Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Prior to founding her own consulting firm, Law School Expert, Ann Levine was the Director of Admissions for both Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and California Western School of Law in San Diego. She is the author of The Law School Admission Game: Play Like an Expert, which is the best-selling law school admissions guide on Amazon, and has helped approximately 2,000 law applicants since the start of her firm back in 2004.
VT: How much time should be set aside to adequately prepare for and complete a Law School application?
Ann: Most people give themselves 9-12 months to do everything that is required for the law school application process, which includes preparing for the LSAT. Filling out the actual application is the easy part – it’s getting everything together (transcripts and letters of recommendation), studying for the LSAT (2-6 months, depending on whether you end up taking it more than once, and waiting four weeks for your score), writing your personal statement (give yourself several weeks to perfect it) and other essays (many schools ask for essays in addition to your personal statement) that take the most time. There is a lot to do, so it’s important to not rush yourself. Good planning is essential.
VT: What is the single most important thing applicants should focus on with this application?
Ann: QUALITY. It’s not about writing a dramatic essay, or providing the most materials along with your application. It’s about the quality of your essay(s), resume, letters of rec, explanations of incidents or potential weaknesses in your background, and the choices you have made academically and professionally, and of course how well you bring it all together in your (well-written, mistake-free) personal statement.
VT: What are the biggest mistakes one can make on a Law School application?
Ann: Lack of quality, obviously. This can include typos, improper punctuation, and simple things that show lack of attention to detail. Another is letting the negative overwhelm the positive – having so many explanations and hardships that you forget that the point of sharing hardships is to show that you have overcome them. Drama prevailing over substance is another one I often see. Remember to write professionally rather than creatively.
For the high achievers, it’s especially important to keep in mind that exhibiting arrogance and/or naiveté can hurt you.
VT: What do Law School admissions officers look for most in an applicant’s essays/personal statements?
Ann: As a law school admission director (and now with more than a decade of experience in law school admissions as a law school admission consultant), I want to see a personal statement that lets me get to know something new about the applicant, that shows me the back-story, the motivation, behind the materials that are already in front of me (resume, transcripts, etc.). I want to know, like, and then be impressed by an applicant because of what they have chosen to share and how they have chosen to share it.
VT: Is there anything on a student’s application that would automatically disqualify them from being considered for the program?
Ann: Dishonesty. Even worse, a pattern of dishonesty.
VT: What about the Law School admissions process differs the most from undergraduate admissions?
Ann: Law schools are looking for maturity and focus, and an understanding of the real world, rather than simply a cute or memorable story.
VT: What kinds of things (experience, grades, etc.) might a student lack that would lead you to advise them not to apply?
Ann: Someone with a very low LSAT score (low 140s and under) who also has a GPA under a 3.0 (particularly from a school that is not considered particularly rigorous) is going to have a very hard time in the process, especially if these factors are in addition to a criminal record.
VT: Is there anything you might see on a student’s application that would quickly put them ahead in the running?
Ann: Obviously, a great GPA from a good school overcomes a lot of negatives, even on the LSAT. My clients with 3.5 and up GPAs who score in the 140s and low 150s still get into amazing schools for the most part.
Putting yourself through school, while still earning good grades, is also something that really impresses law schools.
Being the first in your family to attend college, and really excelling once you are there, is also a “plus factor” in your application. There are a lot of subjective factors like this, but these are some examples.
VT: What advice do you have regarding LSAT test prep?
Ann: Take it seriously!!!!! Don’t underestimate the LSAT, especially if you’re not a naturally brilliant standardized test taker. Plan to prepare for several months, and take a prep course. Budget for this ahead of time because they can be pricey, but the good programs and tutors are worth it and will pay themselves back in dividends if your LSAT score puts you in range for scholarships.
VT: What do law school admissions officers look for in recommendation letters?
Ann: Details! I want examples, not just overly broad conclusions. I want to see enthusiasm for a candidate, a real and substantiated belief that the applicant is poised for great things. Writing, research and communication skills are great things to highlight. Facts demonstrating that you approach your studies/jobs seriously, with preparation and diligence, and that you offer valuable insights in a group setting, are very impressive.
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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.