Discover the truth about how your GPA, LSAT score, personal statement, and letters of recommendation impact your admissions to America's top law schools
Table of Contents
- Where to apply
- When to apply
- What scores do I need?
- Personal statement
- Law school personal statement example
- Diversity statement
- How to identify your references
- How to ask for your letters
- How to follow up with your recommenders
- How to send a thank you note
Part 1: Introduction
There is so much to piece together as you contemplate your law school application: essays, letters of recommendations, LSAT scores, GPA, school rankings, loans, and scholarships. On top of everything, competition is fiercer as ever.
The number of people taking the LSAT increased by 20 percent from June 2016 to June 2017. At the top 14 law schools (T-14), the average median GPA of admitted students increased from 2006 to 2016 and average median LSAT scores remained nearly identical. Law school admission is difficult enough with LSAT prep, writing standout personal statements and securing great letters of recommendation — add to that increased competition — and it becomes nerve-wracking.
You are amongst the thousands of applicants each year applying for a chance to study at our nation’s top law schools. These schools can provide you with unmatched intellectual rigor, and amazing job opportunities upon graduation.
Though it may seem onerous and never ending, getting into an incredible program is an achievable task. The most important thing is to take this process one step at a time.
Law schools look for strong writers with exceptional analytical thinking and communication skills. Whether you studied Art History, Biology, Political Science, or Philosophy, chances are, you have the skills law school admissions officers are looking for.
With that said, let’s make sure you are best positioned to succeed by optimizing your chance for success in the admissions process. Assuming your numbers (i.e., your GPA and LSAT score) are fixed, we can still accent and highlight your story and skillset.
Before you start studying, worrying, and dizzying yourself with the numbers, read this guide in detail. Map out your plan of attack before heading into battle. This blueprint will help bring about ease as you study, and plan for your future school and career.
There are three main metrics to the law school application that will be examined below:
- Your numbers
- Your narrative
- Your recommendations
Part 2: Your Numbers
Let’s jump right into the nitty-gritty of the application process.
Step I: Where to apply?
Deciding which schools, and how many, to apply to is perhaps the most enthralling, and challenging part of the application cycle. Putting your list together will help give you concrete goals as you craft your applications and study for the LSAT. Don’t worry about over-reaching at this phase. You will have plenty of time to refine and edit your list moving forward as other parts of your application come together. For now, let’s develop an initial comprehensive list of schools that fit your interests.
As you are creating your list of schools, it is important to take into consideration a few factors:
1. School ranking: The legal profession thrives off of prestige: law firms like to flaunt their fancy degrees to clients and public interest positions are very competitive and are often only available to the best students at top schools. To that end, rankings almost entirely consume the law school admissions cycle. The T-14, or the top 14 law schools on US News & World Report (USNWR) rankings (some argue that T-14 actually consists of the 14 schools to ever occupy a top 10 spots on the USNWR) are all highly competitive and well connected in the legal profession. Generally, the same schools (e.g., Harvard, Columbia) have occupied the T-14 list since the start of the US News rankings. 2017 was the first year there was a slight shift in the list: Georgetown fell to 15th, giving the University of Texas, Austin a boost into this elite club of schools. The top 14 law schools are known for their ability to place graduates at nationally ranked firms, clerkships and fellowship opportunities. They are also renowned for their rigor and career assurance.
Although your law school’s ranking will not be the only indicator of your professional success, it will provide a boost when building your network. You not only want to attend a high-ranking school, but to thrive in one as well. Keep this in mind as you delve into your list.
The T-14 offers flexibility upon graduation at a national level. These options, however, are not foreclosed upon non-T-14 students. In fact, T-30 schools (e.g., UCLA, Boston University) offer some of the same prestige within their respective regions. T-30 schools can guarantee access to their region’s top law firms, public interest positions and powerful alumni networks. This is especially true for top performers at T-30 schools, who are often just as competitive as students coming out of the T-14.
Outside of the T-30, job opportunities are limited and massive loan packages make law school financially risky.
- Ask yourself: Which of the T-14 is within reach? (Don’t worry, we will cover how to evaluate reaches and targets below!)
- Ask yourself: Which of the T-30 most excites you?
2. Location: A school’s location often opens doors. Therefore, think about the types of internship opportunities available in the school’s region, and the networks you can develop during your time as a law student. Schools like George Washington (GW), for example, may be ranked 30th in the US News rankings (as of March 2018), but places its graduates at some of the most coveted D.C. positions. This is in large part because GW’s staff has intimate connections to various government and firm positions and can place students at these institutions through externships and internships.
- Ask yourself: What type of law practice do I want to have? What cities function as a hub for the types of networks I want to build?
3. Clinical programs and course offering: It goes without saying that certain programs, and clinical experiences are the stepping stones to a robust career after law school. For example, NYU is known as a hotbed for public interest lawyering. Clinical experiences at NYU, the types of research afforded, the clinical experience at neighboring organizations, and faculty expertise may be worth considering NYU.
Another example of a unique program is Northeastern’s Externship schedule, allowing its students to pursue fulltime internships during the academic year, providing students with a rich professional resume well before graduation.
- Ask yourself: What types of legal questions do I find to be intellectually stimulating?
- Ask yourself: What type of learning environment do I need to excel?
4. Loans: Naturally, loans and the financial cost of law school, are a huge deterrent to law school applicants. The fear you may have of being strapped with debt, never being able to pay it back on time, compounding interest and lack of financial freedom is in many ways justified. However, law school finances can be manageable, and in fact, can be a lucrative source of professional and financial stability in the long-run. To make this decision thoughtfully, there are a few things to think about as you piece together your list as it pertains to loans.
Firstly, if you decide to amass significant loans, and are not comfortable with the financial constraints, you may want to seriously consider spending, at least some of your career, in corporate and private practice. A significant number of law school students are incentivized to work for corporate law firms upon graduation in order to pay back loans and gain substantive experience. These firms make law school’s price tag more manageable.
Secondly, if corporate work is not of interest, several law schools support those in public interest roles by subsidizing their loans. For example, Stanford, Harvard and Yale have all pledged to fully subsidize loans, and committed to paying your loans fully if you remain in public interest positions for a certain number of years.
Additionally, some law schools provide full financial scholarships. Schools like NYU, the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley have coveted, and prestigious, scholarships to mitigate some financial anxieties.
Finally, another important consideration is the Public Interest Loan Forgiveness program, and similar school-run programs for public interest lawyers, which would forgive one’s Direct Loans (i.e., federal loan program that provides low-interest loans to post-secondary students and their parents) so long as you work for the federal government and other pre-approved non-governmental agencies, and after making 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan.
- Ask yourself: What type of salary am I expecting from my professional area of interest? What type of financial freedom do I want to have?
Once you’ve considered all these factors, and any personal considerations (e.g., family financial limitations, geographical commitments, spousal support), write down your list. The list should include at least three to five reaches, seven to ten schools with the median scores you have, and two schools with an almost guaranteed likelihood of admission.
Naturally, you may be wondering what qualifies as a reach, a school that is within reach, and otherwise. There is no precise method by which to measure, and predict one’s chances at admission, but you can use certain trends to help.
Reach: If your LSAT score is 4 or more points lower than the school’s average LSAT score and/or your GPA is .3 or more points lower than a school’s average GPA, then that school is likely to be a reach.
Target: Schools with roughly (nor more than 1 or 2 points on the LSAT and .1 average GPA) the same LSAT and GPA averages as your own scores are most likely to be great matches.
Safety: If your LSAT score is 4 or more points higher than the school’s average LSAT score and/or GPA is .3 or more points higher than a school’s average GPA, then that school is likely to be a reach.
In addition, Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) has an amazing predictor tool that allows you to get a sense of your chances. Moreover, we discuss the types of schools you should aim for based on your GPA/LSAT combo in the Step III: What scores do I need? section, below.
There are three factors to consider when deciding how many schools to apply to:
- Cost: each application will cost between $60 to $100 dollars.
- Timing: top-tier schools will expect personalized essays and holistic applications that will take significant amounts of time to perfect. While all applications are submitted through the LSAC website, each school will require individual submissions, with unique essay questions.
- Location: you want to apply to schools that can provide either the national reach you may want, or the particular regional focus you have committed to. Depending on your goal, this will naturally narrow down your school list.
When taking these factors into consideration, your total number of schools will likely not exceed 20.
Finally, it is important to note that while your hard metrics (LSAT and GPA) are critical predictors in the application process, soft metrics (work experience, essays, and accomplishments) can be just as impactful in predicting your chances. If you do not have significant work experience, then your quantitative numbers will almost single-handedly predict your chances.
Step II: When to Apply?
Once you commit to applying and piece together a list of schools, the second step of the process is to craft a timeline. There are no fixed timelines for law school applications as the cycle is rolling. A rolling application cycle means that an admissions office will begin to admit students before the application due date, and will continue to administer admissions to applicants in waves. Therefore, an earlier submission will likely increase your acceptance rate, as your application will be reviewed before all the spots are filled.
Most law schools will begin to accept applications between the 1st and 15th of September. Applications are then accepted until February 1 to the summer. The closing date varies drastically for every law school, but top law schools have deadlines in early February.
Select schools have begun to offer applicants the chance to be admitted through a binding, early decision application cycle. As of March 2018, Harvard, Yale and Stanford do not offer their applicants this option, but it may be one to consider for other reach schools. This option will signal your zeal and commitment to the law school admissions committee. This is also a phenomenal option for applicants who want an extra boost at their dream schools (discussed above). Before making the decision to apply early decision, consider scholarship options and financial aid packages. Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, for example, offers $150,000 in merit scholarships to applicants admitted through its early decision program.
If there are no schools to which you are ready to fully commit, consider the normal rolling application cycle. Rolling applications can be submitted any time during the cycle, but most applicants apply in one of the following three time periods:
- Period I (Early): September – November
- Period II (On-time): December – January 15th
- Period III (Late): January 16th – March
Applicants who start a cycle having already taken the LSAT will likely submit their application between September and early November as a way to maximize their chances of acceptance. Applicants with a Fall LSAT will submit an application as soon as their scores are in, whether that is early December or early January. Finally, applicants with a February test date will submit their application much later in the process.
Ideally, you should have an outlined set of essays, identified your recommenders and have already taken the LSAT or, at the very least, scheduled to take it no later than December. The earlier you get your application in, the higher your chances are for success.
While an application submitted during Period I is ideal, it is not necessary—far from it. Your application’s quality should be your main concern. If you can significantly improve on an application through essays, or a higher LSAT score, do not hesitate to apply in Period II. Increasing your LSAT score by more than three points will be worth the wait.
Note: Test takers who take the LSAT twice increase their score by 2.8 points on average.
Applying in Period III is not encouraged. At this point, the admissions committee has already admitted a majority of its class, which will put you at a serious disadvantage because fewer seats will be left.
Your application period will almost solely depend on when you take your LSAT. There are only four LSAT test dates a year: February, June, October and December. It is highly recommended that you take the February and June LSAT, so as to be fully prepared with a comfortable score at the start of the upcoming cycle. With that said, re-taking the test in October and December may be a necessity. If you are taking the test for the first time, or again, after September 1, you have to ensure that the rest of your application package is also receiving attention. Devote at least three hours a week to editing your resume, crafting essays, and reaching out to recommenders.
Step III: What scores do I need?
The LSAT is the most heavily weighted component of your application. Before we delve into the specifics of the LSAT, let’s cover the growing hype around taking the GRE instead of the LSAT. Some schools are now accepting the GRE in place of the LSAT. This begs the question: Should you still take the LSAT?
The GRE was offered to encourage more applicants to apply to law school and tests a completely different set of skills. Specifically, whereas the LSAT tests reasoning and analytical skills, the GRE tests reasoning skills and your knowledge of substantive subject areas such as math. The LSAT is only offered four times a year, whereas the GRE is offered throughout the year. It has yet to be determined how law schools will evaluate the GRE. Moreover, not many law schools have agreed to accept the test. As such, taking the LSAT is highly recommended to ensure that you can apply to any school and to maximize admission odds. It is still too early to fully understand how the GRE will come into play, how it will impact your chance, and whether it puts you at a disadvantage when compared to your peers. For that reason, taking the LSAT is strongly encouraged.
Take the LSAT as soon as possible, realizing that it will likely require three months of rigorous study. If at all possible, devote at least a month of full-time studying without any interruptions. While studying, remember that the LSAT is repetitive and will rarely, if ever, deviate from its standard material. In addition to studying the methods and paying close attention to the types of questions asked, you must get used to the pattern and format of the test. It is critical to take as many practice tests as are available in order to master the tenor and pace of the test. Give yourself time to take all available practice tests. Highly recommended programs include: PowerScore, and Testmasters.
It is virtually impossible to determine what GPA/LSAT combo will land you a spot at your dream school—the possibilities are endless. With that said, below is a loose guide for the types of scores and schools one should aim for:
What happens if you do not meet your target score?
If you do not meet your target score, you can take one of two paths:
- If you are within five points of your target score, it is recommended that you apply during the current cycle.
- If you score more than five points below your average or expected score, it may be worth it to wait another year. This may sound dramatic, but a few extra points can score you into your dream school. The difference between a 165 and a 170, for example, could be the difference between one of the top three schools and a top-ten school. Every point counts.
Part 3: Your Narrative
Law schools are looking for compelling narratives, strong analytical skills, and applicants excited by the intellectual rigor of the law. This requires not only that you share your achievements, but also showcase your intellect and ability. You will have a personal statement, a resume, and if you wish, a diversity statement. You will have complete control over your message. Be bold.
Your final personal statement will, on average, be 500 words. Some law schools will expect you to write closer to four pages, or roughly 1,500 words. Be sure to check the requirements of each law school you will be applying to.
It is all too easy to be cliché with a personal statement: most applicants have a vision for saving the world, or were transformed by a study abroad experience. This may be true for you, but remember that these topics are overused and trite. Your story should be unique to you, your journey, and your future. To avoid common pitfalls, take some time to outline and reflect on the types of qualities, experiences and accomplishments you want to highlight. Give yourself a week to brainstorm ideas, and be flexible through the drafting process in case you want to include any changes.
The following three points will help you brainstorm ideas, provide insight on what you have to include, and advice on what to avoid. Keep in mind that your personal statement will likely be edited and reworked for weeks. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get your essay proofread by no more than 2-3 experienced advisors and mentors. You will need at least a month to truly perfect your essay.
Point One: Provide clear examples of skills.
Law students have to be analytical, meticulous, passionate, and display exceptional writing skills. Law school is rigorous and requires serious skill and commitment. As such, law school admissions officers are looking for students who will not only be able to handle the rigor, but who will excel – and revel – in the challenge.
Take some time to think about the types of skills you want to highlight and write them down. These can include: diligent, perceptive, thoughtful, meticulous, resourceful, passionate, committed, etc. Next, brainstorm clear examples where you demonstrated these skills. It can be through an internship, an academic experience, or through community engagement. Write the experiences down as well.
Once you have insight into the skills and experiences worthy of being showcased, think about the common thread across these experiences. Brainstorm themes you want to use to bring your story together. It is important to spend about a week reflecting and outlining, as you want to present a holistic, and unified image to the committee. You don’t want to simply share every accomplishment, job description and achievement; your resume will do that for you. Don’t include experiences that are dated, or illustrate completion of routine tasks. This is your chance to demonstrate your ability to be competent, thoughtful, and analytical. Show them how great you are!
Questions to ask yourself:
- What experiences have been the most transformative?
- What skills will serve me best in law school and my professional career?
- What is one common thread in my experiences?
Point Two: Demonstrate an aptitude for law school, and a commitment to practice law in the future.
This should not be taken to mean that you are showcasing your legal knowledge. Do not fill your essay with legal jargon, as it will not help to boost your application. More likely, it will deter the admission committee. Instead, share your own path to law school, and your motivations for a career in law.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What is motivating my decision to apply?
- What will I add to a law school environment?
- What are my long-term plans? Short-term plans?
- What do I plan to do with my law school education?
While not necessary, it is also important to individualize each essay to your top ten schools. Find a clinical program, or Professor who may help you achieve your scholastic or professional pursuits and be sure to use a sentence or two in your personal statement explaining why that particular Professor, or institution would be well suited for you. This will be of particular help if you are on the wait-list as it shows the committee how eager and committed you are to their respective program.
Point Three: Be creative with your essay structure.
Once you begin drafting, pay special attention to your essay’s prose (i.e., word choice, length of sentences, etc.) and structure. Your essay must be written in direct prose. Avoid using long words, and sentence structures. Each sentence should be succinct and clear. You should also achieve clarity with the structure of your essay. Be sure to use clear and smooth transitions between experiences. Below is an example of bad vs. good prose:
Bad prose: My experience helped me to become persistent and to navigate around a courtroom setting to gain the necessary skillsets to pursue my unwavering passion for social justice issues and inequality.
Good prose: My experience fueled my persistence to maneuver the courtroom and to pursue a platform from which to tackle issues of social justice.
In the above bad prose example, the sentence is wordy, lacks direction and therefore, confuses the readers. Alternatively, the good prose example is concise and uses powerful descriptors that can demonstrate knowledge about the legal profession.
Your narrative is not simply about your achievements, but about your transformation as a thinker, activist, professional, etc. Therefore, your essay should be written to complement the substance of your journey. Do not tell your life story in chorological order. This is not a memoir.
Hint: Your first draft should be about four pages double spaced to give you room to cut and edit with ease. At the first stage of writing, you should include no more than four experiences in your draft. The final draft should ideally only contain two experiences, or accomplishments.
Space in your personal statement is valuable and as such, every sentence must showcase your intellectual and emotional maturity. Think creatively about the structure of your essay so as to grab and retain the reader’s attention throughout. One way to accomplish this is to identify one common theme, or thread that you consistently reference throughout your essay. Another approach is to pick a particular anecdote that you start and end your essay with. Here is an example of a poorly-written vs. compelling statement of skills:
Bad example: Eventually, my team succeeded in demonstrating the need to provide this service. We showed this through empirical evidence and first-hand accounts.
Good example: My scrupulous analysis of legal distinctions, coupled with my ability to advocate the urgency of my projects through empirical evidence and first-hand accounts won over my supervisors.
As compared to the bad example above, the good example was re-tooled to center the applicant’s particular skills and contributions.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What ties all of my experiences?
- Are some experiences more closely related than others?
- Which experiences have a particularly gripping story? Can this serve as my introduction?
Law School Personal Statement Example
(Note: All identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality. The applicant was admitted to a top-5 law school.)
The American Dream is one of the most powerful narratives in the world because it has pulled millions of people to America in search for a better life. At six years old I came to the United States from Bolivia. Like a steel stork, the plane carried its passengers and our luggage full of dreams towards a new life. In the beginning, we faced a difficult reality; adjusting to life in America was not easy and as immigrants we were starting all over in a foreign place. Through all the difficulties of adjustment my parents always stressed the value of education. “I finished elementary school through a radio program because the teachers beat us too much,” said my father. “I didn’t make it past the eighth grade; study hard and don’t be like me,” said my mother. They made me believe that if I studied hard enough I could make it somewhere.
In 2009, I packed my suitcase one more time and this time went to Brown University. Attending Brown gave me the tools to bring my family’s dreams to life. As a freshman, I organized my peers to found an organization, the Brown Bolivian Student’s Association (BSA) to address the cultural needs of students with my heritage. In two short years we brought speakers such as Maria Delgado to talk about Bolivian American identity, received a $10,000 donation to promote our work on campus, and hosted the 6th National Bolivian Student Conference. This conference united over five hundred Bolivian students and speakers during a weekend that empowered my community.
Through the BSA I met one of my greatest mentors, Jose Alvarez, a local attorney from Providence, RI of Bolivian descent. A lifelong Providentian, he wanted to organize his community to help residents participate in Providence’s innovation economy. I believed in his vision, and after initially signing up to volunteer he hired me as his Deputy Campaign Manager. Running a political campaign required Herculean strength, but I loved the work because it required building a community of diverse people around a common cause. Two Brown Bolivian alumnae led the campaign with me. Even as others underestimated us, for being young and for being women, Jose empowered us. For months I worked with him on the field knocking on doors and calling thousands of voters. On November 6, 2012 the ballot count revealed that history had been made. The people of Providence elected Jose Alvarez as their first Latino councilor—with the most votes of any new challenger.
The American national demographic is changing rapidly—around 25 % of children in the public school system are of Latino descent—but proportional representation in the law is not. When I worked in the Immigration Unit at Greater Providence Legal Services this past summer I was the only intern able to interpret between Spanish and English. As I heard the traumatic stories of clients seeking asylum this responsibility weighed heavily on my shoulders.
But it is these stories, as well as those of my parents and my peers, which have shown me the path I want to take. I want to become a lawyer, not only to help alleviate the great need for legal assistance in the immigrant community, but also because I know my strength lies in executing visions. I enjoy the process of turning concepts into realities. Vulnerable groups, such as undocumented immigrants, children, and women, will fall through the cracks unless their voices are heard. The law is a tool that I can use to leverage this gap so that they can empower themselves.
Just as my parents hoped, education has been the key to my success, but I don’t want my journey to end with my personal achievements. Brown is a platform that I am proud to have used to better serve my communities. In law school I will serve as a bridge between the law and immigrant communities. As I head into this next phase of my life, I will pack in my suitcase a set of dreams, both old and new, but all ready to become reality.
The diversity statement is not a necessary component of the application. It is an optional essay and therefore, your application should be complete without it. However, you may want to consider writing a diversity statement if: you come from a low socioeconomic background, are part of an underrepresented minority (ethnic, religious, racial), have spent considerable amount of time outside of the country, served in the military, worked through school, or come from a state or region that is highly unrepresented. (Appalachia, Native American reservations, etc.)
Law school communities, after all, thrive on being intellectually rigorous and diverse. Law schools find great value in ensuring that their classrooms are vibrant and robust with different viewpoints, life experiences, and narratives.
Suggestion: Do not use the diversity statement to talk about intellectual and political diversity, a study abroad experience, or an interaction you may have had with an underrepresented racial and ethnic group.
If you decide to write one, follow the steps below to ensure maximum impact of your diversity statement.
Point One: Do not depend on your attributes alone.
Perhaps you want to share your experiences of growing up as an African-American in a predominately White town, or Asian American in Colorado, or growing up in a working class neighborhood. These are topics worth discussing in your diversity statement, but only if you provide the reader with an in-depth look into how these life experiences shaped you as a thinker and person.
Example: My upbringing has been instrumental in instilling me with a deep commitment to justice, liberation and critical thought.
Whereas your personal statement focuses on your achievements and qualification for law school, your diversity statement is focused on your own personal trials, your convictions and unique life experiences. To convey these messages in a way that is both authentic and comfortable, take time to reflect on your journey,
Questions to ask yourself:
- How did these experiences make me feel?
- What types of lessons did I garner?
- How did they inform my perception of self and belonging?
- How did I overcome hardship?
Point Two: Be specific.
This is difficult, and often times, a bit uncomfortable for applicants, but it is important to be intimate with your story. Share moments of grief, or fear in a way that humanizes your struggle, or your experiences. Be specific by sharing particular stories. Do not shy away from being raw and whole in your story. Keep in mind that you will have several people read and edit your diversity statement. Your editing will allow you to perfect the tone of your essay for law school committees. Do not worry about the tone in your first draft.
Be sure to remember that your diversity statement will be much shorter than your personal statement. Specifically, your diversity statement should be no longer than 1-2 pages double spaced. It is highly recommended that you keep your essay under 1.5 pages double spaced.
Point Three: Takeaway.
Every great story has a takeaway. Be specific about what you learned, and how you have applied these lessons. Before drafting, it is important to share an anecdote or experience that highlights the ways in which you took your lesson and turned it into an achievement.
Example: Bearing witness to the many sacrifices made by my family and loved ones has motivated me to pursue a legal career working alongside undocumented immigrants facing the brunt of a violent legal system.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Has my experience made me more empathetic?
- Has my experience made me more compassionate?
- Did my experience alter or inform my future plans?
The final part of the narrative that can be controlled by you is the resume. Keep in mind that law school is both a rigorous academic institution, and a professional school. As such, you will want to highlight your academic achievements, your professional accomplishments and any awards, honors or prestigious feats.
We recommend that you use the following format options:
- Law school resumes should not exceed one page
- Choose a classic font like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri
- Use 11- or 12-size font
- Use consistent headings, and indentions
Your resume must be substantive, and well organized. Spend as much time as you possibly can brainstorming and drafting the visual presentation of the document. It must be polished.
Step One: Start your resume with your education.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
College of Arts and Sciences, B.A., magna cum laude in International Relations, May 2013
Honors: QuestBridge Scholar, Sigma Iota Rho Honor Society, Sphinx Senior Society
Notice how the segment above does not list your cumulative GPA. Only list your GPA if it is exceptional (i.e., above a 3.7 for a T-14 application and above a 3.5 for a T-30 school). Unless you plan on having an entire Awards or Honors section, be sure to list any honor societies, your thesis, if applicable, and any academic awards in the education section.
Step Two: Write a detailed experience section.
ASIAN WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP UNIVERSITY, Malaysia 2013 – 2014
Henry Luce Scholar
Spearheaded corporate donation campaigns that raised over three million dollars
Assisted legal team in preparing documents for land deeds, corporate and government agreements
GOOGLE INC., Mountain View, CA Summer 2012
New Business Development Intern
Launched Speak2Tweet product in cooperation with Twitter and the Sudan Tribute
Presented to Google DotOrg on high potential business initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa
Created business plan of three Google X products for release in Sub-Saharan Africa
Pay special attention to the verbs you use to describe your accomplishments. Use active, diverse verbs that catch the reader’s eyes. Some examples: spearheaded, launched, initiated, produced, researched, and assisted. Take time to think about your work product, your daily tasks and the goals you met. Be specific, but honest, about your experience.
This section will showcase your occupational and professional experiences. List past summer internships, and any full-time, part-time or volunteer experiences. List your roles by starting with the most recent experience and working backwards in time.
Step Three: Add a brief section capturing your interests and skills.
Creative work: Produced one-hour documentary titled “The Islamic Dinar: Alternative Economic Systems”
Languages: Fluent in Arabic
Hobbies: Creative writing, painting, reading, yoga, jazz
This section allows you to share additional skills you think may help portray a more holistic picture of your interest. Feel free to share your language proficiency, any interest in sports or the arts, any technical skills (coding, Photoshop, etc.), or longstanding hobbies. Be specific and brief.
Part 4: Your Recommendations
Your narrative must be corroborated, and complemented with letters of recommendation. Follow these simple steps as you identify and secure letters of recommendation for law school.
Step I: Identify your references.
Law school admissions committees are looking for students who can demonstrate an intellectual capacity to handle the rigors of the law, who are self-motivated, curious and passionate. To that end, pick a diverse group of recommenders (professors, supervisors and mentors) who can speak to your range and wide array of experiences.
Brainstorm five people you consider to be mentors, advisors, supervisors and Professors that could write you a letter of recommendation. Then prioritize those from the list who can give a detailed letter with accomplishments, experiences and achievements that showcase your analytical abilities and diligence.
Of your recommenders, at least one must be a Professor. Ideally, this would be a professor who either mentored you through a significant writing assignment like a senior thesis, or a Professor in whose class you excelled. Make sure to have no more than two Professors write a recommendation letter unless one of your Professors supervised you in a research project or in an academic capacity outside of the classroom.
In addition to a Professor, identify a former supervisor or boss who can speak to your ability to work in a high-pressure environment. This is also an opportunity to showcase your accomplishments in a work place, to show your commitment to the study of the law, or your willingness to transfer your professional skillsets from your previous experiences to the law.
Your goal should be to email three people for a letter of recommendation. You must have a minimum of two letters to meet law school application requirements, but you will be given the opportunity to submit additional letters. Make sure to submit no more than four strong letters on your behalf.
Step II: Ask for your letters.
Reach out to recommenders at least a month in advance to grab some coffee or lunch. Alternatively, if the Professor or recommender is not near, send an update and request email detailing any news you have, your current employment status and your decision to apply to law school. Use this opportunity to engage the recommender, ask them for advice, and demonstrate to them that you have put serious thought into this decision. Be sure to end the conversation or email by humbly asking if the recommender would be willing to write a letter of recommendation.
Dear Professor Smith,
I hope this email finds you well and in good health.
I wanted to let you know that I did in fact take your advice, and took the summer off to relax, reflect and unwind after a hectic four years! I also relocated to Seattle to work for Microsoft where I have been tasked with creating marketing strategies for new products. It has thus far been an amazing experience, not only because this is a field ripe with vibrant ideas but also because it has given me the opportunity to work in an environment that is inclusive and uplifting. In addition, I've been volunteering with various Syrian refugee groups through a grassroots youth initiative. It has been a grounding and transformative experience.
Over the past few weeks, however, I have come to realize that to pursue a career in policy and social change, I would need to complement my experience in technology with rigorous legal training. I decided to apply to join law/public policy programs in the fall, for which I humbly ask for a letter of recommendation. I'm attaching my resume and an example of my work in your course for reference. I am taking a TestMasters LSAT course now and hoping to submit my applications by the end of October/beginning of November. If you agree, I would gladly send over a draft of my Personal Statement and any other information you may need.
Be sure to be cordial, inviting and polite in all of your communications.
Step III: Follow up with your recommenders.
Once your Professor agrees to write a letter on your behalf, be sure to promptly send an email with a draft of your personal statement, list of potential schools, deadlines and a note or two on what you would like the recommender to focus on.
Dear Mr. Hawes,
Thank you for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf! I am deeply grateful to you and others who are so supportive of my professional growth. Per my last email, I am attaching a rough draft of my personal statement below, which refers to the work I accomplished during the fellowship. To that end, I jotted some preliminary thoughts/more specific examples of work I accomplished under your supervision that I hope you would highlight in your letter. This is by no means exhaustive and can be used to help craft more refined stories. I'll be using some of these stories to jump-start my own essays.
My school list thus far is fairly small:
- Stanford Law School
- University of Pennsylvania Law School
- George Washington University Law School
- Cornell Law School
- Columbia Law School
While the law school application cycle is rolling, I will be submitting my application on November 1t. It would be particularly helpful if I receive your letter within the week of the first. I will be sure to add your name and email to the online application, which will prompt you to submit the letter online through a link that will be sent to your email. If you do not receive a link within the next two days, please let me know.
Thank you again for your encouragement and I will be sure to keep you up to date as the process progresses.
Experiences to highlight
(1) CARAM Asia: I spent two weeks with CARAM Asia (NGO that lobbies on behalf of migrant workers across the continent). I attended their annual, weeklong conference and helped to: (a) create presentation materials for internal staffers; (b) record the conference; and (c) draft an 80-page proposal for next stages/conference follow-up of sorts. The proposal was then used to draft a preliminary funding guideline for 2014 and to create both a 5-year and 10-year vision map. It was during this conference that I met Irene Fernandez and learned about the intersectionality between refugee movements and workers rights work in Malaysia. I interviewed workers from the Philippines who were deported because they were HIV positive for the proposal.
(2) AWLU: My tasks within AWLU primarily consisted of: (a) donor drives, (b) research of campus location options; and (3) draft Professorship positions and salary packages. I worked to maintain relationships with PepsiCo, Petronas, YTL, Sime Darby and five other major donors. This meant I had to attend every meeting with my assigned donors, had to brief our President with their demands and develop follow-up plans. I put together a 30 pg. funding package for each of our donors and drafted various media releases. My favorite was Sime Darby, who pledged over $15,000 in scholarships for low-income students - but they wanted to participate in the recruitment of these students. I met with the Sime Darby staff pretty extensively to work through/develop recruitment criteria and develop a scholarship program that was both purposeful to their mission, and fulfilling to the students.
(4) Volunteer: I worked with Carefugees both summers to raise money for refugee families fasting during Ramadan. More specifically, I gave presentations on the campaign to three high schools and to one college audience. I was also a part of the events committee, which planned a series of engaging and awareness events around refugee care and welfare in Malaysia. The biggest event was an outdoor movie screening and follow-up discussion I helped moderate on a Cameroonian refugee who adopted 18 orphans. Our efforts helped to feed 2,400 families during Ramadan!
Throughout the year, I tried to leverage my language skills (Arabic) and my past professional (Google) and personal experiences (first generation college student) to add value in my new surroundings. It wasn't always positive, easy or comfortable. But the experiences always proved to be enriching, and fully transformative!
You will be submitting all of your applications through LSAC. The site will prompt you to add names of recommenders and their contact information. Once that information is in place, it will send an email to all your recommenders asking them to submit their letter via a virtual, secure portal. You will not be able to read the letters, but you will be notified on the site once they have been submitted.
Step IV: Send a Thank You note.
This will likely not be the last time you communicate with your Professor. Use this opportunity to build a lifelong relationship with a mentor who values your work and your career trajectory.
In addition to sending a Thank You note, be sure to keep your recommenders updated once you start receiving acceptances from schools, once you make a decision on which school to attend, and/or when you start law school. Your recommenders are eagerly waiting for updates!
The law school admissions process is strenuous, and at times, can feel overwhelming. This guide was written in hopes to alleviate some of these stressors by walking you through the entire process. While difficult, applying to law schools can be manageable with a plan of action. Start planning as early as possible, and be flexible with your list of schools as you study for the LSAT.
The law school admissions process is all about persistence. If you are disappointed with your results, keep trying. Be sure to reach out to advisors, mentors, and trusted friends through this endeavor, and if you feel that you could use more support, get in touch with us! We would be honored to help you with your admissions journey.
Part 5: Frequently Asked Questions
Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) I receive about the law school admissions process that are not answered in this article.
I encourage you to ask any other questions you have in the Comments section below. I'll make sure to answer your questions within 24 hours and add some of them to this FAQ section to make it easier for other students to find this information.
Do law schools require interviews? If so, how should I prepare for them?
Generally, law schools do not conduct applicant interviews. However, some law schools do have interviews. (e.g., Harvard, Georgetown, to name a few) Although interviews vary widely in content and in format, schools use this opportunity to gauge your particular interest in their program, and to get a feel for your passions and personality. Make sure to research each school in detail. (i.e., course offerings, professors, clinics, etc.) so you can demonstrate fit with their program throughout your responses. Above all, ensure that you are well equipped to answer any questions regarding your resume and personal statement.
Should I write an addendum?
The purpose of the addendum is to supplement your application and to explain any peculiarities. For example, if you had an uncharacteristic fall in grades, the committee will be sympathetic to any credible explanations. Write an addendum only if you, or a close family member suffered from a major illness, were victims of a disaster, an eviction, or otherwise tragic events. There are a few common examples that do not qualify as credible, and therefore, not requiring an addendum (e.g. struggle adjusting to college as a freshman, or a particularly difficult Professor or course).
My application is complete, but my December LSAT score is much lower than expected. Should I still apply?
It depends. If your LSAT score is within five points of your target, apply. Otherwise, strongly consider postponing your application until the next cycle.
What should I do if I get waitlisted?
Waitlisted applicants are strongly encouraged to submit a letter of continued interest. The letter should include a statement of interest, any updates or accomplishments not included in your original application, and a commitment to attendance if accepted. Submit this letter to your top-choice school only.
If I am a member of an underrepresented minority, should I tackle the application process differently?
Yes. In addition to writing a diversity statement, be sure to reach out to an underrepresented minority (URM) student or graduate for advice on average test scores and GPA requirements for URM applicants, as well as perspective on how to convey your narrative effectively.