Interview with Andy Cornblatt, Dean of Admissions at Georgetown University Law Center (GULC)

Published November 2009 greatly appreciates Andy Cornblatt, Dean of Admissions at Georgetown University Law Center (GULC), for taking the time for this exclusive interview.  Additionally, great thanks to Michael "Splitt3r" Bruggman, GULC Class of 2012, for organizing and taking this informative interview.

TLS: What advantages are there for law students at Georgetown to being located in Washington DC?

Well, there are more than I have time to go into, but, first of all, there's the possibility during your second and third year of law school to be out working in this incredible city where laws are made, interpreted, and implemented, within walking distance of Georgetown Law School. So we think that's a huge plus in terms of employment while you're here.

The second plus is, even if you're not getting paid or not working, the opportunity to participate as an observer, or to participate in a million different ways, whether it's your job or not, to be exposed to all of the things that people in other parts of the country are reading about, but you can walk over to the Supreme Court and watch an argument, you can go over to Capitol Hill, you can be involved in all sorts of things that go on here.

The third piece is the academic piece, which shows itself in two different ways. First, again second and third year, you will be exposed to some wonderful adjunct professors who are from the Washington legal community, who have enormous expertise and experience to share with students, and they can really benefit from that. These people are amazing teachers as well, but these are also people who are out in the world doing amazing work. The second piece is the clinical programs, which I think you can't divorce from being in Washington D.C. We are, in many ways, the largest public interest law firm in the country, in that we have all of our students who are interested in taking part, representing people who can't afford representation otherwise. It's a very exciting part of the curriculum, and Georgetown is considered to be the best in the country in that area. That's something we're proud of, but what's important is just the substance of it and what it offers to our students.

TLS: What effect does applying Early Decision have on acceptance? Does it make it more likely?

Yes, I say this to applicants all the time, if one applies early decision, it will enhance the applicants prospects of being admitted. When I read a file of someone who I know is committed to coming to Georgetown, it improves their chances of acceptance.

TLS: What are some of your biggest pet peeves when reading applications? What are some things that you really don't like to see in an application?

I've done this so long now that...well, it's never, and I mean never, that someone does something to cause them to be automatically rejected. I think that the biggest error in judgment that an applicant might make is to talk too much in their personal statement. It is so much more effective for an applicant to be concise, say what they have to say, make their point, and then stop talking. It's not a good thing to go on forever, so I think in that respect that might hurt someone's chances. I also don't like to see applications that are casually and sloppily put together. Those often come from some of our best applicants, who just throw something together and click submit without really giving it a lot of thought. If I feel like the application is being done in a sloppy way, without a lot of thought, that will hurt that applicant. We are looking for people who have thought this through, those who are applying in a focused, thoughtful way. If that is not the case it will definitely hurt their chances.

TLS Follow-up: So, when you say sloppily, what exactly do you mean by that? Typos? Forgetting parts of the application?

Yes and yes. I've seen enough of this to know when a personal statement feels rushed...I don’t know, this is just one of those things where if you've read enough applications and have been doing this long enough, you know it when you see it. The lesson to be learned is: work carefully on your application. Most applicants think that this is strictly a numbers game, LSAT and GPA and that's the end of it. That's not so. The process is more interesting and complicated than that, and therefore how you present yourself, what your voice is in this, matters a lot.

TLS Follow-up: How often do you see people leaving the name of another school in some aspect of their application? If they send a correction to that, or to any deficiency in their application, would you still hold it against them or is it as if it never happened?

I actually just read one of those the other day. I think it'll happen, over the course of reading 12,000 files...maybe fifty times? Not a good way to go. Most of this is inadvertent though, it's still sloppy, but if someone recaptures the initiative and sends in something to the effect of “my mistake, here's the correction” that's absolutely fine.

TLS: How many withdrawals on a college transcript are too many? At what point would you like to see a student address the issue in an addendum?

There's not really a rule of thumb here, but I think if you have more than two that might raise a red flag, and you might just add a quick paragraph saying what was going on without being too defensive.

TLS: Does Georgetown give preference to those applicants applying to the Part-time program who plan to work full-time during law school over those who do not?

Probably the same.  There may be a slight edge for someone who is so motivated that they want to take the best advantage of the time they're here by getting involved with real world work at the same time as going to school.  We think that this adds something to the class. In terms of admission though, I don't think it makes that much of a difference, we basically weigh them the same.

TLS: How do you feel about applicants that have overcome a serious addiction or mental health issue (alcoholism, drugs, depression, etc.) that has led to their past record being somewhat tarnished?

For applicants that fit that profile, we pay even more attention to their personal statement and letters of recommendation, just to get the best possible picture we can of what happened and where the applicant was then and where they are now. Once we feel that the applicant has left that behind and is in good shape to begin law school, we think that shows a real strength of character and we would view that in a positive way. However, it's on a case-by-case basis, so we have to look at each individual and what their particular circumstances were, and we weigh all of those circumstances together. We do feel that anything that requires real strength of character and determination is something that we'll look upon favorably.

TLS: Follow-up: So, would you be willing to discount a bad GPA a student had during that time if they showed improvement?

Discount is not the word I'd use because it implies that there's a “count.” I think what we do is we would look at a lower GPA in a different light when we look at the circumstances. We do that anyway, with all GPAs and all circumstances, it could be course load, how many years ago you went to college, or working or participating in extracurricular activities heavily. There are a million things that factor into GPA, but yes, certainly that would be one of them.

TLS: Due to the economy, it seems like more non-traditional applicants are applying than in the past. Have you found that to be true? If so, does the influx of applicants with significant work experience make this a less distinguishing soft factor, and thus less influential in admission?

A few more are applying, but I'm not sure that it's that many more. It is very hard to measure these things. I think we saw an increase in applications of 10% last year, and at the moment this year we're up 12% in applications, and that's coming in part from non-traditional applicants, but it's also coming from college seniors who don't have the opportunities when they get out of school. The pool is getting bigger every day, but I'm not sure that the proportional make-up of the pool is all that different from previous years. I didn't notice last year and it's too early to say this year, but I can't even say that I've anecdotally noticed a large proportion of people that have been out 3-10 years.

We always like people who present real world experience, probably this year we have more of them, but I don't want to say that it's less or more important. I haven't so far seen the jump be significant enough among those people to really have an effect on how we do admissions. Perhaps this is the beginning of an upward trend in those type of applications and in a few years that'll be the case, but certainly not yet.

TLS: Most schools with a part-time program have modified the size and admission standards of those programs in response to the change in the USNWR rankings counting part-time programs in their statistics. Will Georgetown follow suit?

We've made no changes, and we don't plan to. We have terrific students there, they tend to be older, so the weight being put on their numbers is a bit less since there's more time they've been away, but we're proud of what we're doing, and we're not changing the program.

TLS: Could you briefly comment on Section 3 and explain what beneficial opportunities this alternative curriculum provides to GULC students?

Section 3 has been terrific for the law school; it is an alternative way to study the same things everyone else is studying in the first year of law school but it is more interdisciplinary. Professor Sideman may feel differently but the expression I use to describe it is a horizontal approach to law school where, for instance, we combine contracts and torts into one class, which enables students to look at secondary sources.  It is more of a liberal arts approach to the first year of law school. We find that it is not necessarily what everyone is looking for in their first year, however, quite remarkably, nearly every year it’s what almost exactly one full section of our class is looking for. Section 3 has been a great recruitment tool for me, as there are many first-years who are here because we offer this and no other law school does. It is not for everybody, we're very clear about that but, for those people to whom it’s attractive; it gives us a real advantage in getting them to come to Georgetown. It's been terrific, and it seems to me that the one section is just the right size.

TLS: Follow-up: How do employers react to Section 3 students as compared to students in the traditional curriculum?

I think over time the statistics have shown that it's the same. I think maybe some of the older interviewers who aren't familiar with this sort of thing, for instance Democracy & Coercion, want to know where the old stand-bys are. It may have been that ten years ago there was an issue, but for now we have found no evidence that it in any way impacts employment.  These students are learning the same things that students in other sections are; it's just presented with a different emphasis.

TLS: What kind of characteristics does Georgetown Law look for in a candidate for a merit scholarship?

We're looking for people who are well-rounded, that is to say, people who are involved either on-campus or in their community, or that have otherwise led interesting lives. Obviously in terms of merit scholarships LSAT scores and GPAs are an important characteristic, but as with the admissions process, we look at everything the applicant has supplied to us, and after looking at it once to determine who will be admitted, we look at it again to see how those people match up with other scholarship candidates.

TLS Follow-up: So, you decide scholarships separately from admitting people, not at the same time?


TLS: Do you read online law school message boards, and if you do, what information are you looking for?

No, I do not. Frankly, I don't have time. I think that it might be useful to see what people are thinking about Georgetown, but I have a good relationship with the current students here through the student ambassador program, so I feel that whatever feedback I need to hear I get from them. That's not to say that if I had the time to read them that I might not learn a few things from it.  I don't really know, but honestly I'm busy reading the twelve to thirteen thousand applications we get each year.

TLS: What are the primary housing options for students other than on-campus housing? (This question is answered by Dean Carol Walsh of Residence Life.)

Certainly the nearby apartment complexes such as Meridian, Mass Court, and so on are desirable simply because of their location. Popular neighborhoods are probably the next most desirable location, neighborhoods like Dupont Circle and the Capitol Hill area. The Chinatown area is becoming more popular, but it’s also more expensive, so I think that’s something each student weighs for themselves in terms of priorities. We used to have a problem with some of the newer, luxury apartment buildings not necessarily wanting to work with us because they didn’t want students, but recently they’ve been sending information directly to our office. I think this is a product of them realizing that law students are not like your typical undergrads, and are actually quite desirable tenants.

We do have an off-campus housing coordinator who is available not only to current students, but also incoming students looking for housing for their 1L year. This can be a great resource for asking about what different neighborhoods are like, what buildings around here are popular, lease questions, things like that. We also are going to try this year to become more involved in Facebook, as it seems like a lot of students have on their own found roommates through it, and we want to set-up a group that will act as a location for people to meet and look for roommates who they think they’d be compatible with.

TLS: How does Georgetown view academic disciplinary action that go along with a low GPA, such as academic probation or dismissal?

I think if, depending on the reasons for the academic probation or the dismissal...though dismissal is pretty severe...I would say that if that happened in an earlier time in their academic career and they've gotten their act together and are now doing much better, we would take that into consideration, but it would not necessarily be determinative because we're getting the applicant on the positive end of the curve rather than the negative end. It is imperative that applicants who are in this situation send an addendum to the file with an explanation of what happened then and where they are now. We're going to notice all of that, so they need to talk about it.

TLS: How does GULC feel about two (or more) page resumes for non-traditional applicants?

That's fine. It’s best to try to keep it to two pages, but if an applicant is putting together their resume in a thoughtful and selective way and they just happen to be a complicated and textured person that has a lot of things for us to hear, that's fine.

TLS: Does Georgetown prefer to see an addendum for a single canceled LSAT score, or is that unnecessary?

Not necessary.

TLS: Does Georgetown look favorably upon an applicant who specifically mention reasons they are interested in Georgetown, or has a Why Georgetown statement in their personal statement?

I think that it is a plus, however it is not a requirement or we would ask for it.  If it is included and feels genuine in such a way that it makes sense in the context of the rest of the personal statement, then the applicant connecting his or her interests with what we have to offer is a plus.

TLS: How do you feel about degrees from online colleges, particularly in light of the fact that frequently these people don't have the option of attending a traditional college because of an alternate life path?

I think, in general, online programs of study have not evolved enough to a point where online degrees are equal to those from other colleges, so of course it will be viewed with some suspicion.  I do however, think that there's so much else in an application that talking about the decision and experience that led you to that is critical in getting us to understand you and the decision you made to go that route.

TLS Follow-up: So, I think the person that asked this question was a veteran, and they were doing their degree while they were deployed overseas.

That's exactly why you can't generalize; tell us about your decision. That is a perfect example of an applicant where once we knew the circumstances surrounding the decision, it has a different flavor to it.

TLS: There is a rumor that many firms came to Early Interview Week (EIW) this year simply to maintain their ties to schools, such a Georgetown, but didn’t actually do any hiring. Is this true? How did 2Ls feel OCI went overall? (This question answered by Dean Gihan Fernando of the Career Services Office.)

Everyone that came to EIW is doing some hiring, but that hiring is for the most part greatly reduced. A firm that in past years had hired 4-6 Georgetown students might have come this year, but only hired one or two of our student. Firms are definitely pulling back, but most are still coming and that shows that they want to maintain those ties to Georgetown, which is a good sign looking forward.

We’ve worked very hard with students seeking employment to help them explore what other options are out there. We’ve instituted a program we call “Taking Care of Business” that’s a series of small group sessions in which we go over the employment issues that students are having, such as how to break into a certain practice area or just how to write an effective cover letter. We’ve been mostly focusing on how to get those types of jobs with employers who aren’t going to come interview on campus and students have to put in leg work to submit a resume for them.  We’ve also compiled resume books by region that we sent out to firms around the country and we learned of at least 15-20 openings through that. We’re always looking for new ways to help our students in the job search, and we’re heavily involved in a national conversation through NALP and are also talking to our peer schools about legal recruiting in the coming years.

TLS: Given GULC's large size, it is a common criticism of GULC that it is difficult for those not above the median of the class to secure desirable employment. This has become even more true in recent times, given the economic climate. Going forward, what steps does Georgetown plan to take to address employment issues that students are facing? (This question answered by Dean Gihan Fernando of the Career Services Office.)

Well, first I’d like to say that I take exception to the premise of the question, and don’t really think that perception is accurate at all. In the past few years, our percentage of students with jobs at graduation has been in the low to mid 90s, so the perception that it’s hard to get a job is hard to justify. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “desirable employment.” Could you clarify that?

TLS: I think generally that means either Biglaw or particularly prestigious government or public interest positions.

Until this year, our placement in Biglaw has been around the 70-75% range. This will be much lower this year however, I want to emphasize that phenomenon is not Georgetown-specific; it’s happening everywhere from Harvard on down, and I am hopeful that the worst impact of the economic downturn is behind us. I talk to my counterparts at the Career Service Offices of all of our peer schools, and they are seeing very similar things happen this year in their hiring. The perception in the marketplace is that Georgetown is a great institution that turns out very bright students.

To address your question about what we’re doing to help students cope with the job market that we’re facing now, our biggest strategy is using our extensive alumni network. Outreach to those alumni who are in positions to hire has been a great help to our students and has led to a lot of placements. Even though our large class is highlighted as a liability in the question, it is actually a significant advantage to our students because we have so many loyal alumni all over the country and in a wide range of jobs who are dedicated to hiring Hoyas. We do both e-mail out reach to our alumni encouraging hiring from Georgetown, but we also reach out to specific alumni in a more personalized fashion, and we’ve seen hires from both methods. We’re making the effort to contact alumni who aren’t necessarily practicing law to try to get our graduates into corporate management positions if that’s something they’re interested in. This may be putting too positive a spin on things, but the economic climate has really made students think about what they really want to do in their career instead of just taking the default path to Biglaw.

TLS: Do you believe that GULC's location gives it a unique advantage over other top law schools in securing positions in government? How so? (This question answered by Dean Gihan Fernando of the Career Services Office.)

Absolutely yes, we have a unique advantage in government employment. Georgetown has a separate Office of Public Interest Career Services, OPICS, which deals with the public sector broadly defined as government and non-profit positions, and perhaps also positions in firms that focus on public interest work. This is something that not many other schools have, and it allows students to have a resource that’s dedicated specifically to working with them towards finding public sector opportunities.

Georgetown students also have the benefit of having access to the amazing faculty here, which includes many people that have personal insight into the way government operates and the process by which it accomplishes things. Not only do we have many full-time professors with that type of experience, but we also have many of the best lawyers in the field working as adjunct professors here. These people are federal judges, agency lawyers and the like in their day jobs, but also come teach upper-level classes. They are able to inform the academic focus of the class with actual practice experience, and also can serve as valuable contacts for the students that take their courses.

We also have so many alumni in government in all types of positions, and the OPICS office is really good about putting people in contact with alumni who are involved in the field they’re interested in and setting up programs and mentorships between students and alumni. Our students have the opportunity to meet people working in government organization through our externship program as well. This is unique to Georgetown because while most schools can set-up summer internships in Washington DC, we can offer externships during the semester for credit at a wide range of government organizations that you wouldn’t be able to do without going to school in the area. This type of experience and contact, for obvious reasons, leads to dramatically higher chances of getting these types of jobs for our students, and also is helpful in getting private sector jobs that value experience with government departments.

TLS: Does Georgetown offer any special scholarships or financial aid packages to students who have families? (With regard to housing, this question is answered by Dean Carol Walsh of Residence Life.)

There's nothing specific for students with families, that's obviously part of the overall package of the applicant as to who they are and what their situation is, but outside of that there's nothing specific we're looking for in terms of people having families or not. We would consider that they probably have more financial obligations than the average student, but it's not something we specifically look for.

Unfortunately, we do not have family housing options on-campus. I know that’s something that has been talked about and seriously considered, but we don’t have any at the moment and there aren’t plans to build any on the immediate horizon. We are hoping that’s something we can plan for, not only for families but also for international students. Those are definitely two areas that we need to address, as those are two populations that we’re currently undeserving in terms of on-campus housing. Given the economy and the fact that we just completed a major construction project in Hotung and the Fitness Center, so there definitely needs to be a period where we take a bit of a break from big capital projects of that kind.

TLS: What is going on with the Georgetown Environmental Law & Policy Institute? The director John Echeverria left for Vermont, and now the website says the GELPI has "evolved in new directions" and that the website will no longer be updated. What are Georgetown's future plans for the GELPI and its evolution?(This question answers by Dean of Students Mitch Bailin.)

The successor program to GELPI is the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Program

TLS: Thank you very much for your time and all your great answers!