Katie Thisdell 2017-11-08 06:27:59
RAWPIXEL.COM/SHUTTERSTOCK From formatting resumes to writing personal essays, here are tips that will get you noticed by law school admissions committees. So, you want to go to law school. First, you have to get into law school. And that requires a really great application. Admissions offices are going to be looking holistically at a variety of components: • Your undergraduate GPA, which you probably can’t change now. • Your LSAT scores, which are hopefully at the level you want them to be. • Your resume, showcasing not only past jobs but also volunteer and leadership experience, and even hobbies. • Letters of recommendation from people who actually know you and know how you performed at school and work. • And lastly, a writing sample that shows who you really are and displays both your writing and your critical thinking skills. Whew! Why do they need so much? Law schools want to see if you’re going to be a good fit for their school and if you have the potential to do well. Plus, they need to see if you have what it takes to pass the bar exam and ultimately be employed in the legal profession. Thus, they need to look at a variety of indicators. So, you need to make sure that on the parts of the application you can control, you do so to the best of your ability. “People obviously put a great deal of thought and energy into their applications because so much is at stake,” said Andrew Popper, professor and chair of the admissions committee at American University Washington College of Law. “Law school is an enormous investment in both time and resources. … You want to have your best shot at the school that seems like the best fit.” Personal statement Lets’ start with the fun part: the personal statement. Fun? Yes, this is the one part of your application where you have some control and where you get to shine. Here, you can show the admissions office who you actually are, beyond your statistics and job titles. What makes you tick? Why do you want to go to law school? Why do you want this particular school? “The ideal personal statement is something that is personal,” said Mimi Huang, assistant dean of admissions at Lewis & Clark Law School. “It’s not clinical; it’s not a third-person objective. It’s to the point and candid. But, it’s also written from a personal voice. It gives insight into who you are.” The personal statements that stand out are both well composed and thoughtfully written, and they show an individual’s personal voice. Too often, applicants get caught up in the story or the message they’re trying to convey. The quality of the writing matters just as much. After all, lawyers spend much of their day writing, and their writing must be strong in order to convince their audience. “The really good essays have a level of self-reflection and thoughtfulness that doesn’t come in a first draft, and not everybody can do it well,” said Mark Hill, senior director of admissions at Duke University School of Law. And yes, schools are also looking for a unique story — and more importantly, how you interpret it. Maybe you’re the first in your family to graduate college or go to law school, but you think that too many other applicants may write about the same thing. Don’t change topics just because yours could be considered a common experience. “How you’re talking about it or what it means to you can really distinguish a common narrative,” said Christopher Baidoo, assistant dean of admissions at California Western School of Law. It’s also important to explain why you want to go to that particular school. Admissions teams notice when applicants make a connection between themselves and their desired school. Do your research before you apply. Look at the clinics and curriculum, the overall environment of the school, and whether it’s supportive or competitive. How do you fit in? “Once you do that for those schools that ultimately you will seek admission to, I think it helps you sculpt your essay accordingly,” Popper said. And one final note: You’re not a lawyer yet, so you probably don’t know how to write a perfect legal brief or a research memo. Unless you do, avoid the gimmicks. Stick to an expository essay about yourself, Huang said, rather than some alternative format. It can really be a gamble to think too far outside the box, and an untraditional approach must be extremely well executed to work. This is not the place to take a chance and risk starting off on the wrong foot. Resume Now’s the time to forget (temporarily) what you thought you knew about resumes. This is not the succinct one-pager that employers want. Law schools want more details about your campus and community involvement and the skills you’ve acquired through these experiences that will be important to your success in law school and in your career. These skills may include critical thinking, research and analysis, public speaking, leadership and work ethic. For instance, can you give an example of how a summer retail job led you to think on your feet, solve problems and manage priorities? Write it out rather than making admissions officers guess. They’re also looking to see if you have used your time productively during the past few years on your path to law school. “Does your background indicate if you might be successful in law school and ultimately in the legal profession?” Baidoo said. There is a line to walk, though. You don’t want to sell yourself short, Hill said, but you also shouldn’t pad your resume unnecessarily. Remember your goal: to go to law school. Keep your resume focused on that. Letters of recommendation Law schools use letters of recommendation to get an outside check on what applicants say about themselves. For instance, a professor can explain what went into the A you got in class: Was it because you worked really hard, because you wrote insightful reports or because the class was extremely easy? “Some of the best letters are from professors who have seen your growth and improvement over the years,” Hill said. Admissions officers say they receive a surprising number of letters with mediocre recommendations. When you ask people for recommendations, there are a few rules you should follow. First, make sure you ask early in the application process so the writers have plenty of time to craft letters for you. If you ask a week before they’re due, the writers won’t have time to give your letters the attention you’d like. Secondly, provide your recommenders with examples of your work in their classes, your resume and even a draft of your personal statement. You want them to remember who you are. Also, consider sharing examples of the skills that are important in law school, so they can reference why you’re a good candidate. “I don’t think it’s bad to tell people who are writing the letters what we’re looking for,” Baidoo said. And third, ask your recommenders if they will write favorable letters. “Listen to what they’re telling you when you ask,” Hill said. “If they’re hemming and hawing and saying they don’t have time, maybe they’re trying to hint they won’t write a good letter.” Part of the application process is about demonstrating your judgment, Popper said. “For both letters of recommendation and essays, when they’re catastrophically bad, they could be a negative factor in our decision,” he said. “When they’re spectacularly good, they’re a complementary factor.” Polishing it off Now’s the time to review every piece of your application. Remember, admissions offices are looking at the big picture. A typo here and there may not make your application land in the “deny” pile, but consistent mistakes or an obvious lack of insight could. “Read your statement aloud before submitting it,” wrote Faye Shealy, associate dean for admissions at William & Mary Law School, on an admissions blog. “Ask yourself if it’s sincere. Ask yourself if it’s you. We read personal statements submitted with all applications, and we can easily separate essays with a clear voice from essays that are clearly canned.” Be mindful of spelling and grammar so that mistakes don’t impede the reviewer’s ability to understand your story. Aim to make your writing grammatically correct and as free from errors as you can. Check all references to the school in your application to make sure they’re correct. You definitely don’t want to call the school by the wrong name. If you have something else to share or explain, do it as an addendum. Do you have one semester of poor grades because you were suffering from depression? Are you missing a year of work experience because you were caring for a sick family member? “You can address the question mark, and that prevents the evaluators from doing it themselves,” Huang said. “Be short and sweet about it. … it’s not a place to make excuses, but it’s a place to offer a response.” One of the biggest pitfalls that admissions officers see? Not following the directions on the application. “It happens so regularly it’s almost astonishing to me,” Baidoo said. “You’re going into a profession where there are rules that have to be followed.” So, if a school asks for a two-page essay, make it two pages. If it needs to be double-spaced, do it. Answer all the questions, and then ask a neutral third-party (maybe not your parents or significant other) to review everything. “We’ll draw our own conclusions about those who don’t follow directions,” Baidoo said. When to apply Applying early used to be a surefire way to improve your odds of getting an acceptance letter. But during the past few years, the applicant pool has changed. Fewer people are applying to law school, and if schools get fewer applications than expected, they might have more seats available later in the spring. “You should apply when you’re ready to apply,” said Christopher Baidoo, assistant dean of admissions at California Western School of Law. His school extended its application deadline from April 1 to July 1 last year when it didn’t have as many students submit deposits as it had expected. Check with the schools you’re interested in. Each one could have a different policy, and it’s always best to get the information directly from the source. “An earlier application may receive an earlier decision,” said Faye Shealy, associate dean for admissions at William & Mary Law School. “However, it should be the same decision for credentials-based decisions.” SYDA PRODUCTIONS/SHUTTERSTOCK Many admissions officers say the safest bet is to take the time you need to make your application perfect, and then submit it when it’s ready – but not too late in the application period. “Applying early at the expense of the application would be a mistake,” said Andrew Popper, chair of the admissions committee at American University Washington College of Law. “Delaying unduly could prejudice you. The hope would be to hit a reasonable midpoint.”
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