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The deadline is fast approaching: March 27, 2015!
U.S. News & World Report yesterday released the 2016 Best Graduate School rankings. Like our friends at jdMission have reminded us, all rankings should be approached with skepticism and that “fit” (be it academic, personal or professional) is far more important.
That said, here’s how the top 15 American law schools stack up this round:
2. Harvard University
3. Stanford University
4. Columbia University
4. University of Chicago
6. New York University
7. University of Pennsylvania
8. Duke University
No application is perfect, but you can take steps to mitigate negatives and emphasize positives. During the first half of this webinar, Admit Advantage’s Director of Law Admissions will review how to deal with real-life negatives on your law school application.
Are you also getting ready to sit for the February 2015 LSAT? Veteran Manhattan LSAT instructor and curriculum developer, Matt Sherman, will focus on what kind of prep to do in the last weeks leading up to the test. One of the key points here is to be prepared to adapt to little twists that you didn’t expect. Matt will teach you a hard LSAT game where that’s important. Detailed Q&A to follow.
Breaking Down Law School Part II: Addressing the Negatives in Your Application & Strategy for the February LSAT
Monday, January 12 (7:30 – 9:30 PM EST), Meets ONLINE
1. No headings. No gimmicks.
2. Put your head in your story.
3. If you say you love American History (or any subject), you have to explain what you love about it.
4. When you discover abstract truths (“who you are” or “your life’s purpose”), elaborate…concretely.
Application season is well under way, and early decisions are starting to roll in. Before you know it, the New Year will be here and it’ll be time to finally choose a law school.
I know, I know. It seems like just yesterday you were first cracking open that LSAT study guide, so young and naïve. Scared of what the future held; scared of what your score would be. And scared that you’d be rejected from every law school to which you applied.
However, a recent NYT article points out exactly how misguided you might be—could law school really be a buyers’ market?
Professor Rodriguez of Northwestern University School of Law says, “It’s insane,” and I agree. We do, however, disagree on what aspects of law school tuition are insane.
According to the article, the number of people taking the LSAT is down over 50% from 2009, and the incoming class of first-year law students is the lowest it’s been since the ’70s. Law schools have reacted in a number of ways, including cutting employees, faculty, and even entire campuses (see Thomas M. Cooley Law School). And many now rely on their parent school to keep them afloat (a stark contrast to the previous decade where these schools were viewed as geese laying golden eggs).
As Professor Rodriguez points out, law schools are now battling over top students. In order to keep their GPA/LSAT numbers up, schools are pulling from an increasingly small pool of candidates with high scores. To do so, they’re negotiating until almost the first day of classes, increasing scholarship amounts to match or beat competing schools. “It’s insane,” he claims, to need to fight with these other schools for students.
I would rebut that it’s insane tuition at his school has increased $9,000/year during this same time period.
So is law school a buyers’ market, or is that a bit of editorial license taken by the writer?
Law school is a service, and the goal of that service is to get you a job as a lawyer. Because of the financial crisis, legal jobs are a lot scarcer (though they do still pay staggeringly large salaries). And despite fewer positions being available, the amount of work hasn’t decreased that much. This translates to even longer hours than pre-crisis (in other words, the jobs are even less pleasant).
I’m glad to see the article use the “nine months after graduation” metric to measure employment, as other numbers tend to be gamed by law schools who hire their grads to inflate their stats. It’s still important to recognize, however, that 57% doesn’t represent people working at Big Law, or even the public sector. A large percentage also ends up at smaller firms, earning nowhere near the $180K/year salaries most young lawyers dream of. The amount of work, though, is about the same.
So, in short, the “service” being provided by law schools is coming down in value. At the same time, their supply of new students is drastically dropping. And most numbers being reported suggest that the largest drop in applicants is coming from the top of the LSAT pool (see the decline in LSAT averages of even top schools). All in all, it is a good time to be.
HOW TO USE
Emily Trieber is exactly right—treat the relationship as a business contract.
When you first apply, the relationship is extremely asymmetric—you desperately want to be admitted, and they have all the power. However, after you’re admitted, the dynamic shifts. You’re their customer, and they’ve already told you they want your business. It’s hard to shift your view after spending so long hoping for any letter of admission, but it’s important to change your perspective so you graduate with as little debt as possible. And with a few other schools also interested in you as a customer, it’s time to negotiate.
It’s always best to get in touch with the school via phone (or in person, if you can make a visit). Be honest with them about your offers from other schools, but use those offers to leverage better terms from preferred schools. And always be willing to ask—no one has ever had their offer rescinded for politely requesting a lower tuition bill.
That’s really the key—treat the relationship as business one, which entails courtesy. The schools know that tuition is expensive and scholarship offers are on the rise. They also know that applicants are an increasingly rare commodity. Use this to your advantage and don’t accept sticker price as what you have to pay if you want to go to a particular law school. They’ve already told you they want you as a student; now, tell them that, in order to make that happen, they’re going to have to make you a better offer.
Are You Prepared for Law School Admissions?
Join Manhattan LSAT and Admit Advantage for a free online workshop to help you put together a successful law school application.
This workshop will discuss how right personal statement can make all the difference in your law school applications. Even applicants with great LSAT scores and a high GPA need top-notch personal statements to set them apart from the pack. Admit Advantage’s Director of Law Admissions will teach you how to make the best impression with your personal statement.
Are you also getting ready to sit for the December 2014 LSAT? Veteran Manhattan LSAT instructor, Brian Birdwell, will focus on what kind of prep to do in the last weeks leading up to the test. One of the key points here is to be prepared to adapt to little twists that you didn’t expect. Brian will teach you a hard LSAT game where that’s important. Detailed Q&A to follow.
Breaking Down Law School: Writing a Standout Personal Statement & Strategy for the December LSAT
Thursday, November 13 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Sign Up Here
The following article comes from our friends at Admit Advantage. We’ve invited them to share their tips for dealing with the negatives on your law school application.
You’ve taken the LSAT, registered with LSAC, talked with your professors about letters of recommendation, and now you are ready to apply to your dream law school. But wait — your LSAT score isn’t as stellar as you had hoped it would be? Your grades are low? You have been out of school for a year and haven’t done anything useful with your time? You have a disciplinary or criminal record (and you aren’t sure whether it is public)? Rare is the student who has a “perfect” application. Let’s talk about how to deal with real-life negatives on your real-life law school application.
Low LSAT Score
What can you do if your LSAT score is lower than the median for the schools to which you plan to apply? The answer depends on your timing, but the simple response is: raise your score! If it is October, and you’ve just received your September LSAT score, then take the time to study and re-take the exam in December. Although you can receive a boost from applying early, it is not nearly as helpful as the increased chance of admission you will enjoy with a significant jump in your LSAT score. If you did not invest in a test preparation course the first time, spend the time and money now to take a course, study more, hire a tutor, or whatever else you need to do to improve your score.
If it is later in the admissions season and you still don’t have a high enough score to make it into the schools of your choice, you may wish to delay applying an admissions cycle until you have put in the time to improve your score. Remember that not only admissions decisions but also scholarship money are in play when you are dealing with your LSAT scores. The LSAT is a learnable test, and with enough time, you can improve your performance.
As with a low LSAT score, a GPA below the median for your target school can stand in the way of your admission. If you are a college senior and need a higher GPA to have a good chance of being admitted to your top choice law school, strongly consider delaying your application one admissions cycle. Two semesters of higher grades can significantly raise your overall GPA and make the difference in gaining acceptance and receiving needed scholarship money.
If you are already out of school, consider where your weaknesses lie. If, for example, you have a quantitative background, highlight your written and verbal skills by emphasizing relevant extracurricular activities (debate club, anyone?). If your overall GPA is lower than the median but you performed well in your major, ensure that your recommender can point out your proficiencies and rave about your passion and intellect.
Character and Fitness
Some applications only ask about whether you have been criminally indicted or charged; others request information regarding any arrest, minor infraction or even school disciplinary history. Make sure you understand exactly what you are being asked. Do not assume that if an infraction was far in the past or “sealed” that you do not need to disclose it. You can and should obtain all records from the incident, as you will eventually need them for admission to the bar. If you are unsure, seek advice from an outside source. In fact, you may wish to call the state bar where you wish to practice in order to ensure that your background will not interfere with admission to the bar. And when in doubt: disclose. Many state bars will request a copy of your law school application. If there is a discrepancy between what you disclose there and what you disclose in your bar application, that can present a real problem for bar admission.
Letters of Recommendation
Two typical problems arise in obtaining letters of recommendation. The first is when a current student feels she does not have a strong relationship with a professor. The second is when an applicant has been out of school for an extended period of time and is unsure of how to approach former professors.
In the first instance, remember that professors expect such requests. Even if you have not written a senior thesis, worked as a teaching assistant or otherwise formed a close relationship with a professor, you can ask a professor for a recommendation. Consider in which classes you have been outspoken and performed well. You will be wise to set up a face-to-face meeting with your professor, provide her with your personal statement and resume, and explain to her why you are applying to law school. Help her understand your motivations so she can write you a strong letter. Finally, give your professor an opportunity to say “no.” Ask if she can give you a strong recommendation. If she declines, politely thank her and find another recommender.
In the second instance, applicants often ask whether they should just use professional contacts for their recommendations. Each school has its own guidelines, but you should aim to have one academic recommendation and one professional recommendation if possible. If you don’t or can’t obtain an academic recommendation, this will raise a red flag for an admissions committee.
And if you are a sophomore or junior considering law school, remember to build those relationships now. Writing a senior thesis or engaging in independent study with a professor is an excellent way to develop the kind of relationship that will help you to obtain that glowing recommendation.
Lack of extracurricular activities or a gap in work experience
Law schools are interested in seeing your development as a full human being, not only as an academic. Long-term involvement in extracurricular activities, especially those in which you have held a leadership role, is preferable to peripatetic club joining, so think quality, not quantity. If you are earlier in your academic career, get invested in activities, stay with them and grow with them. If you are a senior or already have graduated, you can add activities now, but beware that schools are less likely to take those as indicators of character than if you had been involved for a longer period of time.
If you have been out of school for a year or two or ten, you need to show that you have direction in your professional life. The biggest problem is if you have not done anything. Schools know that the job market has been tight, but you can include unpaid internships and volunteer work to show how you have developed and made the most of your situation.
Writing an Addendum
An addendum serves to address weaknesses in an application that you have not sufficiently addressed elsewhere. It should not read as an excuse or a complaint. Rather, it should be an explanation. For example, if your second semester sophomore year grades are low because you were caring for a terminally ill parent, you could provide a brief explanation. If your grades fell because you were pledging a fraternity, that would be seen as an excuse and not a good way to handle the dip in your GPA. If you choose to write an addendum, ensure that it is direct, succinct (while still providing sufficient details as explanation) and is not a complaint or excuse.
Some applicants wonder if they should address a discrepancy in LSAT scores in an addendum. If you scored a 150 the first time and a 165 the second time, congratulations! And don’t think any more about it. The school is likely ignoring your first score. Drawing attention to the score will do you no good, nor does it matter.
Have confidence in yourself and your experience. No application is perfect, but you can take steps to mitigate negatives and emphasize positives. Do your best, and good luck!
Christina Taber-Kewene is the Director, Law Admissions, for Admit Advantage, an admissions consulting firm specializing in Law, MBA, medical school and undergraduate admissions. Schedule a free consultation with her at http://www.flexbooker.com/admitadvantage or Christina@admitadvantage.com and receive 10% off your consultation package with code MTP2014.
It’s that time of year—personal statement time. Whether you’re in the brainstorming, drafting or revising stage, there are some great rules of thumb when it comes to writing your law school personal statement, rules that can help you stay on track to submitting a dazzling one.
Over at jdMission, I’ve been reviewing actual personal statements each week, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, and discussing what lessons can be learned from them. Here are the most recent tips for making your personal statement sparkle, with links to the essays and reviews if you want to read more!
1. Tie the pieces of your story together.
A good personal statement has a narrative. You best convey who you are through story, and you choose to include certain stories because they say something about who you are—something significant. They illustrate the quality or qualities that you want the admissions committee to know about you. If stories don’t do this, well, they don’t belong in your essay. Odds are, you tell more than one story in your essay. You tell a few. They may or may not be in chronological order, but it is essential that they fit together, that collectively, they support what you are trying to say. If a story seems like it isn’t adding much or doesn’t fit, consider cutting it, or ask yourself if you can tell the story differently so that it is a better thematic fit. Read an example essay and review here.
2. In the climax of your essay (the big transition), avoid vagueness. Use concrete language instead.
If you are going to walk the reader through a rough patch in your life in order to demonstrate how you came out on the other side of it stronger, GREAT! Transition stories can be very powerful. They also, in order to be well told, need to zoom in on the moment of transition; it isn’t a part you can breeze over or tell from a bird’s eye view. For example, if you are writing that financial stress caused by a foreclosure in which you didn’t have an attorney drove you to illness, don’t say that you “experienced hardship” or that it “took a toll” on your health. What was the hardship? What was the toll? Specific, concrete details give transition moments their power. Read an example essay and review here.
3. Avoid bad beginnings and generalities.
I know this one is a generality (what’s a “bad beginning?”), but see why it’s so problematic? It’s hard to know what to do with it! One beginning that I would call categorically “bad” is the one that starts with you apologizing for who you are. Maybe it concerns you that the admissions committee wouldn’t want to admit someone who didn’t go to a liberal arts college and has worked her whole life to become a ballet dancer, and that’s a reasonable concern; you will need to demonstrate that you are up to the rigors of graduate-level academic work. Do not, however, begin your essay with, “I know you probably don’t think I can handle law school, being a dancer and all…” Start with the positive, with reasons why you should be admitted. Draw their attention to what about you makes you worth admitting, not to your weak spots. Read an example essay and review here.
4. Although your essay may be 90% there, the 10% may be most important.
Sometimes, I will read an essay that is so compelling, so well-written and engaging and believable and uplifting, that I forget I’m reading a personal statement. This sounds ideal, right? It would seem you should aspire to give this experience to the admissions officer who reviews your application. Yes, that is true, but: It can still fail in an essential way, even if it’s that good. It must still connect the dots between the Most Amazing Story Of All Time and why you’re a good fit for law school. I may not be able to put down The Hunger Games, but if I read it as part of Katniss’s law school application, I’d finish it thinking, “That was great!” and then I’d pause. “Oh…wait, why is she applying to law school?” Don’t forget what you writing, and why you’re writing it. Read an example essay and review here.
Below is an excerpt from Let’s LSAT: 180 Tips from 180 Students on how to Score 180 on your LSAT, which includes an interview with one of our LSAT instructors, Mary Adkins. Mary has degrees from Yale Law School and Duke, and has over 8 years of experience teaching the LSAT after scoring in the 99th percentile on the test.
Jacob: What should one’s goals be when studying for the LSAT?
Mary: I think a misconception that people often have is that they can improve their LSAT score by learning tricks, and the reason I think that’s so dangerous is it’s only going to get you so far. I mean, there are certain patterns to the test and we can teach those patterns. People can learn what to look for and how to spot an extreme term and a wrong answer choice, but unless you really understand the underlying skills that the test is designed to evaluate, your score isn’t going to be in the top percentile.
So, I’d say the goal should not be learning tricks, but learning what the test is designed to test: your ability to think logically. The goal should be to come up to that threshold and become a more logical, attuned, precise thinker. That’s the best thing you can do to be better at the LSAT, but the beauty of this is that it’s not just going to make you better at the LSAT – it’s going to make you a better logical thinker overall, which will make you a better student and a better lawyer.
Jacob: So, if your goal is to become a more logical thinker, it’ll show in your LSAT score, will it not?
Mary: I believe it would. I was just going to say, as a tutor and teacher, of course I’m very excited when my students reach their goal scores or when my students see a lot of improvement, but one of my most rewarding moments, as a teacher, was when one of my students, at the end of the course, told me that he felt smarter having taken it. That’s exactly what we’re going for. It’s like an overall improvement in thinking ability. One way that’s manifested is in the LSAT, but it’s not exclusive to the LSAT.
Jacob: How long would you recommend studying for, as far as being able to change your thinking?
Mary: It’s so specific to the person, so it’s really hard to say, to be honest. I think several months, at least. To be safe, you should give yourself several months. I wanted to bring this up at some point, actually, because my colleague, Matt Sherman, has a brilliant response to the idea that you can peak too soon when it comes to the LSAT – he thinks it’s a myth.
There is no peaking too soon: you only get better at the LSAT the longer you study it. You don’t get worse. So, starting as far in advance as possible, in that view, would be beneficial. I mean, life’s realities make that impossible for most of us. We’re not going to study the LSAT for years, but if we did, we would be better at it when we finally took it. So, several months is kind of the general answer that I would give to that question, but even students starting to study two or three months in advance find that they’re really under a lot of pressure. They’re trying to do too much in a really short amount of time.
So, even 3-4 months in advance is still putting a lot of pressure on yourself, particularly if you have other obligations, like work or school, but I find students tend to find six months in advance much more manageable. Again, six months is not always long enough for them to see as much improvement as they want. So, that’s when it really becomes person-specific.
Studying for the LSAT? Manhattan Prep offers a free LSAT practice exam, and free Manhattan LSAT preview classes running all the time near you, or online. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!
It’s almost mid-August, and that means the application season for 2015 matriculation is gearing up. At this time of year, I always get asked a lot about timeline. When should you be working on your personal statement? When should you ask your recommenders for letters of recommendation, and what deadlines should you give them? Can you plan to take the LSAT in December, or should you cram for October (if you haven’t already begun studying)?
Here we go—a thorough guide to the timing of law school application season, by category!
At the front of most people’s minds is the LSAT, and rightly so; it’s the most important part of your application along with GPA. If you don’t have an LSAT score yet (or don’t have one you plan to rely on to get into law school, yet) but plan to apply for admission in 2015, that means you’re either looking at the September or December exam. Notice I didn’t say February. If you plan to apply to start in 2015, do not plan to take the February LSAT exam because (1) some schools don’t take it, and (2) even for the schools that do, you’ll be at a disadvantage due to the rolling nature of admissions.
Which brings me to the next question—to take September or December? Almost across the board I am going to recommend taking September. Again, rolling admissions means aiming for the December test not only puts you at a disadvantage, time-wise (no law school is going to review your application until the entire thing is in, LSAT score and all), but it also only gives you one shot to get the score right. Taking September, on the other hand, means that if something goes wrong, you aren’t completely out of the running for fall 2015 entry. You can still take the December test.
So who doesn’t this apply to? Right now, there are about six weeks left before the fall LSAT. If you can’tstart studying pretty hardcore ASAP—and I mean tomorrow—you have two options. Either you sit down and take a practice test and you are scoring within 1-2 points of where you hope to score, in which case, you don’t need to hardcore study between now and then. Or you sit down and take a practice test and you need to improve more than 5 points to be happy with your score. For you, the person who needs 5+ points but doesn’t have the time to study between now and the end of September—I suggest applying next year. As a second, less ideal option, you could also study this fall and take December and apply, but again, for the reasons I mentioned above, understand that you will be at a disadvantage.
This is something that will take you a couple of weeks to get right, most likely, and that’s including drafts that you have others read and that you revise until it’s working. Not to mention, many schools offer the option of writing the secondary essay (often a “diversity” essay) and/or include in their applications other questions to be answered, as well. Starting now is a good idea if you don’t need to devote 100% of your free time to getting a good LSAT score. If LSAT study does need to remain your sole focus, however, keep it that way—save essay-writing for the 3 weeks after you’ve taken the test before you’ve gotten your score back.
This is also true for any addenda you may want to write (explaining away a bad semester, grade-wise, for example, or a criminal conviction or disciplinary action).
Letters of Recommendation
Ask for them yesterday. Recommenders like to have time for these, not because they actually plan to spend two months writing, but because their schedules invariably fill up like wildfire come fall when school resumes. You call follow up with them occasionally (every few weeks or so) to politely check in if they haven’t submitted the letters. And as for what deadline to give them, well, since admissions are rolling, I’m entirely comfortable asking them to have the letter in by whenever you plan to have your application in for optimal consideration. That could be as soon as you get your September LSAT score, or it could be the first day applications are accepted. As long as you give the recommender ample notice, this is unlikely to be a problem.
The Rest of Your Application
The rest of the application—resume, transcript, score reports—are either out of your hands or shouldn’t take a great deal of time to perfect. Most of you have drafted resumes with the help of your college’s career counseling office, for example—but if not, absolutely get some advice and review, even if it’s just online, of proper resume drafting for law school applications.
When to Submit
Again, because of the nature of rolling admissions, you are best off applying as early as possible. This means you should check when the schools to which you are applying begin accepting applications and submit yours as close to that date as possible. Of course, you are going to be restricted by the release date of your LSAT score if you haven’t already taken it. That’s fine. Just have everything ready to go so that as soon as your score is available, you can promptly submit your full application.
Hang in there, be systematic, and it’ll all be over before you know it!
Studying for the LSAT? Manhattan Prep offers a free LSAT practice exam, and free Manhattan LSAT preview classes running all the time near you, or online. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!