Interview with Joan Howland, Former Associate Dean at the University of Minnesota

Published November 2007, last updated July 2009 wants to kindly thank Professor Joan Howland, the Associate Dean for Information and Technology and Admissions Committee Co-Chair for the University of Minnesota Law School, for kindly providing this detailed and exclusive interview. To provide background for our site readers, the University of Minnesota is an elite public law school that is consistently ranked as one of the top 20 law schools in the nation. The law school offers a reasonably priced legal education, and a student-faculty ratio of only 13 students per professor. The school boasts one of the nation’s largest law libraries, 19 subject specific clinics, and an exceptional legal writing program. Thus, is thankful to gain more information on one of the nation’s top law schools. Note: You may also be interested in reading the University of Minnesota Law School Profile.

Please describe what makes the University of Minnesota Law School stand out from your peer institutions. What are its unique strengths? What do you see that is changing and improving?

University of Minnesota Law SchoolAs one of the nation’s premier public law schools, the University of Minnesota Law School has much to be proud of—our faculty is nationally and internationally recognized, we offer a challenging curriculum that includes an impressive three-year legal writing program, and our clinical programs and law library are among the best in the nation. We have a highly talented, diverse, qualified, and committed student body who achieve excellence during law school and after graduation.

A strength I am particularly proud of is the “personality” of the law school. Our students and alumni repeatedly report a high degree of satisfaction with the collegial academic and professional environment at the University of Minnesota Law School. Our students not only receive a top-notch education but they thrive personally during their time at the Law School, forming lasting professional and personal relationships.

There are several reasons why we have an outstanding, collegial environment. First, our students are highly qualified. They know they will succeed after graduation. Our five year average employment rate and bar passage rates are 99.5% and 99% respectively. Second, our students are engaged and energetic. With over 60 student organizations, seven journals, and eight moot courts, our students have many opportunities to pursue a variety of interests, interact with others who share similar interests and values, and form lasting relationships outside the classroom. Finally, our faculty does a wonderful job of fostering a challenging, yet collegial, learning environment. Many of our first year lecture courses have an optional structured study group component, which encourages students to study together. Our faculty and students can often be spotted together around the Law School. The faculty is friendly and accessible, which contributes to our outstanding community.

Please describe the ideal candidate for admission to the University of Minnesota.

Our students are highly qualified, diverse, motivated, energetic, and ethical. An ideal candidate would be similar to the description of our students and would demonstrate a strong desire to attend the University of Minnesota Law School.

How does the admission process at the University of Minnesota differ from other law schools?

A somewhat unique attribute of our admissions process is that it is faculty-driven. Our applications are reviewed by an Admissions Committee which is composed of faculty. This high level of faculty involvement is a reflection of the faculty’s commitment to building and developing the most exceptional student body possible.

Minnesota residents are given preference for admissions. How strong of a preference is this and is there a quota on the number of Minnesota residents you must admit?

Although as a state institution, Minnesota residents pay lower tuition than nonresidents, there are no admission quotas. For the 2007 entering class, 36 states, the District of Columbia, 6 foreign countries and 106 undergraduate institutions are represented. Approximately 60 percent of the class are nonresidents.

The University of Minnesota provides reciprocity for residents of Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota where residents from these states can receive in-state tuition if admitted. Do applicants from these states receive any benefit in the admissions process besides receiving in-state tuition if admitted?

The University of Minnesota provides reciprocity for those states for undergraduate study. The University of Minnesota Law School only provides reciprocity for South Dakota and Wisconsin residents. There is no additional benefit in the admissions process for these applicants.

What advice would you offer students on writing their personal statements?

Applicants should ensure that the personal statement reflects strong writing and communication skills. Applicants should consider commenting on what life experiences brought them to the decision to apply to law school, how a law degree factors into their short term and long-term goals, and why they are interested in the University of Minnesota.

What advice would you offer students with respect to their letters of recommendation?

At least one letter should be from a person in an academic setting who is personally familiar with the applicant’s performance as a student and can attest to the applicant’s ability to enter a competitive professional program. If the applicant has been out of college for more than four years, letters from an employer may be submitted instead. Letters from family friends or personal acquaintances are less helpful.

Is there any additional advice that you would like to offer prospective applicants to increase their chances for admission at the University of Minnesota?

There is no interview component to the application process. However, we would encourage applicants to visit the law school. Such a visit will allow the student to view our phenomenal community firsthand and see why we are regarded as one of the nation’s premier public law schools. A visit would also allow out of state students to experience the welcoming, diverse, friendly, and cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Twin Cities.

Applicants who get their applications in by November 15th are considered for early action, whereby a decision will be issued by December 31st. Is there any advantage to applying in time for early action or just in general to getting one’s application in early?

There is no advantage other than receiving a decision on the application sooner. However, we encourage students to submit applications before December 15th if possible.

Would you please explain the priority given to each part of a student’s application (GPA, LSAT, personal statement, letter of recommendation).

The LSAT and GPA are given slightly more weight because those are the most objective parts of the application. The admissions committee thoroughly reviews the personal statement, letter of recommendation and resume. These materials provide a more complete picture of the student and assist the committee in making its final decision.

How does the University of Minnesota view multiple LSAT scores? Would you view a student who took the LSAT once and scored a 170 the same as a student who took the LSAT 3 times and scored a 160, 160, and a 170?

The admissions committee considers the highest LSAT score.

The typical image of law school is of a very cutthroat and competitive environment. Do you find that this is the case at the University of Minnesota, and what role does the administration play in keeping or abating this competitive environment?

Although the typical image of the law school environment is that of a cutthroat environment, the University of Minnesota Law School prides itself on cultivating and maintaining an intellectually stimulating, yet supportive and collegial, learning environment.

How much does the “quality” of a student’s undergraduate institution effect how his or her GPA is viewed? For example, is a student with a 3.8 from M.I.T. at much of an advantage when compared to a student with a 3.8 from a less prestigious school, all else being equal?

The LSDAS presents each transcript in a format that allows the admissions committee to interpret the grading structure of each institution. The admissions committee will review an applicant’s GPA, as well as the applicant’s class rank.

Does having a positive grade trend, or a very rigorous major, greatly increase an applicant’s chance of being accepted?

The grade trend and the rigor of the coursework are two of the many factors taken into consideration by the admissions committee.

Is it preferred that a prospective student apply directly after his or her undergraduate education or instead enter the work force for some amount of time to bring “real world experience” to the classroom?

The average age of the 2007 entering class is 25, but there are a significant number of nontraditional students as well. We encourage prospective students to apply to law school when they feel prepared to do so. While many of our students apply directly after undergraduate school, many students have found great value in pursing employment, service, and other life enhancing opportunities before pursuing a legal education.

If a student does have time off between college and law school, what are the experiences or employment that would be most favorably looked upon, such as working at a law firm or for the Peace Corps?

Experiences and employment that challenges an applicant, and/or broadens an applicant’s life experiences, are looked upon favorably.

Is there any way a student can increase his or her chances of acceptance from the waitlist? Does the University of Minnesota admissions office prefer to be apprised of a student’s continued interest in the program or is it best for students to just sit and wait?

Students are encouraged to keep the admissions office apprised of any significant changes in their application after they have been placed on the waitlist. Students are also encouraged to stay in contact with the admissions office and express ongoing interest.

On what basis do you give out financial aid? Is most of it need-based? Are merit scholarships offered?

Approximately 85% of our students receive financial aid. Applicants’ files are reviewed for both merit-based and need based scholarships at the time of admission. Approximately 45% of the incoming class is awarded a scholarship, which ranges from $2,500 to full tuition.

Do you seek to match merit scholarships from peer schools? As a related question, is there an effective way for a student to ask for an increased scholarship by letting your law school know of other scholarships from peer schools?

We strive to make attendance at the University of Minnesota Law School as affordable as possible. Admitted students are welcome to share any factors that would influence their decision to attend the Law School.

Do you or your staff ever read the forums on pre-law websites and try to connect through those posting their thoughts on the University of Minnesota to applicants?

The admissions staff periodically reads the forums, but the best way to communicate with the University of Minnesota Law School is to directly contact the Law School and speak with or schedule a meeting with a member of the admissions office staff.

What changes, if any, have you noticed in the admissions trends of recent years? Where do you anticipate University of Minnesota Law School admissions going in the future?

Like all American law schools, we continue to see increasingly well qualified applicants. The University of Minnesota Law School strives to strengthen the academic caliber and diversity of its incoming classes and continues to do so each year.

Do you have any general advice on how to achieve success when applying to law schools and/or success in law school itself?

In order to be a successful law school applicant and student, try to forge a balance between achieving your academic, professional, and personal goals.


Dean Joan Howland, thank you so much for your time and insight on admissions at the University of Minnesota, it is truly appreciated.