Interview with Dean Rita C. Jones, Former Assistant Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid at Boston College Law School
Published August 2010
TLS: Dean Jones, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about the admissions and financial aid policies at Boston College Law School.
TLS: First, could you briefly describe some of the qualities that an ideal candidate for Boston College Law School might have? Is there anything in particular that might make an applicant especially appealing to the admissions committee?
Dean Rita C. Jones: The admissions committee at Boston College Law School values the diversity of its applicant pool; therefore it embraces the unique qualities and talents of each individual candidate. Nevertheless, the committee appreciates a candidate who is genuine, self-aware, and judicious.
TLS: Could you talk a bit about the admissions process at BC? How many people look at each application, and how are the different components of the application ranked? Is one's LSAT or undergraduate GPA (or UGPA) more important, and do extracurricular activities play a large role in applicants being accepted?
RJ: BC Law adopts a holistic approach to the admissions process. We place a premium on academic achievement by assessing the rigor of one’s academic program and his/her performance during college. We utilize the LSAT not only as a comparative tool but as a way of determining one’s level of comfort with certain skills that are essential to success in law school. It is our belief that both the transcript and the LSAT are equally important because each indicator provides the committee with unique data. BC Law has the luxury of culling through an applicant pool full of gifted candidates, each possessing a wide range of academic interests and strengths; therefore we rely heavily on qualitative factors to forge a vibrant student body. To better understand a candidate’s motivation and personal qualities, the committee reviews an applicant’s list of extracurricular activities (including work study jobs), professional experience (including summer employment), the personal statement, and letters of recommendation (from instructors, employers, and/or mentors). Multiple readers evaluate each application. The committee consists of faculty, administrators, and third-year law students.
TLS: How much emphasis does BC place on the prestige of an applicant's undergraduate institution?
RJ: The relative or perceived “prestige” of an applicant’s undergraduate institution does not give certain students an advantage over other applicants. The admissions committee expects candidates to take full advantage of the resources at their disposal and expects students to perform exceptionally in the classroom regardless of the type of institution they attended.
TLS: Many students are concerned about grade deflation at their undergraduate universities when applying to law schools. How does BC take grade deflation into account when making decisions? On a similar note, does the school view some undergraduate majors as more rigorous than others?
RJ: Thanks to data provided by the Law School Admission Council, committee members are able to discern relative grade deflation/inflation at individual institutions. The mean GPA and distribution of GPA’s will vary from school to school. Distinct grading curves may also exist across different majors. To ensure fairness and diversity of academic interests, it is incumbent upon the reviewer to understand and respect an individual institution’s approach to assigning grades.
TLS: To what extent do the U.S. News rankings influence admissions decisions on applicants? Has the admissions committee ever rejected an applicant in part because of how that applicant would affect the school's LSAT or UGPA median (and thus the school's overall score in the U.S. News rankings)?
RJ: Rankings do not compromise our law school’s core mission and commitment to diversity. We understand the role they play in an applicant’s decision, but we feel strongly that we must not shape our entering class based on how individual scores may affect rankings numbers.
TLS: Is there any downside to applicants pursuing the Early Action (EA) option? Should all applicants strive to apply EA if at all possible? Does applying EA improve one's chances of admission?
RJ: BC Law no longer has an Early Notification program, which resembled the model of a traditional Early Action (EA) program. Many law schools, including BC Law, have Rolling Admissions programs. In a Rolling Admissions program, a school fills seats in its incoming class throughout the academic year, versus releasing decisions on one universal date. As a school makes decisions throughout the course of the year, fewer seats become available later in the admissions cycle. Fewer seats later in the year mean that it is statistically more challenging to gain admission because there are more applications per seat. Due to the nature of the Rolling Admissions process, submitting an application earlier in the cycle makes sense.
TLS: How highly does BC value graduate degrees? Can a great graduate GPA make up for a lackluster undergraduate GPA?
RJ: BC Law does value graduate degrees because they demonstrate a candidate’s ability to tackle advanced level academic work. A great graduate GPA may not compensate for a lackluster undergraduate GPA, however. Graduate work is pursued over a shorter period of time and may emphasize a narrower skill set than an undergraduate academic program. There is also a higher degree of grade inflation at the graduate level. Success in a graduate program may be valuable because it’s a record of a candidate’s most recent work, nevertheless.
TLS: Writing a riveting and introspective personal statement is one of the toughest parts of any law school application. Do you have any advice for applicants in terms of figuring out what topic to write about? What are some of the most memorable personal statements that you have read? Are there any topics that students should for the most part avoid? Finally, does it significantly help a student’s chances of admission to tailor his/her personal statement to BC?
RJ: An applicant should feel free to choose a topic that he/she feels is reflective of his/her most important qualities, values, and aspirations. For an applicant, the most difficult part of crafting a personal statement is figuring out what he/she believes is an “original” topic. An applicant should not be stumped by such a difficult thought process. Very few personal statements feature an “original” or “unique” topic. An applicant should take ownership over a topic that is relevant to him/her, no matter how simple or riveting the topic may be to the author or the reader. Many applicants make the mistake of trying to guess what the committee “wants” to read. The most memorable personal statements are thoughtful, reflective, and demonstrate a great sense of self-awareness. An effective personal statement is written in prose and illustrates an applicant’s unique writing style and literary voice. A common mistake with personal statements is an emphasis on description and not enough reflection on the part of the applicant (Failing to answer the question: “Why is the topic relevant to you?”). Tailoring a personal statement to BC can be an effective approach, but it is certainly not an expectation. If an applicant chooses to tailor a personal statement to a specific school, it is not helpful to simply pull quotes from the school’s marketing literature. It is not effective to replace text in specific sections to address a particular school, and which does not fit the flow of the personal statement.
TLS: Many prospective students are curious about the differences between Boston College and Boston University. Why should students pursue a law degree at BC versus BU? What makes attending BC a unique experience?
RJ: Members of the BC Law community do not believe that it is appropriate to comment on the qualities of another institution. BC’s Jesuit ethos—a commitment to academic excellence, personal well-being, and service to others—makes attending the school a unique experience. We are well known for our collaborative approach to learning, and this extends far beyond the classroom to create a community that is truly supportive and welcoming to all. BC Law students, faculty and administrators embrace a balance of academic and personal life, theory and practice, and professional success.
TLS: What measures does BC take to ensure that its incoming class is diverse?
RJ: The admissions staff, faculty, administrators, alumni, and current students participate in recruiting events all over the country. We visit large urban centers, campuses in rural areas, and collaborate with organizations and groups that serve underrepresented populations. The range of academic credentials that BC Law considers for admission allows the school to recruit highly qualified students with a wide range of talents and perspectives. Our student leaders, faculty, and administrators consistently provide the admissions committee feedback on the nature and dynamics of the law school community. Recently, one of our administrators took on new responsibilities as Assistant Dean for Students, Academic Advising, and Diversity Initiatives.
TLS: How does BC view an applicant that submits both a diversity statement and a “Why BC?” essay in addition to his/her personal statement? Is this OK, or should students limit their number of supplemental essays to just one?
RJ: We recommend that applicants limit the amount of supplemental material they submit as to not overwhelm the reader. Admissions committee members review thousands of applications in a short period of time; therefore it is difficult to dedicate significantly more time to one application over others. A personal statement and diversity statement (if necessary; usually shorter than personal statement) would suffice. In several cases, the personal statement and diversity statement topics are weaved into one essay. “Why BC?” could be the topic of a personal statement or may be weaved into an essay that focuses on another topic. We would not recommend submitting a third essay.
TLS: Could you briefly describe the “waitlist” process for BC? Generally, how many students get off of the waitlist each year, and is there anything a waitlisted applicant can do to improve his/her chances of admission? Do letters of continued interest (or LOCI) help in this regard?
RJ: The dynamics of the applicant pool vary from year to year; therefore the nature of the wait list process is difficult to predict each year. There are some years in which we consider several candidates for admission and during other years we consider few to no candidates from the wait list. The wait list process may last throughout the course of an entire summer and may carry on until the first day of orientation. A candidate on the wait list may submit additional letters of recommendation, transcripts, résumé information, and any additional information the candidate feels would help his/her candidacy. BC Law welcomes letters of continued interest but does not encourage supplemental essays. Wait list applicants should be judicious about supplemental materials. Candidates should also pay close attention to advice provided by a law school on how to engage the wait list process.
TLS: Boston College is generous with its financial aid, offering numerous merit-based scholarships to prospective students. What percentage of students generally receives scholarships? How are students selected to receive scholarships? Is there anything prospective students can do to increase their chances of receiving aid?
RJ: About 48 to 50% of students at Boston College Law School receive need-based or merit-based scholarship assistance. Need-based scholarships are awarded according to information in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the Need Access financial aid application. With respect to merit-based scholarships, the admissions committee considers academic credentials and the qualitative elements in a candidate’s application. To be given the fullest consideration for need-based financial aid, applicants should provide as much information as possible in the financial aid documentation. Outstanding academic achievement coupled with a thoughtful application can help make a strong case for merit-based scholarship.
TLS: Will the current state of the economy affect the amount of scholarship and need-based aid given out?
RJ: At the present moment, we do not anticipate that the economy will negatively affect our ability to offer scholarship assistance. In fact, the current economic climate has made BC Law more determined to offer as much financial aid to as many students as possible.
TLS: Is transferring into BC difficult? In general, how big is the transfer class each year? What can a transfer applicant do, other than make high grades, to be a competitive applicant?
RJ: The transfer application process at BC Law is very competitive. In recent years, the size of the transfer class has ranged from 6 to 20 students. Exceptional academic performance and qualitative factors are both important for success in the transfer application process. The admissions committee expects a thoughtful, detailed, and enthusiastic letter of recommendation from a professor who taught the candidate during the first year of law school. BC Law requires applicants to submit a letter stating their reasons for transferring. In composing the letter, we expect candidates to be clear about their professional objectives and their specific reasons for choosing Boston College Law School. Past professional accomplishments and potential for future professional success are important qualities in a competitive transfer candidate; therefore the admissions committee carefully evaluates the substance of an applicant’s résumé.
TLS: How are employment prospects for transfer students at BC? Do they differ from students who started their legal studies at BC?
RJ: Once transfer students pay their deposits, they are included in all recruitment programs offered by our Career Services office; these include bidding for off-campus and on-campus programs, mock interviews and our National Recruitment Program for Massachusetts Law Schools.
TLS: Dean Jones, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions!
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