants. We have students transfer in from schools all over the country.
TLS: What are the most important criteria for selecting transfer applicants? Is the LSAT score still relevant? How about undergrad performance?
ASA: The most important factor in selecting transfer applicants is performance in the first year of law school. We focus primarily on grades and letters of recommendation from law school professors. We are much less concerned with the LSAT score and undergraduate GPA.
TLS: How many students transfer out of Case Western Reserve after 1L year to attend other institutions?
ASA: Over the last several years we have had about five or six students each year transfer out of Case Western to attend other schools.
TLS: What sort of financial aid opportunities are available for applicants? How does the school allocate these resources between need-based and merit-based awards?
ASA: All of our financial aid is merit based. The vast majority of our incoming students receive scholarships. In addition, we reevaluate the scholarships after the first year of law school and award additional funds to students who perform well academically but didn’t have a large scholarship for the first year.
How are students selected to receive scholarships?
ASA: All admitted applicants are considered for scholarship. Those awards are primarily based on LSAT score and Undergraduate GPA.
Is there anything prospective students can do to increase their chances of receiving aid?
ASA: The vast majority of our students receive some type of aid. Students should put in the time to prepare for the LSAT and put in the strongest application possible.
TLS: Are scholarship packages for entering students ever contingent on academic performance? If so, why impose restrictions like this? Isn’t that putting a lot of pressure on scholarship recipients?
ASA: No, our scholarships are not contingent on performance. We only require good academic standing.
TLS: Do you offer any additional scholarship awards to retain current students based on their performance during law school?
ASA: Yes, we reevaluate our class after the first year and award additional funds to students who performed exceptionally well academically who had smaller scholarships for the first year.
TLS: What sort of financial aid is available for transfer students?
ASA: Transfer students are automatically considered for scholarships if admitted. We typically award transfer students up to half tuition scholarships.
TLS: Describe any loan repayment programs Case Western Reserve offers. Who is eligible for loan repayment assistance?
ASA: Any graduate providing legal services in a public interest capacity is eligible for our Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Awards are made annually and are renewable for up to eight years.
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