Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Jens K. holds a graduate degree from the London School of Economics and a J.D. from NYU Law. Since then, he has worked for international law firms in both New York and China and has taught law as an adjunct professor as well. He is the co-founder of Advantas Group, an international team of admissions experts who help students worldwide get into the graduate programs of their choice.
VT: How much time should be set aside to adequately prepare for and complete a Law School application?
Jens: It depends. An applicant with high grades, a strong LSAT score, and good writing skills might be able to prepare an application in one to two months. Others will want to spend more time fine-tuning their personal statements and customizing them for specific schools. Applicants with demanding full-time jobs should make sure to set realistic expectations in terms of how much time they can devote to their applications. There is, however, one general piece of advice that applies equally to all applicants: start early. Take the LSAT as early as possible and allow for sufficient time to track down academic transcripts and letters of recommendation.
VT: What is the single most important thing applicants should focus on with this application?
Jens: Be yourself. Let your application reflect who you are. A personal statement that doesn’t match a letter of recommendation or the writing style of the LSAT writing sample is a sure way to guarantee a rejection letter.
VT: What are the biggest mistakes one can make on a Law School application?
Jens: Dishonesty and sloppy mistakes. Always, always be truthful in all your application material. For example, a poor grade or a criminal record can almost always be addressed adequately in a personal statement and in many cases create the basis for a “lesson learned” or “personal transformation” theme. Less serious but just as damaging are typos and other careless mistakes. At a minimum, you should have a friend look through any written material you submit. Otherwise, consider using a professional service to review and polish your application materials. The money you spend on application services will be a fraction of your overall law school budget and can pay for itself with even a small scholarship or an increase in the ranking of the schools you are admitted to.
VT: What do Law School admissions officers look for most in an applicant’s essays/personal statements?
Jens: Admissions officers want to be certain that the applicant is making the right choice by choosing to become a lawyer, and also that the applicant will be a good fit for a particular law school and student body. For example, regional law schools will often look for a commitment to the local community in addition to the applicant’s academic interests. In addition, admissions committees are always interested in learning about how an applicant has dealt with past challenges and obstacles.
VT: Is there anything on a student’s application that would automatically disqualify them from being considered for the program?
Jens: Lying, dishonesty, and concealing information the applicant is required to disclose. Even if an admissions committee doesn’t uncover any comprising inconsistencies or information in an application, this could come back to haunt the applicant during the state bar admission process and even result in the withdrawal of the graduate's law school diploma.
VT: What about the Law School admissions process differs the most from undergraduate admissions?
Jens: The emphasis on how well the applicant does on a standardized test. Compared to undergraduate admissions and even most other graduate and professional programs, the LSAT score can truly make or break an application.
VT: What kinds of things (experience, grades, etc.) might a student lack that would lead you to advise them not to apply?
Jens: A spotty academic record or a very poor LSAT score would make admission to most law schools an uphill battle. In particular, an applicant with a very low LSAT score should seriously consider whether law school is the right choice. Ethical transgressions such as a history of academic dishonesty will also create challenges for an applicant and would have to be addressed directly in the application.
VT: Is there anything you might see on a student’s application that would quickly put them ahead in the running?
Jens: LSAT scores in the top one percentile. Things get less competitive at schools outside the top ten, but even then an applicant’s LSAT score remains the single best predictor of how successful a law school applicant will be (and, incidentally, of how they will do in their first year of law school, according to the ABA). Outstanding performance on college-level debate and mock trial tournaments can also give students a significant boost, although they are generally coupled with very high LSAT scores.
VT: What advice do you have regarding LSAT test prep?
Jens: As with all parts of the application, start early. Anyone seriously considering law school should take a sample test as soon as possible. Except for the most exceptional applicants, enrolling in an LSAT prep course or working with a tutor is sure to pay off. An improvement of a few points on the LSAT can be what it takes to get into a higher ranked school or to secure a scholarship.
VT: What do law school admissions officers look for in recommendation letters?
Jens: Recommendation letters are important in supporting and corroborating various other parts of the application--in particular, the personal statement. It is far better to select someone that knows the applicant well and provide a strong recommendation than one with an impressive title who will do a perfunctory job. The recommender should know the applicant's story and should ideally echo its key themes in the recommendation. To help ensure that this happens, we advise our clients to actually include a paragraph summarizing the important aspects of the application in an email to the recommender.
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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.